Visual Sensemaking

Half Day Workshop with Agile Australia 2018


June 20





Comprehensive 2 day program runs next:

Melbourne: September 17/18, 2018

Sydney: October 22/23, 2018






 It's not 'drawing'...



with Lynne Cazaly
using The Visual Mojo Method
1 day practical workshop for your team
Build this powerful, influential skill to help make sense of change, communicate clearly and engage people in the most challenging situations

SYDNEY public workshop 

July 3


MELBOURNE public workshop

August 16

or... contact Lynne to arrange a workshop at your workplace 







Get the free Mini-Book on Sensemaking

This form does not yet contain any fields.







    Join with me to receive & read my enews tips, templates and advice
    Read the latest
    Subscribe to my newsletter  

    'Each week I delete plenty of enews and emails; this ain't one of 'em!' - Martin, Project Consultant
    'There is always something helpful, interesting, impactful in your enews Lynne. Love your work!' - Tim - Project Manager/PMO

    'Love it! A quick read with brilliant information, advice, support and ideas I can apply right away. Thank you.' - Jane, Team Leader

    Contact Lynne Cazaly


    m: +61 0419 560 677

    PO Box 414, Albert Park   VIC   3206 AUSTRALIA




    Review and Reflect ... alone or with the team


    The end of the calendar year brings many people to the point of wrapping things up, reviewing the year that's been and thinking about the year ahead. 

    (That is... if you can break from the cray-cray of deadlines hitting before holiday time or having less people in your team or on the task than you'd like!)
    Whatever your state of mind - and work - this week and the next few,  I've collected a few resources for you to review, reflect, read and ponder... when you're ready.

    If not now, bookmark and save for when you're travelling, waiting, distracting yourself or wanting some insight.

    I love me a visual map; and many a group or team I've worked with have benefited from being able to capture their story, the facts, their issues or the current situation too.

    Once it's down on paper (or digital) they're able to see it. Once they can all see it, it's remarkable how quickly resolutions and fixes present themselves in the conversation. It's also way quicker to get people together and focused on something. 

    Here's one I prepared earlier! For you. 

    I use this type of map and the headings of 'Less Same More' in workshops and keynotes to help people get actions down from their thinking and ideas. (This handles overwhelm and chaos well too!)

    What do you want more, less or the same of...?

    • LESS: stop or drop this stuff. Wind back, remove and reduce it.
    • SAME: keep on truckin', keep going, keep moving with this stuff.
    • MORE: ramp it up, do more of this, get or have more of this. 

    This is about you  - what do you want less, same or more of in your life, in your work. It can relate to anything at all. 

    Fill in the spaces. I use dot points or key words to prompt me and capture my ideas. It becomes my personal visual plan and idea collection place just like a 'plan on a page'. It then goes up on the wall in my office or in digital/photo form on my phone. 
    Oh and there's a cheeky light bulb on the bottom right. I call that:

    • AND, dot dot dot :... it's a little like 'How about this?' as if you were pitching to some big-time investor or director. What are some random, hopeful or dreamy things that would be interesting to look at or pursue further? Capture them right there.

    Use this page with the team. Or use it alone. Perhaps with a partner or friend or the family. Chilled out one Sunday afternoon, fill it out. Kicking off a project with a new team, get them to tell you what they want more, less and same of.

    It's a great way to review, it's a sweet start to planning; it's an even better conversation starter.

    For all the times you think you can't get engagement with people, ask them to jot a few points down under each heading and you can have a conversation from there.  

    Review, reflect and then do something with this and the other resources here, below. In your own time....



    What's your attitude to facilitation? 

    For many leaders who facilitate, they simply get on and do it. They may not be aware of what they’re doing or what impact it’s having; it just is. They just go ahead and do the best they can with what they know.

    For other leaders, they lose sleep before facilitating a big meeting or planning session or workshop and run scenarios of failure and horror over and over in their mind or they workshop options and possibilities and agenda timings in their head.

