In any business, the lines of communications vary in effectiveness as evidenced in times of emergency and crises.
If we take a moment of our time to drill down to the various steps each department must follow and connections made, you will find incongruity. What is causing this lack of clarity and in many cases a failure of urgency and focus of one’s duties? You will find misalignment of what has been painstakingly been labored over as written policy and rules, published at the right font size and made public as established standard practice, the execution is vastly different.
Effective communications for such situations is establishing a protocol for the occurrence of a breakdown in systems and subsequent disruption in operations causing people to panic.
By establishing protocol that permits all employees to remain in contact while acting in a predefined way that each group, shift, lead knows the others routine permits a state of calm during a disruption. Drilling down and executing with real, live exercises commits to memory what must be done and moreover should, as in many cases, events change the order of steps established, alternative actions can be acted on. These protocols become hardwired into the intent if not behaviour of all employees, so a groupthink, can be established in thinking through any given situation.
The occurrence of such events shows that in many cases fear takes over and an escalation of emotional distraction rules the day. Could it be that employees have simply not read the manual? Perhaps in orientation, the new associates have not been fully informed of the need to read up on the company emergency procedures and what must be known and acted upon in specific situations? With all the demand on our job-related functions perhaps the quarterly exercises that are critical and in many cases life-saving steps are pushed back in priority and hence the recesses of our minds?
A case in point comes to mind. An alarm went off, let us say in company GHY that caused operations to shut down. Amazingly the various department Operations, Facilities, HR, and Security seemed to question the steps that should be taken and moreover what each lead from the respective departments should be communicating with one another. If they were up to speed, shouldn’t they be affirming the steps understood with each other?
What followed was a nervous atmosphere of not sure and hesitation among the lead associates instead of reaching for notes, manuals, and smart devices to engage one another about what is being done, what next needs to happen and key stakeholders that are in the loop. Moreover, the insecurity of associates from each department displayed in the expressions and comments of their teams. A long-term confidence-building opportunity called rapport was lost. A stark contrast to the recent company newsletter that depicted a community fo informed and ‘oiled’ employee protocol for such events.
The reality is that such situational relationships come down to the environment created by management. An atmosphere of open collaboration and engagement encourages employees to share areas of responsibility that let for discussion in such cases to be more amiable. So what are the possible answers if not gambit which can be used to reduce risk and improve communications? Interestingly enough the common courtesy of engaging one another on emergency procedures in particular and common areas of discussion, in general, goes a long way to smooth out the bumps in such times. I have witnessed that these precursors of fundamental interpersonal communications lay down a higher acceptance level of what one says to another during the length of any business relationship. Robert Cialdini author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion 1984 shares a number of such seemingly small yet significant etiquette drives future level of engagement.
Another ‘witnessed’ form of engagement is to have a group of employees create the opportunity to discuss what if scenarios, environmental challenges observed, wish lists of the operational nature in informal gatherings around safety. These opportunities actually produce real ‘data’ on the state of mind of the employees around such issues. Such observations can improve processes otherwise left on the opportunity table.
Another area of added value to consider is in the very diversity of your people. What does someone from Venezuela, Myanmar, Mali, the Congo, Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan have in common? Look a little further and see that people from these regions of the world have grown up with a sense of crisis management all their lives. So how can that help us address singular events that touch our world is infrequently? We can adopt a sense of calm in the perspective that the situation has many parties who know what to do, aid that is on its way and we more than likely, will be going home to a safe environment. Can you feel me?
The real risk in times of emergency is the communications gap of common courtesy. How we voice our directions, requests, and instructions during times of a heighten emotional state. Not in writing ever more descriptive binders that lay out what should, no, what must be done when a crisis occurs. Since those that wish to lead can forge real relationships and build collaborative groups across an enterprise. People will follow your example and perhaps save a life.
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Ronald M. Allen