Nip Those Incidents in the Bud!

Jul 17, 2017 | by Patrick Potter

I'm dating myself here, but I used to love to watch the Andy Griffith Show. I liked Andy's calm demeanor as he tried to raise little Opie. Barney Fife was his neurotic sidekick. I enjoyed this exchange between the two of them as they discussed raising kids:

Barney Fife: Well, today's eight-year-olds are tomorrow's teenagers. I say this calls for action and now. Nip it in the bud. First sign of youngsters going wrong, you've got to nip it in the bud.

Andy Taylor: I'm going to have a talk with them. What else do you want me to do?

Barney Fife: Well, don't just mollycoddle them.

Andy Taylor: I won't.

Barney Fife: Nip it. You go read any book you want on the subject of child discipline and you'll find every one of them is in favor of bud-nipping.

Barney says the best way to deal with children so that they don't turn into "youngsters gone wrong" is to nip it in the bud. 'Nipping it in the bud' means to deal with issues promptly and not let them linger. I'll add in, having raised a child or two, that there need to be fair rules, love and consistent treatment relative to the child and their behavior. This bud-nipping does help to some extent when younger kids turn into teenagers, but you still get the kid that's just an unpredictable tsunami regardless. However, for the most part it helps to have a plan with the younger ones so that when they get older they're better kids.

Let's apply this conversation to incident management versus crisis management. Incidents are typically small events that occur daily in running an organization. They could be safety-related, employee-related, a manufacturing incident or more depending on the type of organization. They're usually not a big deal. Crises, on the other hand are incidents out of control. They're bigger and, oftentimes, very nasty. They're unique, so we may not have all the details or information on how to deal with them. Incidents are like small children and teenagers are like crisis events. Where I'm going with this is organizations need to spend more time putting in place solid incident management procedures - bud-nipping if you will - to reduce the likelihood that the incidents turn into crises. Here are three ways to achieve this:

  1. Keep it simple and consistent. Have a simple and consistent process for dealing with incidents. Make the process simple, because on top of those resolution procedures you will also have unique incident types requiring different steps to resolve them. Having simple incident resolution processes will also help make them consistent, so they're applied the same way. This simplicity helps people better understand their roles in dealing with the incidents.
  2. It takes a village. Just as the adage says that it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to handle incidents; and more so if and when they become crisis events. Make sure your process for dealing with incidents, depending on the type of incident, includes the appropriate people. For example, if the incident is employee-related, make sure human resources is included. If the incident could result in public exposure, involve your public relations department.
  3. Act quickly and early. If you're going to make an assumption about incidents in general, assume any one of them has the potential to turn into a crisis and treat them accordingly. Some incidents are just a normal part of doing business. Others are more complex or subjective. For both types, keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, meaning act quickly and early to resolve them.

Now, having said all this, there will still be those incidents that turn into full-scale crisis events, just like after having done all we can do to raise well-behaved kids we still get unruly teenagers from time to time. You have to have plans to deal with them too, but that's the subject of another blog, or a book or two. The main point I wanted to make today, similar to Barney Fife's approach to nip things in the bud early, is to take incidents that occur in the normal course of business seriously. Deal with them simply, promptly and involve the right participants. For more interesting conversation, email me at Patrick.potter@rsa.com.

Author: Patrick Potter

Category: RSA Point of View

Keywords: Incident Management