    Yet others see their facilitation skill as something to be improved on. I certainly do. The capability is just that; a capability. And it can be improved.

    There is certainly a confidence about facilitation. Often we know we’re not quite ‘there’ with our confidence but we’re willing to keep putting ourselves out there and continuing to learn, develop and grow as a facilitator, as a leader. 

    Stepping up the Ladder of Capability

    Here’s what I think this path to improving your capability in facilitation at work looks like. It’s like moving up a ladder. 

    There are two halves:

    1.   where you avoid facilitation and are questioning yourself and your capability; and

    2.  where you engage, where you are questioning others (in a good way), as a facilitation technique or style.

    Looking at the avoid half, way down in the depths is the ‘no, don’t make me do it’response. It may be your first experience facilitating, or even an experience earlier this week! In any case, you felt out of your depth, out of control and wishing it wasn’t you at the front of the room in charge of making things happen. You wished it could be anyone but you. It’s the ‘no not me’ scenario. You feel like running away. A dose of fight or flight and you’d prefer to flight, right out the door and into a safer, more comfortable space. If you have the situation of the rotating chair in your workplace, where a different person facilitates the meeting each time, you may have felt this.

    A little higher on the ladder is where you are unsure. You take on the role to facilitate but are wondering ‘why me’. Then possibly while you’re facilitating you’re hesitant, waiting, wondering ‘what is best to do when’ for the outcomes you and the group are seeking.

    Then comes a tipping point… where you shift up and over a hurdle of sorts; where you move from questioning yourself or doubting yourself, to really stepping into the role of questioning others and embracing the role of being of service to what the team you’re truly facilitating others.

    When you take on the role of a facilitator, a Leader as Facilitator, you do it, but you’re inconsistent. You’re wanting to learn more, to be more aware; you’re wondering ‘what next?’ Imagine you’re deep in the middle of a meeting or workshop and the team is working through a problem. You wonder, ‘Is this it? What else could I be doing to help the group? What’s the best use of my services as a facilitator?’ You decide to ask the group rather than wondering to yourself. You might say, ‘So what next? What do you think is the most important thing for us to address next?’

    With further awareness, learning and experience, you shift up to being capable, to thinking ‘Yes, I’ve got this’.

    I worry though for people who believe they are already here; they already think they've got this. They think they’re pretty good facilitators; they think they know it all and have little left to learn.

    Still others say ‘I’m all ears’ or ‘I’m on a learning curve’ yet they do anything but learn! They’re closed to ideas or have heard it all before… or done it all before.

    Beware! Even the best and most experienced facilitators have more to learn. Always. There is always more to learn, more to be exposed to, more approaches, ways of working, things you can do to support a team or group as a facilitator.

    So it continues. And you move on up to some nirvana of facilitation where you realise all of your good and bad and in-between life experiences contribute to make you a wise and capable facilitator. You say ‘bring it’ and you realise, believe and behave as if you can handle whatever may come. If you don’t know what to do, you know you are at the service of the group or team and together you will know what to do.

    • Where are you on the ladder?
    • What have you experienced?
    • Which levels do you recognize?
    • What’s the next step for you? 

    I'd love to hear your thoughts about facilitation and your attitude to where you are, where you've been or where you'd like to get to.


    For the adventurers, cartographers and tool smiths 

    If failure is sexy and pivoting is in, that means we have a world of people who are keen to keep looking around, wondering, improving and trying stuff out.

    I reckon that might be you.
    I’m giving a big shout out and encouraging thanks to the:

    • adventurers : the people who cringe at bureaucratic BS and wasteful systems; 
    • modern day mapmakers and cartographers : who help people see what’s going on and where we’re going; and 
    • toolsmiths : those who use any type of tech, digital or analogue tool or  implement to get sh*t done.

