Handling Crises — What Corporates Can Learn From Sri Lanka’s Recent Terror Ordeal

Sri Lanka is still reeling from the massively damaging Easter Sunday terrorist attack that took its citizens by complete surprise. An attack of this nature shakes a nation to its core. People initially band together to provide relief and support to those affected. But when details start emerging, the blame game begins. It brings to light many social issues that have been neglected for decades. Unfortunately, it also highlights the ugly side of human nature — bigotry, racism, hatred. We have gone through all these stages since the 21st of April, and it’s still ongoing. As a people, we have much to learn from this heartbreaking experience, which has exposed grave incompetence in security, communication and leadership, not only in the government, but also in the corporate sector.

Why bring the corporate sector into this? Because the Easter attack and its fallout are textbook examples of crisis situations that affect both the public and private sectors. The response of the public sector, although severely problematic, is not what we want to discuss here. But we do want to take a closer look at how some organizations responded and reacted to the crisis, in order identify some key mistakes and how they can be avoided.

How did local businesses respond to the crisis?

Three of Colombo’s prominent city hotels had to deal with the unthinkable when their properties became targets of terrorist attacks on Easter morning. Many survivor accounts that were published in traditional as well as social media, referenced the emergency support and relief provided by hotel service staff in a positive manner. Amidst the carnage and confusion, sanity prevailed and hotel staff did their utmost to rush the injured to hospital and assist and re-assure survivors. These organizations have lost much, but they can also take pride in the dedication and commitment to organizational values shown by their staff when they were pushed beyond the limit. They showed by example, that well-trained employees can respond to a crisis situation and mitigate the damage caused.

On the flip side, we also have examples of negative employee behavior and reactions to crises, which reflect badly on the entire organization.

Soon after the suspects of the attacks were identified and their details released to the public, the witch hunts began. An entire community was held accountable for the actions of a few, and racism reared its ugly head. Reports began emerging of people who were harassed at leading banks and supermarkets, refused entry and subject to racial slurs by employees of these businesses. These employees were undoubtedly influenced by the mass hysteria and panic that was engulfing the nation. Added to that, a lack of clear direction or communication from the higher management meant that employees had no guide for how they should act in response to the social unrest that was taking over the land. Needless to say, the businesses received lots of negative attention, with some citizens threatening legal action against them for harassment.

How can businesses be better prepared?

Crises cannot be predicted, neither can they always be prevented. All an organization can do is train employees on how to deal with potential crisis situations, and establish a clear mode of communication that can guide and assist in times of crisis. As the famous Dr. Phil once said, “don’t wait until you’re in a crisis to come up with a crisis plan.”

According to Training Magazine, organizations spend an average US$ 986 on training each employee annually. But how much of this training actually makes an impact? We discussed the issues of workplace training and how to overcome them in a previous post Training Sucks. The solution we put forward was a full-fledged Learning Management System (LMS) to help increase efficiency and effectiveness of employee training.

Here are some additional reasons why an LMS solution such as Layup can also be effective in managing a crisis situation.

Training for crises — you can train your employees all day long, but if they don’t internalize and retain any of the salient points of your training, what good is it? Crisis situations put the best of us under immense pressure. Retention and recall of key points need to be high in order to be useful in times of crisis.

An LMS solution offers rich interactive elements which can produce meaningful engagement, leading to deep learning and higher retention levels. This means that employees will actually remember what protocols to follow and how to respond to certain events, in order to manage the situation.

Furthermore, you can update crisis management content to be more relevant to the situation at hand, and push actionable content to all staff. This means that staff are equipped to deal with a specific situation and able to interact with and assist customers in accordance with organizational policies and values. Since LMS solutions are mobile optimized, employees can access important content from anywhere on any device, instead of waiting to come into the training classroom to figure out what to do.

Referencing the example we brought up earlier, if management at the local supermarket and bank had given clear and timely instructions to staff throughout the island regarding the proper protocols for handling the situation in a sensitive and non-aggressive way, they could have avoided all that negative publicity and potential loss of business.

Communicating in crises — communication is key in crisis management. An organization needs to have clear communication channels, where employees can receive information and provide feedback in real time during an emergency. Most robust LMS solutions offer social engagement platforms that allow employees to connect with each other, as well as with management. This becomes a very effective tool in times of crisis, as it provides a platform to communicate important information, give live updates in response to changing scenarios and give clear guidance on what steps employees should take to deal with a situation, no matter where they are located. It also helps to gather information from those in effected areas and mobilize teams and resources efficiently.

Training and communication are key components of a crisis management plan. A robust LMS solution such as Layup can truly make a difference in preparing your employees to deal with crises. If you would like to know more, email us at contact@getlayup.com and we will be happy to assist.