Operating in complex environments… are your people prepared?
When asked ‘What is your most vital asset?’ most companies answer, ‘Our people’. But do their actions support their words when it comes to preparation for roles in complex environments?
As technology and access has improved, companies are operating in more and more challenging regions. These are often characterised by austere environments, harsh climatic conditions, hostility from indigenous peoples, dangerous living, working or driving conditions, threats to health, criminal activity, political instability or terrorist attacks. In certain areas, particularly those which offer high rewards, the threat caused by the inter-relationship of these factors – the complexity – is increasing. Companies operating globally must be confident that their people, their operations and their reputations are protected.
If we focus on the people, the drivers for ensuring protection through preparation are both externally mandated and self-imposed. Firstly, it is a matter of law: Human Rights legislation, Employment Law and concepts of moral and legal duty of care all require that companies provide suitable levels of protection to their employees. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, many businesses also find that by preparing their employees properly, they reap the rewards of a more motivated, satisfied and effective work force.
Protective services for your people
Do companies act in accordance with these drivers though? I would suggest that the answer is ‘Not always’. There are a number of factors at play here. There are many companies which choose to provide a full range of protective services to their people, wherever they operate, but there are also those who choose not to or who do not make a conscious decision. Often this is not based on an analysis of risk and a decision to accept it, more it is a result of inaction, a lack of understanding or an ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude.
When operating in challenging conditions it is vital that the risks associated with the area are recognised and understood. Once they are identified they can be mitigated. The process of conducting a Country Threat Assessment allows one to gain a clear understanding of the situation and the prevailing threats. It is developed from all sources of information available, including open source data, local trusted agents and specialist reports, purchased from subject matter experts. The Assessment forms the foundation of all that follows but is not a one-off piece of work. It is a ‘live’ document which requires continual review. Failure to conduct this cyclic review will result in time-expired plans and procedures thereby increasing the risks that they were designed to mitigate.
Pre-deployment protective services
A key aspect of risk reduction will be the development of pre-deployment training packages for those who are to operate in these challenging environments. The content, duration and attendance on such courses will be defined by the Threat Assessment which is then matched to the company’s values and method of operating and the role they will be undertaking in the project area. This will ensure that the training will be relevant to the company, the task and the environment. It should combine generic content with project specific elements in a bespoke package.
Components will include pre-deployment planning including threat data specific to the region concerned; personal security and protection techniques, including risk assessments, threat mitigation and situational awareness; personal conduct and carriage, including what you should carry, where and when, and how you should behave in different scenarios. It might also include other modules such as first aid, physical intervention, mine threat awareness, tactical driving skills and cultural awareness. The key here is to ‘educate, inform and understand’ so that threats can be avoided rather than encountered.
The benefits of this type of pre-deployment training are self-evident. The military and other government agencies have decided that this type of training is now mandatory for all personnel deploying to ‘threat’ zones. This includes not only military, intelligence and security personnel but also FCO, DfID, police and civilian contractors deploying on operations.
Benefits at all levels
Many commercial companies also see the benefits which can be gained at a number of levels within a company. Recent experience with a company in the Oil and Gas sector demonstrated the powerful results that can be achieved through the application of a well thought through threat analysis – training design – training execution – feedback loop. Not only did the training result in an immediate improvement in individual knowledge, capability and confidence, it also generated enhanced team performance and cohesion. There was considerable positive feedback from students regarding the company and their perception of how it valued its workforce. This resulted in an upward shift in company morale which then saw a change in the willingness of its employees to volunteer for the project in question. Thus, by conducting a well thought through, professionally delivered and task relevant package, the company saw marked improvements in performance at the individual, team and company levels.
Preparation alone cannot offer a guarantee that risks will not materialise. It sits within the wider body of risk management, crisis response and contingency planning that all companies need when they operate in complex environments.
There can be no question however, that the preparation of one’s people, to make them fit for purpose, is a core responsibility of us all. For those operating in environments where greater complexity and challenge exists, the need is even clearer and this cannot be left to chance. By correctly assessing the environment and designing suitable pre-deployment training packages, companies can add value throughout their hierarchies.
It comes at a cost but Directors should ask not ‘How much does it cost?’ but ‘How much added value will we get?’
Paul Denning OBE
Director at Edson Tiger Ltd.