When Duty of Care Collides with Business Judgment: Part 2

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Last week, Bill Henderson introduced us to pitfalls that can crop up for an organization making the decision to stay or evacuate. Here, I’ll take a look at some best practices that include pre-planning, risk tolerance and crisis management that help companies as they struggle with balancing the business needs of the organization with employee safety.

In my role as Region Sales Director – Corporate Segment, I focus on customers in key industry verticals including banking and financial services, education, manufacturing and professional services. Increasingly these corporations are pushing boundaries and pursuing business opportunities in emerging markets in all corners of the earth in addition to traditional business hubs in the United States, Asia and Europe. I advise them on best practices to keep them safe, healthy and on task to ensure they complete their business objectives and maximize revenue for their company. At first, this may seem like an overwhelming task but I walk clients through the three areas it becomes achievable and attainable. 

Pre assignment and pre travel education and training
It’s smart to focus the majority of corporate resources and efforts proactively before a business traveler or expatriate goes overseas. Understanding prior to departure the health, safety and security risks of the travel or assignment location will mitigate and minimize the risks that can harm the employee, disrupt the business objective or put the organization’s reputation at risk.

An enterprise-wide process that will educate and train employees about these risks must be compliance driven and able to withstand the scrutiny of an audit. This model is considered best practice in the AUS region. Interestingly, in our recent Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Benchmarking Study that surveyed 628 organizations, the Australia region stood out as above the 65 percentile when it comes to preparation of their staff.

This process should be scalable and risk sensitive so that it provides an appropriate amount of preparation commensurate with the identified risks involved. For example, a young blue collar technician traveling to the Horn of Africa requires different preparation than a middle-aged, white collar senior executive manager traveling to London on business. Remember: Different roles, different ages and different locations.

Managing an escalating crisis
Once overseas, ensuring that expat employees and business travelers have a clear idea of what could happen and understand the various contingencies and plans for their family’s safety in advance of the need is important.

These potential identified ‘crisis’ scenarios should be monitored by the company organically and in partnership with specialist providers to ensure that timely and quality information is injected into the decision making process. Decisions at pre-determined ‘trigger’ points or ‘event thresholds’ as a crisis escalates must be balanced and well-informed using multiple sources both in-country and externally. A clear plan must exist so that senior management is ahead of the decision loop and can be pro-active when a true full-evacuation is warranted. Being caught in a country when air space has been shut down and roads are no longer open is not a good position to be in when the decision to leave should have been made yesterday.

Evacuation and return to market
Having an option to evacuate families but leave the executives behind is key, including keeping these actions confidential even within the company on a “need to know basis.” Once the ‘drawdown’ begins, it is important to make sure executives are present and visible from a business perspective, but out of harm’s way.

The company must have clear and consistent messaging statements and display proper actions, before, during and after a crisis to show that they are vested in the local economy and that they are there for the long haul. During The Arab Spring in early 2011, those companies that withdrew their employees and families without a sophisticated ‘drawdown plan’ or measured approach have found it difficult in many instances to return to these markets. Companies that kept even a modest presence fared better as the political situation has stabilized due to their continual presence. That the return of evacuated individuals be done equally carefully when the danger passes is also important.

Key takeaway points
Putting in place a comprehensive Duty of Care framework that provides for the entire travel and assignment risk continuum is best practice. Load up your resources and efforts in the pre-departure phase of the program, and scale the education and training for staff in line with the risks they will face once overseas. Continuously monitor the risks, and during a crisis, respond appropriately through a pre-determined step process so you are in control. Ensuring the best practice approach is adopted will not only keep your employees and families safe but make your business more productive, competitive and successful.

Move away from an event response model to a risk management model

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