As it grows, your company will probably have an emergency at some point that warrants crisis management in IT. No matter if it's a data breach, natural disaster or product malfunction, you're usually the first blamed for its occurrence and the last credited with resolution. Even in the case of a weather event, sysadmins take the hot seat if user machines aren't up and running quickly. But as they say, people don't remember the mistake — they remember how you handled it.

Here are five things to do during this fire:

1. Diffuse the Situation

As soon as an outage happens, pull out your business continuity plan. Don't have a BCP? Make a note to create a plan as soon as crisis management in IT completes. A number of templates are available, including one from FEMA, to help get the process started. If the fix is as straightforward as installing a patch, updating hardware or putting a server back online, solve it right away. Crises are different from issue tickets not just in that they're top priority, but that most users are sitting ducks until it's resolved. And the sooner it is, the less it lingers in a user's memory.

2. Accept (Certain) Blame

If support was in some way at fault, your best bet is to apologize — but with three goals in mind: candor, remorse and commitment to change. Honest and personal apologies are best received, much like Mark Zuckerberg's "We really messed this one up" apology in 2006 after a cluttered News Feed implementation. And although IT is often blamed for things that they, well, didn't cause, you're still on the hook for a sorry — just with a different reason behind it. Falling on your sword for what happened and, specifically, the user's experience, allows you to deflect the situation without accepting blame you don't need to take. Sometimes people just want to be heard and empathized with, while learning what the real source of the problem was.

3. Translate the Solution

According to the CIO Executive Council's survey, Power of Effective IT Communication, 44 percent of IT leaders are somewhat dissatisfied with their team's ability to communicate within the organization. This increases problems, or at least those perceived during a crisis. The first step is to recognize where communication gaps exist between IT and the rest of the workplace (they're not hard to find), and present the information in a way that is meaningful. How? Translate the issue into terms a non-technical friend or neighbor would understand. A rough example you may be familiar with:

  • What really happened: "The WhatsUpGold network monitor shows all of our wireless access points are having problems. We need to track down where those WAPs are located, which ethernet switch ports they are connected to, and check the switch logs."
  • The email you'll send: "Hello everyone, Operations is aware of the Wi-Fi issues and is working on a fix. Please plug into the wired connection at your desk until the issue is resolved. Thank you for your patience."

Still stuck? Consider bouncing the message off the CIO or COO to ensure the solution is clear to both schools of thought.

4. Justify the Details

But what's the secret behind effective communication? Identifying who you're talking to and tailoring your message to staff who need only the details that pertain to their machine. It's often easiest to do this by backing up your message with data. If an outage occurred due to network overcapacity, for example, telling the office they used too much bandwidth is tough to do without the evidence to support it. People are more likely to trust your department if they feel that you're being transparent with them.

5. Rebuild Your Value

This crisis may be over, but some distrust may linger. Because many IT pros prefer working without verbal interruption, the department usually doesn't get credit for the things they do right. In the weeks and months following a crisis, it is important to restore trust by communicating things like network uptime so staff are assured the problem won't flare up again. Shortly afterward, explain both to the leadership, company and, if appropriate, to customers how IT put out the fire. Everyone should know how your team's competence helped with the resolution; it's easy to be invisible otherwise.

And remember: Work with the team to create a BCP! Finding avenues to share accomplishments via intranet can also make the same resolution feel more attainable the next time a challenge surfaces. Take credit for when your department realizes tangible improvements in productivity, too. Faster load times? Surely it has something to do with the server space you just opened up. Even after the crisis is forgotten, keep positive vibes about the helpdesk's work at the forefront. And when the next ticket comes in, hopefully the company is slower to point the finger.


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