20 October 2014
I have been following the Ebola issue rather closely, or should I say it has been following me because here in America you can't escape coverage of it, blogs John Bowen
There are maybe three aspects of this that might be of interest to facilities managers. One is about communication, one about process, but the other is about the truth.
Communication in any situation is important and, as I wrote the other week, using simple language helps to get your message across in a way that people will understand. In any crisis this is absolutely vital. Ambiguity causes confusion and confusion leads to panic, so getting your points across in everyday language makes sense. Avoid jargon, don't be pompous and address people's concerns. Your message is for your audience, not for you.
Having the right process is important, but sometimes you will find that the process that you thought would work is not right and needs to be adjusted. This is not a time for being defensive; if you have a problem get it sorted - and quickly.
These two issues lead into the last point because getting to the truth can be hard and you will often find that what you thought was the truth isn't. Over here in the US there has been so much conflicting information around the Ebola issue and some of it has been delivered deadpan by people who should, apparently, know what they are talking about. When you are trying to communicate and make your processes work it can be challenging when you are building these on the shifting sands of evolving truth.
As to the case in Texas I can only talk from what I have heard and read from the media, but I can make a few observations. The first of these is about the first contact because I can well remember my own arrival at an emergency room (or A&E as we call them) where it took 25 minutes of charm offensive to get someone to check the fax machine where, sure enough, was the message from one of their own doctors confirming that I was expected and a bed was allocated for me.
Our frontline troops are all under pressure and are working to the processes that we have provided, but we cannot cater for every eventuality and have to give our people some latitude. That also includes the need for the customer to be right and to take them seriously. That does not appear to have happened when the late Thomas Duncan first presented himself.
The other observation that I would make is that it seems incomprehensible that those at the hospital who were potentially exposed to the virus that killed Mr Duncan were not themselves quarantined until any potential infection had been ruled out. Shutting down until you are sure that you are clear is such a basic principle of crisis management and it seems bizarre that it was not applied.
The problem is that my observations have little validity because I don't know the facts; I don't have the truth and whether it will ever be known for sure is another matter. Over the years I have investigated all sorts of incidents and accidents and the outcome is inevitably a case of weighing up the probability of what happened from a series of conflicting pieces of evidence.
Experience counts as you try to understand what you need to communicate and what you need to change. The truth will always be elusive and almost everyone will have his or her own version of it. All you can do is to consider what facts you have as impassively as possible and look at things with an open mind and make the best decisions that you can.
That, after all, is what management is about, let alone leadership.
John Bowen is an FM consultant