Crisis Management in International Business: Keys to Effective Decision Making

The trick to effective decision-making during a crisis is letting go of what you can’t control and focusing on what you can.

Decision-making can be challenging when business is, as usual, difficult enough. Nevertheless, following a clear-cut decision-making process makes it more accessible. However, this process can be rendered useless during a crisis, which makes decision-making even more challenging. Time constraints and uncertainty from misinformation, lack of knowledge, assumptions, and rumors threaten effective decision-making during a crisis. In addition, the added pressure can inhibit your cognitive process and critical thinking, which can easily lead to flawed decisions.

Moreover, when it comes to international business, there are some added unique challenges that you have to deal with. If you aren’t careful, you can end up making the situation worse, which is the last thing that you need at such a time. Read on to find out important factors that can lead to effective decision-making during a crisis in your international business.

Gather all the information that you can get

A data-driven decision-making system is likely to lead to optimal decisions that ensure business continuity and that the business stands after the crisis. However, finding information can be challenging in such times, especially in an international business.

Nevertheless, engage the entire organization for data acquisition. Take the bits and pieces of the available data and information and evaluate what makes sense for your organization. When you connect all the pieces of information that make sense, you gain knowledge of the situation at hand. Moreover, several pieces of knowledge can be enough to gain intelligence that you can use to inform your decisions.

Focus on what you can control

There are so many factors that come into play during a crisis. This includes some you can control and others you can’t control. The trick to effective decision-making in such a scenario is letting go of what you can’t control and focusing on what you can. For instance, consider businesses planning to expand internationally before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Travel restrictions across borders couldn’t be controlled, but businesses could control how to adapt to the new normal and find ways to continue with the plans. Those who focused on the inability to travel internationally probably ended up halting their plans. But, the case is likely different for a business that evaluated its international expansion strategy and found ways to execute it in those circumstances, such as hiring teams via Zoom or partnering with an expansion partner in the country of interest.

Slow down

Time is of the essence during a crisis. Everyone is looking at you for directions, and making them quick is paramount. Additionally, with the difference in time zones, the issue of time is even more complex. However, rushing through the decision-making process can turn fatal during a crisis. Remember that there is massive pressure; you might be overworked and depressed.

Moreover, the information at hand might be scant, and circumstances surrounding the crisis might change by the second. Making decisions around such scenarios is not the best idea. Even with the pressure of time, allow yourself the opportunity to slow down. Take an hour or two to ponder the issue before making a decision.

Put up a team

When your cognitive ability is inhibited by pressure, it can be hard to think beyond how you have always made decisions. However, unique situations call for unique decision-making strategies. A team of subject matter experts, decision-makers, and other stakeholders can prove valuable in providing other perspectives on handling the situation. It might not be possible to meet with your international stakeholders and departmental heads in person. Plan for video conferencing for brainstorming sessions and encourage everyone to participate.

Let your values guide you

So many things are at stake during a crisis, including your reputation and brand image in the eyes of outsiders. Remember that mending an international reputation is much harder and more costly. That is why your decisions need to align with the company values that you uphold as an organization. Don’t be pressured by a sense of urgency or fear to make decisions that might hurt you later. Remember that consistency is key, take a moment and use your company values as a guide when making decisions.


Making the right decisions is critical for businesses, even in normal circumstances. It is even more critical during a crisis. Unfortunately, the margin for error is minimal in a crisis, and time and resources are limited. Without solid decision-making skills, the situation might turn from bad to worse. Take your time, gather information, build a team, focus on what you can control, and find guidance in your company values. These steps will be handy when making decisions for your international business during a crisis.

Mary Jo Martin is a marketing consultant who works at the intersection of marketing and technology and has held a raft of executive positions, including Chief Strategy Data and Strategic Director for Oracle Marketing Cloud.