When people ask me what I actually do for a living, I sometimes ask them if they remember “The Cleaner” from the movie Pulp Fiction. In the movie, there is a bloody murder that occurs in a car and they call a guy called “The Wolf” (Harvey Keitel) who shows up in a tuxedo and his specialty is to make the crime scene disappear. When I say “The Cleaner” most folks immediately remember him and chuckle a bit about the comparison, however, it’s really not that far off in many ways.
My job invariably includes problem solving and crisis management. In most cases, the damage (the murder) has already occurred. I can’t stop it from happening. My job is to figure a way out that will result in the least amount of collateral damage. In the construction business bad things can happen even to the most organized and professional companies. Subcontractors will walk away from their obligations. Owners will ignore contract responsibilities. Misappropriation of payments. We have theft, damage, lying, cheating, injuries, and corruption. I have seen some truly amazing things happen. Instances where you say to yourself- “there is no way that they would do that!” And then it happens! Desperate people will do very foolish things. And the legal system is largely useless. We protect ourselves as best as we can with solid processes and early warning systems but they are not flawless. We have chinks in our armor. So bad things will happen. It’s inevitable.
What do you do when you encounter a crisis situation? We can get a few clues from the Wolf:
Stay Calm: The Wolf shows up in tuxedo and calmly reviews the situation and then asks Jimmy for a cup of coffee. He doesn’t get rattled. He is calm and confident. Remember that your disposition will rub off on others. If you get angry or start throwing around blame the folks you need most to help you will likely check out. You need to keep them engaged to find your way out. You need them to have a cool head and to be able to think clearly. Stay calm and confident.
Call an Expert: When the Wolf comes to the door he says, “I solve problems”. They called the Wolf because he is the best. He’s been in the situation before. He’s experienced. The Wolf accesses the situation and immediately starts to give instructions on how to clean up the mess. There is no hesitancy or reluctance to act. He doesn’t need to think. He’s been there before. This is the kind of direction that you need when you are in a tough situation.
Get the Facts: When the Wolf arrives he immediately begins to get the facts. He asks a series of questions. With the responses, he puts together a timeline on when things needs to happen. He views the conditions and formulates a plan to clean and dispose of the car using what he has available.
Be Specific: When the Wolf gives direction he is specific. He tells Jules (Samuel Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) exactly what to do. He tells them what areas to concentrate on and what is wasted time. Once he has given the instructions, there is no need for questions- just action. They have their marching orders. They know what to do.
Time is Critical: The Wolf keeps things moving quickly and efficiently. He knows that time is not on your side. The quicker you start fixing the problem, the better. Don’t put your head in the sand. It will not go away all by itself.
Crisis management is part of leading any team. Bad things are going to happen. You must control your emotions, keep a clear head, assess the situation, get help, and move immediately to fix the conditions. Your team is looking for your help, not your criticism. There will be plenty of time for that later. For now, move quickly and efficiently and get the situation under control. A crisis is like a forest fire. If you don’t get it under control quickly and completely it will spiral out of control. Be like the Wolf. Be a problem solver!