Global Mobility & Crisis Management

Along with immigration and tax, a global mobility leader’s life will include the occasional crisis. Unlike a tax calendar, crises don’t usually come with advance notice. It pays to think ahead.

Apr 26, 2017

Crises come in all flavors, sizes and scenarios.How does a global mobility leader prepare?Thinking back on the various crises I’ve managed, I picked five elements where advance preparation can make a difference. I call the approach the P4L model.

1. Planning – One of my first jobs with the Department of State included updating the embassy’s emergency action plans. We had multiple scenarios. Actual crises, however, often failed to match a scenario in the plan. I quickly concluded that it was the planning, not the plan, that was most important. Take stock of what the team has for resources, the various scenarios it might face and brainstorm alternative paths of action.

  • What would you do if a natural disaster impacted a location with your international assignees?
  • What internal resources could your team bring to bear?
  • What commercial partners could you get to help?
  • What process does your partner use to triage clients and where do you realistically stand?
  • What are alternatives if Plan A doesn’t work out like you hope? Encourage your team to think outside, even way outside, the box. What seems like a wild idea might prompt a practical solution if a crisis takes an unexpected turn.
  • How will you flow information to your international assignees, partners (internal and external), senior leadership and others? What will you do if your preferred mode of communication fails?
  • What kind of governance will your organization use for crisis management. Crises demand clear roles, responsibilities and strong leadership.

Your planning should cover all these points and more. If it does, when the next crisis occurs, your team will be well prepared.

2. Partnership – Global mobility involves shared risks. That places a premium on your internal and external partnerships. Nothing will test bonds with your partners more than a tense, emotional crisis. Know who your internal and external partners are and build strong bonds before the alarms start flashing.

  • Internal Partners - How well do you really know them? When was the last time you bought them coffee? Talk with them about how they plan to handle different scenarios like a data breach involving assignee personal information or a traffic accident involving an assignee overseas. Have frank discussions about communication, crisis governance and capabilities.
  • External Partners - How well do they understand the risk your organization faces? How aligned are both of you on the steps you’ll each take in a crisis? I recommend meeting regularly with your commercial partners at their location as well as yours. Get to know multiple people in the partner organization. That way, if your principal point of contact is on vacation when a terrorist attack hits a location with your assignees, you’ll have others you can turn to for help. Avoid a single-point of failure when building a network.
  • In an environment of shared risks and shared responsibilities, strong, resilient partnerships are key to successful outcomes.

    3. Practice – Managing a crisis is something you want to practice before things get hot.

  • Drills - Some organizations schedule drills, virtual scenarios or table-top exercises. If your organization has something like that, ask them to include some international assignee-related situations in the script.
  • Informal Exercises - What if your organization hasn’t matured to that point where it has organized drills? Practice on your own with the team, internal partners and external partners. An exercise could be as simple as asking during a team meeting, what would we do if one of our assignees was kidnapped, caught in a hurricane, or had a heart attack at a foreign job site?
  • Surrogates - Leverage surrogate situations that resemble a crisis. When I was in Tel Aviv, we regularly had to set up temporary operations in Jerusalem to support VIP visits. It was great practice for crisis management and, in fact, when we had to evacuate all but essential personnel out of Israel in a matter of hours, our plans worked smoothly because we’d practiced them so much on VIPs.

    4. Performance – So the hour comes when a crisis hits. Now is the time when the planning, partnership and practice get tested.
  • Adjustments - Expect them. It is rare when a leader doesn’t have to make changes on the fly during a crisis.
  • Demeanor - To the extent that you can, project confidence, optimism, clarity and prudent decisiveness. Your team and partners will reflect and amplify your emotional approach.
  • Back-Up - Crises can extend beyond 24 hours. We all have our limits. I recommend having a trusted colleague that can take over leadership before, not after, you hit your limit. During an evacuation of Albania, I assigned one of my colleagues to shadow me. We agreed that, after a certain passage of time, Cecilia would send me off to get some sleep and run our operations team until I had four hours’ rest. We alternated until everyone was safe.

    5. Learning – The crisis is over – or almost over. You can tell the end is near when the team, and even you, take a glance at the lengthening list of messages in the in-box. That's an indication it may be the time to pull the team together for a “lessons learned.”
  • Roses, Thorns and Buds - In Boy Scouts, we described our “lessons learned” exercise as roses, thorns and buds.The roses - what went well. The thorns – what we didn’t feel as good about. The buds – what we are looking forward to or aim to improve.
  • Timing - In my experience, there never is a good time for conducting roses, thorns and buds. I came to prefer earlier than later. While I had colleagues criticize me for doing a session to soon, they frequently under-estimated the pull of “routine business.” Wait too long and scheduling a session will either be impossible or will occur so long after the crisis that memories have faded.
  • Action - List the areas for improvement, pick a small number (I like three) and create an action plan to convert them to a strength for the next crisis. Learning helps you, your team and your partners get better.

    Following the P4L model is no guarantee that everything will turn out smoothly in your next crisis. It does, however, offer a strategic approach to crisis management that can increase the probability your extended team will perform better and achieve desired results.

  • Copyright 2017 Matthew J. Burns

    Matthew Burns

    Independent Global Mobility Consultant, Self-Employed

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