When a Crisis Drives Focus (And Alignment)


Earlier this week, I was talking with SMART Growth author and “business growth catalyst” Jack Spain about alignment. He recounted some of his experiences working for a large public utility here in the Carolinas, where hurricanes and ice storms periodically wreak havoc on the electric infrastructure. “When we had a restoration even, alignment became very clear.” While business-as-usual could get wrapped up in many competing corporate goals and priorities, when a storm impacted a large number of customers, all hands were on deck with a common top priority: restore power as quickly and efficiently as possible. This reminded me of similar stories I had heard from executives and managers at smaller electric co-ops in the past: their organizations excel during restoration activities.

This echoes Patrick Lencioni‘s assertion in The Advantage:

“Every organization, if it wants to create a sense of alignment and focus, must have a single top priority within a given period of time.”

There is a significant difference in how these organizations perform, and how the employees feel, when they are focused on getting power restored for their customers. Many employees have “restoration jobs,” which often cross the normal organizational boundaries and functional silos of their “regular jobs.” The crisis creates both a sense of urgency, and a very clear shared focus that shoves aside competing priorities and politics. There is more of a sense of “team” during these periods.

But this didn’t “just happen.” The organizations have built this specific response capability into their organizational DNA. They have communications systems, policies, and organizational roles established in advance that enable them to perform in this way. They also have instilled a “customer first” culture that goes into overdrive during these events (and, sadly, may recede at other times).

This raises a question: How can organizations maintain this level of focus and alignment all the time? I believe that requires an “evergreen” process to align purpose, passion, priorities, practices and performance, and an unrelenting executive discipline to periodically distill one top priority for the organization as a whole, and at each level of management. It’s not easy. Which is why so few businesses excel at it, long term.

I’ve shared thoughts on how to accomplish this in my other posts, and will have even more in an upcoming book. Stay tuned!

Question: Can you share an example of a crisis that brought a team together like never before? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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