5 Things I Observed When in the Face of Crisis.

Strangely, people have different ways of dealing with complex situations. For me, I have to be able to understand it and express it in my own way for me to be able to breath in and breath out better – it almost feels like a potato constantly choking my throat, so you can imagine the relief. I do it sometimes through the blog and other times through conversations; but always in the form of what I’ve learnt from it. I’m of the school of thought where I believe that with every experience, comes a lesson. You Live, You Learn!

As you would know I work at a bank that has been placed under receivership, or that has been shut down from operating as a result of liquidity difficulties arising from a bank run earlier in the week. And so to protect the customers deposits, they had to shut down before all the customers withdrew their monies and left the bank a shell. In the interest of the economy, I believe, they will check the financial health of the bank, manage, control and conduct its affairs until they’re sure that all’s well. Anyway, I’m not a financial expert, that’s the much I understand at this point from a layman perspective.

So, while all this was going down, and again not coming from the point of a communication expert (since I’m not one, just armed with maybe a course or two…lol), I observed a couple of things that happen in the face of crisis. Talking from being a victim (when Imperial Bank closed down, and I was a depositor, and a lover of their exceptional customer service) and a member of staff (when the bank is in a state, and a lover of the brand sitting in the marketing department.)

ArtCaffe, Chase Woman, Chase Bank Kenya
The picture was taken at ArtCaffe during International Women’s Day, where there was a coffee happy hour to celebrate women.
  • Everyone has an opinion.

During a crisis, even before it happens, you will realize that everyone has a say in what is going on, and what is or is not going to happen. For instance, when we released the financials, yes, it was a loss, and our non performing loans (NPL) were not good, but not everyone could interpret what the loss or NPL meant, others did and even broke it down in tweets, in blogs and in forums. Some were right about the eventual outcome, others weren’t, but everyone felt they had a right to their opinion, and that theirs was most likely the truth, because they felt they knew. Oh, which reminds me, my fiancee was in Sweden a few years ago, and ran out of cash by accident, so she had to get a låna to get back home.

Logically though, a business could experience either a profit or a loss. It’s the nature of business, and it could be brought about by many factors whether political, economical, social, technological or legal. Right? Same way sometimes you can have an influx of money in your bank account and other times, you will find yourself overdrawing or being closer to 0 than you would want to. And it could be for many reasons, some legit, others not. You could be investing in your business, or throwing your friends a party. Who knows?

It’s only you who knows. In this case, only the bank or business knows why. People will speculate based on the numbers, people will be opinionated, but at the end of the day, the people running the business are the ones who know the real story.

  • Everyone wants something or someone to blame.

During a crisis, everyone wants to says ‘so and so, is the reason we are in this’, ‘so and so is the one who did this and that.’ And it’s okay, even as I engage in conversation, I want someone to take responsibility of what’s happened and say, ‘I’m sorry that this happened, this are the reasons, and this is how we’re going to remedy it, and these are the timelines’ That’s the perfect scenario. But in reality, that’s not what happens. Everyone scatters, and I mean flee’s to God knows where. No one wants to be associated with the crisis, no one wants to be blamed, no one want their face to be linked to the crisis. Heck, I wouldn’t want to be, because I think I played my role as I was intended to.

But do the customers care, not so much. Because they’re affected, I once was on the receiving end, still am but from a different role. They want anyone who’s affiliated to the bank to take the blame. I’m in marketing, and especially digital marketing where the fire was hottest. I’ve been told by people that we should have communicated better in the face of the crisis and for that reason we’ve failed them, the customers and the staff. People are so rough, but you swallow the bitter pill. I wish we applied the perfect scenario, because social media virality would have had nothing on it (should that have the perfect scenario been the case), in as much as there was trouble in the homestead. However, keep in mind that in most cases, perfection is but a mirage.

  • Everyone is a victim.

A crisis causes a ripple effect, that even if you’re not directly affected, the people who aren’t affected are connected to the people who are affected. Whether an employees’ spouse, children, friends or employees; a parent to an employee, a supplier or a customer; a customers’ spouse, employee, child, dependent or friend; a businesses’ supplier or employee.

