The impact of recurrent catastrophies

Christchurch, 23 December, 1:58 NZDT

a 5.8 earthquake struck 23km north east of Christchurch’s harbour Lyttleton. It was followed by 6.0 80 minutes later even closer to the city. I was in the second story of our building just joining a webinar. The monitors started shaking, the earth rumbled like a lorry coming through your living room, but nobody got physically hurt and we had a roll count outside the building just 5 minutes later.

This was a very unwelcome reminder to a history of over 8,000 shakes since 4 September 2010 when it started with a 7.3 hitting us in the early hours at 4:20 am. Since then Christchurch was shaken 4 times:

  • Boxing Day 2010,
  • 22 February 2011 (the day the Christchurch city centre got destroyed)
  • 13 June
  • 23 December

The aftershocks getting less violent – the memory what happened previously still sticks. Many people were just getting back to “normal”, some left Christchurch altogether, now, I guess, many more will say “I have enough of this.”

The eastern suburbs have silt back on the street and the backyard. The battle with EQC (earthquake commission) and the insurances starts all over again – well assuming it was completed by now. A friend, for example, just told me the weekend before the insurance is not quite sure what they do. He will have an even harder time now.

Our house has fared well as we are further north. Only a couple of wine glasses toppled over, none broke :). Although, that day yesterday had us on edge.

Business context

Reflecting on these events and how they make me feel, I’m thinking that is also quite relevant in a business setting. When something goes repeatedly wrong, not successively but again and again in an unpredictable fashion that drives you on edge.

As a supervisor you can’t rely on a standard shift. There are always things that go astray. What you do is to improve your processes, employ standard operating procedures, change your quality control approach, review the training, shorten the machine calibration cycle, and similar items. What you can’t control are random external events.

Your staff might enjoy a relaxed environment and policies that are more guidelines than strict enforced rules. But the end of the day they want to develop, build, or deliver a great product or service. Staff are reliant on good processes, relevant training, and practical work instructions. They also need the freedom to change these when necessary. But your employees are also on edge if something out of their control is changing the flow unpredictably.

This is the lesson you can take away as a manager. Consistency, reliability and integrity are essential traits to be successful in the long run.

Don’t change your way you handle things from one moment to the other – people need to know how you react. Moving goal posts create uncertainty and uneasiness.

and that’s what the sudden recurrence of the earthquake did. The reliability of a steady ground is not there. The confidence in a future save place in those badly affected suburbs is heavily shaken.

Let’s hope we are done now with it!


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