Whilst this is not what I had originally planned for my blogpost, the recent Coronavirus (Covid-19) has reminded me of how difficult it can be to deal with a crisis as a manager. While we are putting numerous measures in place in our centres here in Taiwan, it is often tricky dealing with many different opinions and fears of staff and consumers. Numerous British Council offices across the globe have started online classes, which has an impact on quality and cost, but might be the way forward. IATEFL and TESOL have deferred or cancelled their annual conferences (respectively), as have many smaller conferences. While it may be difficult to anticipate such a large crisis, there are other smaller ones that can be planned for. As terrible as this may sound, the death of an employee is something that quite a few of us have had to deal with. I had to deal with this quite recently, and it has made me all the more aware of how important a proper plan and procedures are when dealing with possible crisis situations. So, the focus of this blogpost will be on crisis management.
Identify the different types of crisis
There are a number of different types of crises and sometimes they are linked, so plans need to keep this in mind. I am only mentioning three here, but there are definitely more.
- Personnel crisis: I put this first as it is the one I have most often had to deal with. This could include death of an employee or direct family member of an employee; fraud or illegal behaviour, or any other forms of unethical behaviour.
- Financial crisis: A downturn in income or a sudden large increase in costs that makes it less feasible for the business to function.
- Natural crisis: A crisis that arises from earthquakes, typhoons, or other natural issues such as the current Coronavirus (Covid-19).
Assess the impact
Once the different crises have been identified, the next step is to assess the impact of the crisis. This could mean a loss in income, an increase in expenses to remedy the crisis, a loss in customer loyalty, a negative effect on the brand, or numerous other impacts. It is important to quantify each impact as it makes it easier to prioritise when necessary.
Consider what actions are needed
Consider the actions you need to take to remedy or mediate each crisis. This primarily takes three forms:
- Responsive crisis management means that you are reacting to the crisis. This action plan needs to be detailed to ensure that you also know when to inform staff, when to inform customers and how to respond to questions and concerns.
- Proactive crisis management is the anticipation of a crisis and how to deal with it. For example, our centres in Taiwan go through stringent earthquake checking measures. It could be something as simple as making sure there is someone in the centre on standby if a teacher is involved in an accident on the way to work and someone has to cover. Luckily, that has only happened to me twice.
- Reactive/Recovery crisis management is when the crisis hits you unexpected. This could, for example, mean in the middle of classes, all your computers and your computer system fail.
Decide who will be involved in the resolutions and how this will be communicated to staff and customers. What tools, resources and procedures do you need to resolve the crisis? How can the crisis be avoided or how can you prevent it from worsening? Also include a stakeholder analysis here as you may need to deal with a range of different stakeholders in times of crisis.
Train the relevant people and ensure, through succession planning, that you have the staff and resources to deal with the different crises. Revisit your plans regularly and check if best practices are in place. Learn from different crisis situations and update your plans and responses from what you have learned in previous crisis management situations.
React when the crisis arrives
- Notice the warning signs and prepare to respond
- Assess the risk including the financial impact on the organisation
- Respond to the crisis and implement or activate crisis management systems
- After resolution or recovery, reflect on the process and improve your crisis management systems and protocols
While everyone is responding right now to the Coronavirus crisis, and it is what has triggered this blogpost, I thought it more relevant to highlight another example.
About a year ago, one of my teachers passed away. He was a friend of mine and was discovered in his apartment two days after he had passed away by a mutual friend. It was a time of great sadness and lots of stress. His parents had to be informed, his labour insurance had to be paid out, his latest salary had to be paid to his next of kin – who were not based in Taiwan, we had to verify the details of the next of kin for accounting purposes, and we had to notify staff and students. It was particularly difficult to not let staff know before his next of kin had been notified, and then decide how to communicate his passing to his students who were mostly young learners. We opted to not let his students know but rather just inform them that they would have a new teacher. It was a very difficult decision, but we decided that it would cause undue stress on young students to let them know that their teacher had passed away. A further difficulty was withholding information from the cover teacher about why they had to cover the class until we could inform all staff and then explaining why we had to do this. It felt like everything was happening at once, but our Director of English Language Services (DELS) was very supportive and helped to figure out how to communicate which message needed to be passed on, and then deal with the emotions of teachers and staff once it was sent out. A few weeks later, I realised that his umbrella was still in the teaching office and it brought back many memories. I am sure, in retrospect, that we could have done a few things better, but we did the best we could, and we were as prepared for something like this as we could be.
Luckily, long before me, someone made a checklist that had things like:
- Confirm labour insurance and pension payouts with HR
- Confirm salary for the month to date
- Confirm how salary should be paid (into employee account if the next of kin can access it or the next of kin’s account)
- Ensure the next of kin has been notified
- Notify staff
- Notify students if appropriate
We had crisis management procedures in place, and I knew exactly who to contact to complete his payroll and labour insurance payouts. His next of kin and those dealing with his funeral were very happy, as we were much more organised that the other school he worked with. It did, however, not remove the sadness and stress of his passing.
Coronavirus presents us with an opportunity to learn about crisis management, to reflect on our practices and to consider the longevity of our organisations. It might feel like we are standing on a rock with the ocean violently beating against the rock, and as much as it is frustrating having our favourite conferences cancelled, and travel restricted, and concerning losing students, it is a great opportunity to empathise with those in difficult situations, and to hope that we all stay safe and healthy.
I can’t wish you happy crisis management, but I wish for all of you to stay safe and healthy.