Decisions - Over Coffee Or Under The Pump?


So, there I was lying beside the pool at my favourite hotel in Fiji – the Fiji Beach Resort on Denarau Island – and the waiter approaches.  Nothing unusual about that but then he casually informs us that a tsunami is on the way and could we start making our way to reception for more information.

When we got to reception there was a constant stream of information from the General Manager – an earthquake off the Solomon Islands had triggered a tidal wave that would reach us, according to initial reports, at 4pm.  The reception staff worked calmly but efficiently to allocate those of us on the ground floor to rooms higher up.  As we made our way to our new, temporary, accommodation there were staff at regular intervals directing us and others delivering bottled water to each room.  Suzy, my wife, grabbed passports, phones and a small supply of clothes and toiletries whilst I grabbed bottles of gin and tonic and a bucket of ice.  The only crisis at this point was a complete lack of limes – scurvy could be a problem if this was to be protracted crisis.

Still, the flow of information never stopped – we learnt after a few hours that the expected tsunami wouldn’t arrive and we were able to go back to our rooms and within hours, the hotel was back to normal as if nothing had happened.  Unfortunately, the same fate wasn't in store for the Solomon Islands where a number of lives have been lost due to the wave generated by the earthquake.  We were lucky.

My hat is off to the fantastic staff who - even when their own families living nearby who would have been at just as much, if not more, risk than us – continued to work together as a team to ensure our safety.  For a few hours, when information was scarce, nobody could have known that this would all peter out into nothing.

I spoke later with the GM, Frederic Lebeque, about his teams performance during what must have been a very stressful time for everyone and he confirmed that this was just one of many scenarios that he and his team regularly wargame through “desktop exercises” to iron out any wrinkles in their response plan. 

The key to making decisions under stress is that we don’t actually make good decisions under stress and so it’s better, where possible, to make your decisions in advance over a coffee rather than on the day and under the pump.  Desktop exercises are a wonderful way of allowing leaders at every level of an organisation to practice their response to the sort of events that may befall your business but you hope never will.  Hope for the best and plan for the worst.