    You're important mavens, facilitators and connectors in the workplaces of today … and the future.
    I think we’re always on the dangerous edge of losing touch with each other or wasting time on activities that don’t really make a difference.
    So as we head off on our next change journey or a transformation project or as we create a new product or try out something, I particularly want to zoom in on the mapmaker, the cartographer who helps guide or map what the heck is going on. 


    Unlock and formulate meaning 
    Static maps of two dimensional things – locations, objects, the universe, stars and planets – have a history as old as time. More recently, 3D and interactive maps have given us more knowledge, awareness, access and opportunity.
    We’re able to depict so much information and detail on a map, thanks to (now) well-recognised symbols and icons. And with the rise of digital mapping on our phones and devices, I think we’re breeding a new generation of map lovin’ people; who either like checking out (or in) where they are, or would LOVE to see more about where things are heading on your project.
    But there’s more to maps than just using them on our phones or devices to find out where we are or to use a GPS in a car to plot out the best or most scenic route. 
    Maps have a stunning place and role to play in the workplace. Here’s why:  
    “A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”
    From The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

    To help people know what’s going on, to help them buy-in to the change or project or to see what’s next, we all need a little bit of map maker in us. Here’s how.

    Start by mapping the dialogue
    Dialogue mapping is the activity of facilitating a conversation and capturing the threads. When people say stuff, you write some of it down. It’s that easy.

    Once you’ve got some threads, you write 'em down. These threads I'm talking about, it’s what we mean when we say ‘connecting the dots’.  Often you’ll hear people ask, 'Does that make sense?' They’re hoping you’re connecting the dots!

    It's known as sense making: we’re trying to work out what’s going on and what we need to do about it. 
    The beauty of a dialogue map is that you don’t let key content vapourise upward in the room back out through the air vents! No, you capture it and map it. It means others can see what is being said, in dialogue. It brings seemingly unrelated items together, creating a systems approach to thinking and conversations.

    Yeah but what maps?
    Try some maps like this: 

    • For competing sides use an argument map or a pros and cons chart
    • Isolate the questions people have or are asking
    • Collate the answers or ideas you’re all coming up with
    • Scope out the rationale
    • Pinpoint the data, sources of information or research
    • Show the connections and relationships, links and lines.

    Yes, these are maps. 

    The land was unknown before you mapped it and now there’s a map, there’s a way forward. 
    You’ll look like an adventurer, even if you don't feel like it because that map helps keep holding the threads together. 
    I’ve found dialogue mapping to be one of the most powerful tools working with groups and different cultures, countries, fields, industries, levels of literacy and in groups of large and small numbers.
    ‘Hooray!’ is what people often say (out loud or in their head; you can tell by their a-ha facial expressions!) when they see the product or thing you’re discussing taking shape. They’re finally able to see what’s been sitting quietly in other people’s heads!
    Then once it’s up there, further collaboration happens. You can start building on it. 
    Beyond that conversation or meeting, it becomes an artifact of the conversation; it marks a time in history when sense was made based on what was known. Anyway, maps keep getting revised all the time! This may be version 1.
    We are not listening all the time
    Mapping the dialogue helps people hear each other. Because we’re not really listening, are we? Hello? Are we? Well not ALL the time! I don’t think it’s about ‘making’ people listen to us, rather we need to use some other ways of making information

    • easier to relate to (what's in it for me)
    • quicker to digest (who’s got time for big hefty packs of info)
    • clearer to understand (we're all important here).

    This isn’t dumbing anything down anywhere. We are always going to have complex information and content to deal with.
    But we must try a little harder to be better sense makers - for others in the room and most importantly, for those who aren’t in the room! 
    Dialogue mapping helps people hear what’s being said that they just missed (while they were checking their phone).
    It helps capture complex content and represents the views of all, not just the loudest.
    It helps create shared understanding. 
    Meetings are shorter, more gets done, it’s a richer experience and it’s highly engaging. Your brain can not look away (for too long) when there is a changing map up there on the wall, whiteboard, window or chart. 
    If you're stressing thinking this is art...
    Please relax. It doesn’t really matter what your map looks like; it can have roads and cities and stops marked on it like a real road map or subway map for example; or it could be a bunch of circles connected with lines or perhaps one wavy line with some points marked on it or a few cloud-blob shapes with some words in them. 

