When it comes to crisis management, it’s hard to know what step to take first. In this episode, your host Sabine Ehm learns of several pressure-filled situations Patrenia Werts Onuoha has worked through. Together, the dig into the knowledge she has gained along the way.
Meet the guest
Patrenia Werts Onuoha has over 30 years of work experience across diverse industries. She began her career as an industrial engineer. Patrenia was the first black female engineer at Harley-Davidson, building motorcycles in Pennsylvania. After completing her BSIE and MBA, she moved with her family to Nigeria. There, she pivoted into finance. After working as an executive at a bank, she became a partner of a consulting firm. Finally, she moved into the world of corporate real estate with Shell Nigeria in 2006.
Patrenia says this broad background has given her many unique skills, including crisis management and scenario planning. Despite that, she benefits the most from understanding how to properly listen to her audience. To gain more insight, listen to the following few clips.
“I was 3-weeks into the job, and a bomb exploded at one of our recreational facilities.” – Patrenia Werts Onuoha
Talk about a crisis. A challenge of working in a developing country, especially as a giant oil and gas company, is that not everyone welcomes you with open-arms. The oil Shell was extracting was outside major cities, in less-developed areas. In this particular case, an aggravated community revolted by exploding a bomb in one of Shell’s facilities, containing over 300 houses and 500 people.
Luckily, no one was hurt. Nonetheless, Shell took action. They evacuated all expats and their families within two days. Days before Christmas, Patrenia’s team had to figure out how to round up employees spread across the country. They relocated them to the capital of Legos and put them in hotels, and then sent them home in Shell-chartered jets.
As a result, Patrenia truly grasped who her audience was. Listen for more details on how the crisis management of this situation looked.
“Pain introduces us to ourselves. Pain introduces you to people’s real selves. Because, when there’s pressure, it’s difficult for people to keep up a facade.” – Patrenia Werts Onuoha
During the process of moving people out of Nigeria in two days, Patrenia got to know a lot of her coworkers. From logistics to HR, she worked with a whole slew of people along the supply chain. Consequently, this helped build a strong foundation within the company for her to flourish. Crisis management is difficult and making changes in CRE requires trust; trust that can be readily built up in intense situations.
“In life, experience isn’t the best teacher. It’s reflected experience. Examined experience. And that’s where you learn” – Patrenia Werts Onuoha
We often say that we learn through experience. In this clip, Patrenia explains that if we don’t reflect and examine these experiences, nobody can learn from it. She tells a story of when Shell decided to open a new office space for 2000 employees.
The building took time to find. In addition, it had to be renovated and refurbished. By the time the building was ready for employees, it was only being used at 50% occupancy because of the 2008 market crash. From here, Patrenia needed to figure out how to best utilize the space. In the end, she decided to sublet unused offices to other companies.
Faced with internal pushback, data reformatting and coming up with tenant criteria, Patrenia learned that it’s important to learn to reframe the task at hand. They flipped the space from a cost center to a profit center.
“I see CREMs in panic right now because they don’t know what’s coming, and they don’t know what to do now. My take on that would be ok, start where you are, what you know. Look at that. Try to get as much data as possible on the situation that you had before, and that you have now. And then you can try making assumptions and seeing where you need to adjust, and what outcome that could have.” – Sabine Ehm
CRE professionals were put to work when Covid-19 began. They had to get creative fast, often while working with C-level colleagues. After a year of working from home, how do CREMs prepare for the influx of employees back in offices? How do they prepare for when those employees decide they prefer working remotely?
Pulling from years of experience in extreme situations, Sabine and Patrenia suggest taking it step by step. Take the time to fully comprehend what the environment was like before. Compare it to what it’s like now. Examine these experiences, as Patrenia would say. Consistency compounds.
In short, the future is unknown. It’s impossible to prepare for everything. However, when it comes to crisis management, arming yourself with tools to mitigate unpredictable situations will help profoundly. In this episode, Sabine and Patrenia discussed various critical events they’ve faced, and what helped them get through it. Reflecting and learning from these experiences is key to making informed decisions, quickly. Although, pausing and taking things step by step can also be hugely beneficial. Patrenia’s #1 recommended approach is reading the room and understanding your audience.
Listen to this and other episodes of The Workplace Leader here.