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Strategic triage
The goals of Strategic Triage are the same as medical/surgical triage: determine the priority of your actions to make a significant difference in the outcome.

Applying Triage to an Organization in Crisis

There is a three-part strategy for managing emergency situations, stabilizing the effects, and optimizing the outcome

Despite solid strategies and best intentions, leaders sometimes find their organizations in the throes of unexpected crisis that threatens the survival of the enterprise. Whether it is changing market forces, some unexpected event, or self-inflicted damage, enhancing opportunities for enterprise survival are a crisis for leadership, too. The most effective crisis management strategies focus on addressing critical elements that will enhance potential for survival. This is “strategic triage.”

Health-care professionals use a triage process to assign degrees of urgency to patients, to establish priorities that will maximize the number of survivors. Triage can be effective for organizations with a crisis situation, too. The goals of Strategic Triage are the same: determine the priority of your actions to make a significant difference in the outcome.

There are three critical elements of focus: Make decisions, rapidly; identify the most immediate priorities necessary to stabilize a situation; and engage candidly with your team.

1. Clarify Decisions to be Made — Once you recognize you are in a strategic crisis, focus your critical thinking on the decisions that will matter most to resolving it. This includes understanding clearly the dynamics that led to the crisis. To do this, you need to obtain candid information about your true situation. How serious is this? Do you have the proper data to understand the magnitude of the crisis, and the options you have for addressing it?

In a turbulent period, planning still requires a deep assessment of the business environment. Seek trusted advisors to provide insight about options to consider, but be sure they have the depth of expertise to offer realistic options to resolve the crisis. You do not want to be part of their learning curve.

Identify the critical strategic information you need to make decisions. Be clear about the outcome you desire. Do you want to save lives, save jobs, or save money? This clarity will guide you when you evaluate your options. Assess your assumptions and understand the market forces that will determine your ability to resolve the crisis. Concentrate your critical thinking on the things that matter most to resolving the short-term issue, without blowing up the organization. Everything else is extraneous and a potential distraction when you are in a real strategic crisis.

2. Establish Clear Priorities — The success of Strategic Triage is in identifying short-term priorities. Developing clarity among all participants will help them stay focused on the activities that will work to stabilize the situation. Too often, without a clear focus and left alone, team members will use their own judgment to focus on activities they deem important. If they lack good critical thinking skills, their efforts will have minimal impact.

Establishing clear priorities for leaders and employees provides each with a clear focus for efforts that improve the potential for crisis recovery. These priorities establish a framework for decision-making and minimize any focus on irrelevant issues or actions.

Ensure that your team and corporate assets are in proper alignment. Everything that is essential to addressing the issue should be deployed toward resolving the crisis.

3. Engage in Candid Dialog — Engage your leaders in a candid dialog to identify what they need immediately from their key employees to stabilize or resolve the crisis. Ask team members to identify options to work-around the gaps caused by the crisis. Use your clarified priorities to guide them. By taking control of communications you also will manage your message better and focus your talking points during the emergency.

Candor is paramount. This is no time to pretend or wish-away your troubles. Identify what you need from each of stakeholder to resolve or stabilize the immediate situation. Identify the most crucial skills you need to deal with the most pressing issues. Do you have the talent in-house or do you need outside resources?

Evaluate your team’s willingness and ability to lead. Assess their resolve and commitment to turning around the situation. You need to know who you can rely on when the stakes are high.

By having a candid dialog with your critical stakeholders, you optimize your potential to gain their support and influence to work with you in a crisis. They may have additional ideas and insight for addressing or minimizing disruptions.

Whether it is the loss of your primary customer, the death of an employee, or surviving the apocalypse, maximizing your options and prioritizing your efforts are essential. Managing your own panic will help you focus on the decisions you must make and finding the right advisors to assist you. By doing so, you will maximize your options for weathering the crisis and then recalibrating your strategies to optimize future outcomes.
Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a management consultant, and author of “Compounding Your Confidence.” Learn more at

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