    In the words of Sensemaking guru Karl Weick...
    ‘any old map will do’. 
    It doesn’t matter what it looks like, ok?
    Just have something for people to look at so they know where they are and what’s going on. 

    But not too box-ey ok? 
    I would put one rider on maps; I think there is a danger in having a boxy organisation chart-style map that we’ve lovingly created on our desktop in PowerPoint over the past three days. Urgh. If it looks like a hierarchy or control-like or template-ish, no, not a map. 
    We can get a little hung up on trying to make a ‘plan on a page’ and then reducing all that text down to 6 point font size so it fits in all the boxes we’ve jammed on the page. In trying to make sense we've gone all box-ey. That’s an over-engineered piece of vanilla that neither engages nor inspires. It might tick somebody’s box but it’s not going to light anyone up with ‘hey, that looks amazing; let’s work on this thing’. 

    Then. Now. Next
    The main thing to do is create something that helps people see:

    • where they are
    • where you’re all going. 

    Then you’ve got something to go with; you can can start working out how you’ll get there. 

    Road trip anyone?
    “To put a city in a book, to put the world on one sheet of paper -- maps are the most condensed humanized spaces of all... They make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can't see and spaces we can't cover.” 
    From Eccentric Spaces by Robert Harbison



    Facilitation for Consultants : 9 things to do

    Building on my recent post about Beyond Being a Consultant, there's a wonderful space for consultants, experts and thought leaders to step into organisations today, and that is in the role of a facilitator. 

    Not just being a clever smarty pants about your expertise, but also helping a team, group, executive, board or gathering of leaders to work through the stuff they need to work through and get to some meaningful outcomes. 

    I see it as a three element thing; when you're facilitating (as a consultant, expert or thought leader), you're helping this group be: 

    • PRODUCTIVE: you help them get stuff done. 
    • COLLABORATIVE: you help bring people together 
    • CREATIVE: you help them do good work.


    The 9 things to do

    I see there are nine things to do or questions to answer in being able to think, design and deliver an effective facilitated workshop or session for a client organisation. These things address what you need to engage with a client about facilitating a session, preparing to facilitate, designing the event and handling what happens during - and after - the session. 

    Looks like this ;-)

    Think about these things; ask yourself about them: 


    What’s my expertise? What do I bring to working with a group or facilitating a team? What type of sessions could I facilitate? 

    2. NEEDS

    Who are they? What are their needs? How do I best identify their requirements? Where is the 'gap' I can help them close? 


    What is my response? How do I propose we close the gap? What is my response to their situation? How will I bring my specialist expertise to their situation? What do I do?

    4. OUTLINE

    What does the session look like? What processes will we use and follow? What type of workshop or session will this be?

    5. AGENDA

    Designing the session, in detail. What will happen, when? How will we make best use of the time available? What games, tools, activities and resources are available to us? What will we do when we all come together? 


    Conducting the session. What will I do on the day of the event? How do I set up the room or space, run the agenda? What things are needed on the day? How do I start things off? 

    7. ADAPT

    The best-laid plans may need to change. Now what? Handling what happens on the day and dealing with unexpected changes. How do I handle how people respond and work in the session? What if...? 


    Tools, Tips, Techniques & Tricks: these are the approaches, the methodologies, the processes that facilitators have up their sleeve. 

    9. BEYOND

    Wrap Ups, conclusions and ‘What Next?': How will I wrap up the day? How do we make sure we achieved something? What could we do next? How do I make sure there is ongoing opportunity for us to work together? What else could I do to support them with their work? 


    New to facilitation?

