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CEO Magazine Features Article by Zhike Lei on How CEOs Can Manage a Crisis

May 27, 2020  | 2 min read

Regardless of safety policies, industry regulations, education, or other measures institutions put in place, errors are inevitable. As modern operations and collaboration around the globe become increasingly dynamic and complex, organizations need to tackle errors quickly and effectively before they mushroom into major crises. The COVID-19 crisis has shown not only the U.S. but the world how quickly a situation can spiral out of everyone’s control. Zhike Lei, associate professor of behavioral science and director of the Center for Applied Research, shares findings from her research paper, Fast, Slow and Pause: Understanding Error Reporting via a Temporal Lens, and provides three tips chief executives can implement when managing a crisis.

When organizations and individuals are put into high-pressure situations they must ensure the most effective, ethical, and economical solutions are developed and executed. Zhike’s research finds cultures of time and cultural norms affect the very nature of error reporting behaviors. Chief executives must rethink and reframe error reporting within their organization and how employees report errors, small and big. When it comes to errors, timing is everything. Consider the COVID-19 crisis, which is a race against time in many ways. CEOs need to be alerted to the side effects of emphasizing speed over content. In some situations, reacting to an error too quickly can lead to the problem-solver incorrectly rejecting the correct diagnosis.

Chief executives must only understand the root cause of an error for organizational failures rarely have a single cause. Most crises and accidents result from multiple, smaller errors in environments with serious underlying system flaws. In his famous “Swiss cheese” model, Reason notes that hazards will result in harm when individual defensive barriers are incomplete and contain random holes, like the holes in slices of Swiss cheese. Occasionally these holes line up, allowing those hazards to create harm and create failures. Read more.