We have long asked prospective employees what they do when they encounter a work crisis, when something goes drastically wrong, and when the pressure is on them to fix it. Some candidates report that they have never faced a crisis; these candidates are mostly those who are interviewing for their first job. Most of us who work know things happen sometimes for reasons beyond our control, or sometimes for reasons we caused. Regardless of why, these scenarios have to be handled quickly, quietly, and professionally. One of the most amazingly telling answers to this interview question came from a young woman with several years of work experience, including at her then current job as a police dispatcher (where presumedly bad things happen on every shift). Her answer was “I cry when something bad happens…I go to the ladies room and dry my eyes, and calm down, then return to work to deal with the problem.” Needless to say, she was ill suited to her work in emergency services, and to work in our environment as well. We were amazed that, while the answer was apparently very honest, someone admitted to such a non productive approach to work when, rather than “never letting them see you sweat,” she broke down in tears, unable to complete her work task until she cried her eyes out. Obviously she was not hired, but we really stepped up our efforts to screen prospective employees to ensure they could perform with grace under pressure.
As regular readers of David’s and my posts certainly know, David’s favorite band is RUSH. There is an album, released by RUSH in 1984, entitled “Grace Under Pressure.” This expression, having grace under pressure, is something that is required of everyone who works for Magnus. Inevitably, during a mock trial or other research day, something goes wrong. Often, it is a minor glitch, such as an equipment malfunction. Other times, what goes wrong is more serious, such as a cancelled flight that results in one or more research team members not arriving to the research facility on time. Whatever it is that goes wrong, there is nothing positive, in my opinion, that results from emotional responses such as crying, having a temper tantrum, or freezing like a deer caught in the headlights. When David asks the question of everyone who applies for a job at our company, “How have you responded to a crisis at work?”, the answer he receives tells us a lot about the person who wants a job. Some naïve people respond that there is no need to prepare for a crisis, in that they are so perfect as to be able to avoid all crises! In our work environment, crises are most often the result of things that are out of our immediate control. For this reason, we have no way to know they are coming; instead, we have to take strong steps to manage each crisis as it comes. Having grace under pressure is the key to resolving a crisis, regardless of its origin, in the most efficient and effective way.