    If you’re new to facilitation as an expert or consultant, it’s a great time to make a clean start. You can begin to add facilitation into your offer to client businesses. If you’re not already getting this type of work, would you like to? If so, you’ll need some contemporary facilitation skills to design the program or session, run it and get the outcomes needed. In this way you’ll get the most out of their time and their investment of getting everyone in the room on the same day.


    Already facilitating? 

    If you’re already facilitating, you can always, always enhance your capability, step-up the type and level of work you can deliver and help your clients get even greater impact and outcomes when you work with them. How might you need to think differently? What other processes or approaches or styles would you like to test out in facilitating your expertise with a client? 


    It's very now!

    Facilitation is a way of working with teams and groups that's very 'now'; with increasing requirements for teams to be more collaborative, to co-design and co-create things and for a more diverse team to be sitting around a workplace meeting room, the need for facilitators is greater than it's ever been. 

    Helping people get important work done, and done swiftly and creatively are the reasons why I LOVE working as a facilitator and building the facilitation capability of leaders of all sorts. I think it's one of the greatest leadership capabilities - whether you're a leader of a team or a leader in your own business, and particularly if you're a consultant, expert or thought leader. You know stuff that you can help your clients with; adopting a facilitation approach gets them working on it, together. 

    Building Facilitation Skills

    I enjoy supporting consultants, experts and thought leaders to boost their facilitation capability. In most of my facilitation workshops, I run a policy of 'any question at any time' and so there is always that uncertainty about 'what's going to happen' which is present in the room. This is a good thing to get used to. The uncertainty. It's about being less in control and more comfortable, confident, capable. 

    And even more fun than the questions at any time, I make my workshops on facilitation skills a facilitated experience. Yes, that's very 'meta' isn't it; a workshop on facilitation that is actually facilitated. No PowerPoint, no definitions, no yawn-yawn training. That means we co-create the agenda based on what we want to learn or what our challenges are and then we go through and cover off the content. It's more experiential; you get to see (what I think) is contemporary, effective, business-ready facilitation. Things happen in the room with us during the day and so as the facilitator, I have to handle them. This is how you get to see what to do, how you could handle the stuff that happens. This provides you with a 'real life' environment to see and experience great facilitation skills in practice in the room during the program. 

    Read more about the two-day facilitation skills program I run here for consultants, experts and thought leaders. 


    8 Strategies for Leading in a Crisis

    In the wake of the Australian Dreamworld disaster recently and the subsequent public views that things weren't perhaps handled as well as they should have been, it’s a timely reminder for leaders in all organizations, teams and businesses - of any sort and size - to be prepared when something unexpected and dreadful happens. 

    It’s not a pleasant topic*; for many leaders, this type of talk and preparation for a crisis that hasn’t happened takes them away from their daily work and can feel like a waste of time or a distraction from the priorities at hand. You may think, ‘yes I’ll handle that when it happens’ but your role in leading and facilitating in a crisis requires some prevention. 

    *Why am I writing about leading or facilitating in a crisis? My current work is as a speaker, author and facilitator. I’m a communications specialist. I’ve spent many years in my career studying and then lecturing in under-graduate and post-graduate Public Relations, Advertising and Communications and being the full-time leader in communications roles in health, education, government, sport. I held consultant roles for many other businesses over the first 20 years of running my own business. During this time I learned that responding to and facilitating in a crisis is a part of leadership. You take it on when you sign up to be a leader. You can’t hide or escape. So I was ‘in’ for leading and facilitating in a crisis when I took on a leadership role in an organisation. And then as a PR practitioner, I was doubly in. I had to be a facilitator of other leaders during times of crisis.

    I see there are some strong key pillars of timeless advice to be aware of and to put to work when a crisis hits, no matter what business you’re in, no matter your leadership role. 


