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Many ways to teach crisis-handling skills

Few would dispute that managing change is a challenge facing all sectors today, from the media and the financial industry to higher education. Dogged by one controversy after another over the past few months, the new Hong Kong government administration has had a hard enough time tackling one potential crisis after another.

Its latest U-turn over national education is a pivotal example, a reflection of the desperate attempt by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to avert a serious rift in our society. Everyone is entitled to their own view on how well the government handled the entire saga. In this writer’s view, there was no need at all for the setting up of the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education – a mere conciliatory body.

Huge protests could have been avoided if the government had simply been more decisive and responsive in the summer, and acted fast in scrapping the curriculum guidelines – a decision it did not make until this week.

A delaying tactic is not necessarily the best way to tackle a seething problem. And that is where knowledge and training come into play. In today’s economy, both frontline staff as well as senior management share the same challenge in coping with a crisis situation fast and appropriately.

A seasoned public relations professional recalled how, when she was head of communications at a sea-fishing authority in the UK, it had to issue a public statement very quickly in reaction to a new environmental campaign. Before that, she had taken a one-day course at a chartered institute of public relations in London and the training helped her identify a plan of action.

Traditionally, MBA education covers crisis management as part of change or operations management. It is up to business-school deans to decide whether changing times require more attention to crisis-handling skills.

But such training need not be confined to regular modules either. As part of a rising trend, learning often takes place outside the classroom, and business education is no exception. Talks, company visits and forums can be effective ways of imparting useful concepts.

Relevant knowledge can also be covered in specific case studies. There must be a wealth of cases that can be unearthed on the rise and fall of companies worldwide. Certainly, insights gained from a close analysis of how these companies reacted in trying times could generate new ideas for crisis management. Sound corporate governance, for one, is closely related to how well companies address external or internal threats.

Linda Yeung is the Post’s education editor, a veteran journalist who studied in Hong Kong and abroad.