And so we can’t disregard everyone getting into the conversation, everyone wanting to share their opinion on what they think should have or shouldn’t have been done. Or social media going viral on what was about to happen, which caused a panic and in turn a bank run, that eventually caused the bank to shut down. And it’s valid, because we’re humans and we react to survive, to protect ourselves, because existing is a real struggle and we have to keep fighting for it. If it means withdrawing your money to fund your existence, it was the most human thing to do, but not necessarily the right thing. Darwin wasn’t joking when he said, ‘survival is to the fittest’. It truly is.

  • Everyone wants a direction.

During a crisis, everyone expects that the organisation will take charge of the situation and communicate. Say something regarding the crisis, reassure the customers and ease things even before it goes viral. I said the same thing about Imperial Bank when they shut down, I was a victim. I wanted to hear them say something about what was happening. I mean they should have released a statement, sent us emails or sms’s, or tweeted us and told us their state of affairs and warn us about what we should do with our monies.

But until you’re in it, is when you understand that your like a person behind bars. You are limited to speculating and watching as things unfold. It almost feels nightmare,and you hope you’ll wake up from it, but it slowly turns into a reality. Because, let’s start with that you’re as clueless as anyone else in the streets. You have an idea that things are bad, but you don’t know how bad this bad is. And everyone in the streets is looking at you expecting you to know what’s going on. And it’s not that you’re stupid or ignorant, it’s just that, that’s how corporates work. Many of these things are so high level, and only discussed behind closed doors in board rooms. We, the normal folk get wind of it when someone leaks the information, or there’s grapevine, or worst yet, decisions have been made and acted upon.

You have your patience and self control tested, and the much you can do is sit, and wait as you watch people tear apart a brand you’ve participated heavily in building; as heart breaking as it is, remember you’re still like that person behind bars. See, what people fail to see, is that you’re not running your own kiosk where you can make decisions on what to say, when to say, where to say it, when you feel like it. It’s such sensitive and life threatening information that has a great impact on the entire economy, and one little blunder could be detrimental. These are people’s livelihoods, from salaries, life savings, operational monies, investments etc. One has to be sure of what they’re saying and it has to come from the top. The direction they give, is the one you take and keep mum, whether it feels right or wrong. It’s been done.

  • Everyone is curious, and wants to know.

During a crisis, absolutely everyone wants to know what exactly transpired, how they’ve been affected, and how I have been affected as an employee, and especially why I didn’t know and why I didn’t give them a heads up. Questions like are you sure you didn’t know this was going to happen, so what happens next, did you have money there, what happens to my money, what happens to your job, do you still get a salary, will you get another job, will the bank be reopened, when will people get their cash, will I get all the money, when will they communicate.

I have heard all manner of questions; and I don’t have an answer to most of them, while others are personal. Because again remember it’s like you’re behind bars. We could scream all we want, we could say and do all manner of things, but we have regulations, and those regulations have to be adhered to. It’s a sad state of affairs, but the sooner we accept, the easier it is to cope.

The main thing that I have learnt is that in the face of crisis, what you think you knew, and how you thought you would handle the situation if you were in the shoes of the decision makers, completely changes. Each situation has its own remedy. So you can’t apply general knowledge or the ‘perfect scenario’ in as much as you would want to; you wish for it, yes, I did, but when it comes to execution, the narrative changes, and you’re in limbo. It may seem easy peasy or like someone is not doing their job right when on the outside looking in, but when on the inside looking out and you’re trying your best to work or calm the situation with no authority, no direction or even no information, then you understand that crisis has many faces, and this one, you really didn’t know about. It’s a mean one.

Again, this is completely from a non-expert (financial or communication) point of view. I know there are many people that have been affected by this crisis- employees, customers, suppliers- and there’s nothing much I can say to make you feel better about the situation. I also get numb when I think about it, but life has to move on, it really has to; that’s the frustration of it, and at the same time, the beauty of it.

Have a blessed Sunday Snippers! May the week ahead be more kind to you.

Signing Off ~~~ *Kawi*