    1. Be ready

    Always be ready. Crises aren't planned. You don't schedule them so you can't say ‘Let's have a meeting and do our media training in the two hours after the crisis'. You've got to be ready. Now. What if something happens today, or tonight or overnight? Or tomorrow afternoon? Would you be right to go? Would you really be ready? A crisis is an almighty shock for an organisation. It feels like it has come out of nowhere and then all of a sudden you are in it; it’s all around you; it’s everything you see and hear and it’s unexpected. But you still need to be ready. 


    2. What's your response?

    You need to know what you will do as a business. Just as you have an evacuation plan if there is a fire in your premises, what's your broad plan for if something tragic, disastrous and dreadful happens? For example, who’s on your Crisis Response Team - or whatever you call it. Who are they? And what will they do? Does the board meet immediately or have a phone hookup or does Leader A take the first media calls (or Leader B or C if A is on leave; and if they’re ill or away then is it Leader D and then Leader E if B and C are in Bali)? What’s your hierarchy or handling what’s about to unfold? Work it out. Now. 

    All leaders need to have been grilled with media and customer key message training. Recently. This is not so you can come up with smart arse legal-ese answers but so you can calmly and professionally handle the valid questions that will be asked of you by customers, families, staff, media, sponsors, suppliers, stakeholders, investors…

    By the way, they are not annoying questions, they are valid questions being asked by people who want to know. 

    So yes, your actual messages to families, staff and media may need some crafting and tweaking from PR gurus and speechwriting former political sidekick geniuses but people will want to hear from you. They need to hear and see your organisation represented and speaking. Swiftly. That’s how communication is. Quick. Even if there isn't much to say right now, you've got to be seen and heard. Either onsite where the crisis occurred or at a head office or work location and in your work clothes. It's all about visibility.

    If it looks at all like you’re absent, even if you're working so bloody hard behind the scenes, you still appear invisible and guilty and uncaring. The longer it takes you to come out and say something - even if you are consulting your legal team on the exact wording - the worse things starts to look. 

    Remember the look of Premier Anna Bligh after the disastrous Queensland floods. Sleeves rolled up and moleskins on and working. Not working sweeping out flooded shops. But working with the information coming through from the weather bureau and getting information together and attending briefings and then delivering her media conferences - both prepared messages and taking questions from the media. She was visible. Seen. Heard. Continually. And this visibility gave her great credibility. 


    3. Contacts at the ready

    Who’s on your list? Do you have your stakeholders and key contacts at the ready?

    Media contacts. Board. Key leadership staff and employees. Stakeholders. Legal. Suppliers.

    Can you put your hands on that list of information immediately? Who are they and what are their emails and phone numbers. Is it up to date? 

    But can you really touch that information now? Do you need to ring someone else to get this? Too slow. 

    I remember observing a team who took about two hours to bring together all the contact information they needed. This was after the crisis had hit. It was awful. Crazy. Do it today. Get it ready. Keep it updated. 


    4. War room, Board room or Bunker

    Where will your crisis response team meet? Where is your bunker? Where will you operate from? Is it adequately resourced with phones and printers and wifi and food and beverages? This is for the team (internal staff plus external consultants) who will be managing your organisation’s response to the crisis full time over the next days, weeks and months. It's also for the media and families and stakeholders who will be nearby, and in your face. They have questions and will need answers. 

    Coordinate it and control it from somewhere. Is there a space where you can run rolling media conferences -- because as new information comes to hand you'll need to speak to people on an ongoing basis. If you don't keep speaking you'll get intercepted as you leave your glamourous house in the morning, all freshly washed and showered and breakfasted. Not a good look to relatives and families traumatised by the crisis currently oozing from your company. Even if you’ve been working all night, we can’t see that. Get your team in that room and then get visible. You need to do and say something.


    5. Mindful Mantras 

    The sh*t is most certainly hitting the fan. Beyond the horror of a crisis, things will feel increasingly awful for the leaders involved. So what will you use to guide how you keep responding and managing through the crisis?

