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What I Learned from the Earthquake

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My youngest child was extremely bummed out by yesterday’s DC earthquake. He was understandably shaken (OK, bad pun).  But more than that, he was blindsided. That’s because he’d been focused on the spate of massive storms we’d had this summer, with dramatic lightening bolts sweeping the sky.  “I knew I had to worry about big storms, mom,” he announced, “but now I’ve got to worry about earthquakes!”

The scene reminded me of many organizations I work with. Sometimes they are so focused on critical issues like personnel transitions, budget changes, and marketing challenges that they are completely blindsided when a new issue surfaces.  This is why process is so important. Which also takes me back to the earthquake. At the moment it hit, I was sitting in a creative meeting with a client and a group of animators, videographers and editors.  When we finally realized what was happening, we realized none of us knew exactly what to do. Was this the thing where you run to the basement? Stand in a doorway? Get under a desk? Run inland? Not having many earthquakes in DC, we couldn’t quite recall.  After it went on for more than 30 seconds–which is an eternity in screen-time, by the way–we decided to head out of the low office building. I read the next day in the Washington Post that FEMA atually recommends you just stay put in a low building and to get under a table, as you are more likely to be injured by falling debris or things falling off walls.  Everyone was fine, but if we’d had a process in place we might have known just what to do.

Developing process can be challenging when you are moving at a hundred miles an hour. Like changing the tire while driving. But if you can build periodic “process checks” into your organizational system, you may get a better handle on surprises. That could mean a monthly review of how you deal with new clients, what your crisis PR plan looks like, the check-points along the way to producing strong marketing materials, or the way in which your board makes decisions.  it’s a “50,000-foot” conversation that doesn’t always happen in agenda-driven meetings. If you can build just one open-ended, process-driven question into those meetings, you are on your way to better process management.

What processes do you keep tabs on, and what questions do you ask at the management and board level so that you’re not surprised by the next organizational earthquake? I’d love to hear from you!

Help Haiti

I’m suspending my usual post for the day to list these organizations through whom you can send help to the people of Haiti.  The poorest nation in the western hemisphere, Haiti was hit by a major earthquake today and is poorly equipped to deal with this disaster. Most Haitians live on less than 2 dollars a day and only 20 percent have access to clean water.

Here are some organizations that can direct your dollars to Haiti:

International Medical Corps

Yele Haiti

WorldVision

American Red Cross

Catholic Relief Services

Save the Childrenwatch the CNN interview with Save the Children’s Ian Rodgers

UNICEF

You can learn more about Haiti, and Dr. Paul Farmer’s lifelong work to change the destiny of its people through better healthcare, in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.