    Some of the best historical PR advice was 'tell it all and tell it fast.’ My sense is that isn’t adopted so much today. It’s more like ‘tell them some stuff but hold that and edit that bit and don’t you dare say that’. But other great kernels of PR advice are 'bad news doesn't get better with age’. It still stinks when it finally comes out so you can go with it now or let it fester some more. You choose. 

    Plenty of responses I see companies use seem to be legally based on a 'don't admit fault’ response. But then if that IS the advice, some leaders then translate that so they present with a 'show no emotion whatsoever’ approach or 'don't express sadness and grief'. But you are human. Your organisation is a group of humans working together. And you deliver services for humans. And some of the humans have been impacted - badly. Remember this. Show this.  is a group of humans working together. And you deliver services for humans. Remember this. Show this. 

    I recall hearing about a CEO of an airline who was photographed as they hugged a distraught relative. That's human. Better than saying 'our organisation has the highest levels of safety systems and audits in place and we are focused on the safety and health of blah blah crap and cliche down on the corner of Not Listening Street and Robot Voice Road.'

    Dull. Cold. Inhuman. Rich. Ivory tower. Distanced. Removed. Out of touch. Heartless. Money hungry. Bonus = my lifetime income. Uncaring. 

    This is what it progressively conveys. True or not it’s a heightened emotional environment in times of a crisis. 

    Customer centricity is such a thing today and thinking you are distanced from real customers is folly. They are right there. Watching you and waiting for you to show what type of company you really are, what type of leader you really are.


    6. Remain Calm

    There was a classic PR textbook ‘Public Relations Practice’ when I was lecturing and practicing and in learning about communicating in a crisis, students would giggle at the matter-of-fact checklist we used to drill them on in preparation for a crisis. The checklist had ten points, of which numbers one, three, seven and ten read ‘Remain Calm’. Throughout all the advice you have to remember to keep it together and so ‘Remain Calm’ got repeated on high rotation. 

    Anxious and crisis-fueled people say things. Some of that might not be helpful to traumatised customers or families or staff. Leaders under pressure can go all boss-like and 'I'm right’ and say things like ‘Yeah but I did do that' and then it's a ‘You took it out of context’ statement and urrrgh now the crisis is about how you’re responding to it, not about the tragedy that occurred and how awful people are feeling about it and what you're doing about it. This is called leadership. You will feel like sh*t during this but you need to stay calm.  Leaders under pressure can go all boss-like and 'I'm right’ and say things like, ‘Yeah but I did do that' and then it's a ‘You took it out of context’ statement and now the crisis is about how you’re responding to it, not about the tragedy that occurred and how awful people are feeling about it. It's called leadership. You will feel like sh*t during this but you need to stay calm.  how you’re responding to it, not about the tragedy that occurred and how awful people are feeling about it. It's called leadership. You will feel like sh*t during this but you need to stay calm. 

    In the midst of a crisis, the PR team I worked in would say to each other 'this will get worse before it gets better'. And it does. It feels like a movie ‘Under Siege’; you feel under attack, on the defensive and like you’re being blamed for every thing that's happened over the entire life of the organisation. But keep it together. It will likely get worse before it gets better. More information will come out. Media will arrive on the doorstep. Any doorstep. Your doorstep. All doorsteps.

    I remember working in a hospital and in times of crisis (infection outbreaks, doctors strikes, accidental deaths and other awful system failures) that media and journalists would interview staff in the car park arriving for work. The media were simply looking for information. Staff were briefed to direct them to the PR team. I’d be circling the hospital and I’d say to the media, 'Come in. We have our media centre up and running with rolling news conferences from team experts and other information on hand for you. Let's get you a coffee and get you set up. The CEO will next speak at 11'. briefed to direct them to the PR team. I’d be circling the hospital and I’d say 'Come in. We have our media centre up and running with rolling news conferences from team experts and other information on hand for you. Let's get you a coffee and get you set up. The CEO will next speak at 11'.

    And they'd come in. And we’d be in better control of what was getting out there. 

    And it was madness. For days. Little sleep. A disrupted life. But you have to remember that people have suffered or died or been injured and families and relatives are having a frightful time right now and for the rest of their lives. Keep it in perspective. You have a job here to do. A leadership job. 

    Indeed as more information came to light it did get worse before it got better. More details would be uncovered and you could start to see what went wrong or where the system or people or situation had fallen or failed. And that’s just awful too. 

    But then the intensity would start to level out and we would begin to just carry the new world we called 'post crisis world'. The business is never the same. People are never the same after the gut wrenching experience of tragedy and crisis in a company, particularly where people are badly injured or killed. There is a scar tissue and it never really feels like it heals. 


    7. Get real practice

    When schooling PR students in undergraduate and post graduate communications programs as a lecturer and tutor in the evening (after I’d just come from working in PR practice during the day) I was big on students applying learning to real life situations. No blah-blah lecture. Let’s get real here. Let’s look at something that’s happening now.  communications programs as a lecturer and tutor in the evening (after I’d just come from working in PR practice during the day) I was big on students applying learning to real life situations. No blah-blah lecture. Let’s get real here. Let’s look at something that’s happening now.  situations. No blah-blah lecture. Let’s get real here. Let’s look at something that’s happening now. 

    The unfolding of crises like the Thredbo landslide disaster and a Russian submarine sinking, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, plane crashes and bridge collapses and product tampering and food poisoning outbreaks and bushfires and floods and terrorism and earthquakes and countless other horrendous and heartbreaking tragedies that impact hundreds of people from the victims and their grief stricken families, the first responders and the staff who are part of the wider work family.  

    In several organisations I worked in, we would practice our public response to a crisis. Not just who would wear the hard hat and direct the ambulances, but who was waiting out at the helipad to greet the media. Who was running the first news conference. Who got the first statement written. Who was caring for customers. Who was handling relatives. Who organised the catering for relatives. Time and again we would practice the response of the wider team. We'd practice the phone chain and the email announcement to staff and the media liaison. All practiced and drilled and tested. Where were the points of failure? How long did that take to do? That’s not swift enough - let’s tighten that process up. How could we do it better? Is there a way to streamline that flow of information?  Who was handling Who the catering for relatives. Time and again we would practice the response of the wider team. We'd practice the phone chain and the email announcement to staff and the media liaison. All practiced and drilled and tested. Where were the points of failure? How long did that take to do? That’s not swift enough - let’s tighten that process up. How could we do it better? Is there a way to streamline that flow of information? 

    Our theory was that our brain doesn't know the difference between practice and reality. Let's drill ourselves in this so we are ready and practiced with real experiences. 

    Because point #1: It might happen tomorrow. 


    8. Look and listen 

    Crisis management is a domain of PR expertise. Any crisis that surprises us often stems from that other domain of PR expertise known as 'Issues Management,’ that is, an unattended situation or issue or ‘thing’ may build up and cause you a crisis one day. It’s good to be scanning what’s going on and keeping an Issues Register to track risk and what’s going on across an ’s operations.  

    In training students and in consulting with business, I've always aimed to alert people to thinking about the smoke before the fire or the hint that all may not have been well for some time prior to the crisis. For so many organisations there are hints of an impending crisis but the comments, concerns or complaints from customers or the feedback and reporting of issues from staff have little impact. They’re not heard. Some businesses don't want to press ‘pause' on their services - whether that be transportation or logistics, operations on patients, flights, machinery and equipment - because of the great inconvenience and impact it will have on daily operations and service. If it’s just to simply investigate another comment or concern and to check if something might need fixing, it’s all a tad annoying really. 


    But the true tragedy is that so often the crisis was a puff of smoke somewhere in the history of operations of the business. No matter how small or insignificant that puff of smoke was, it's how it manifests further into the future that creates the true sadness of a tragedy: that something serious may have indeed been prevented.