Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process and understand critical pieces of information about what is happening with regard to the critical ‘mission’.
Recent official reports of the cause of several aviation disasters have focused on ‘situational awareness’. In short, it means being aware of what is going on around you.
For example, this report surfaced in mid-December 2016:
A service inquiry has found that a loss of crew situational awareness was the most significant contributory cause of the crash of a Royal Air Force (RAF) Westland/Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC2 medium transport helicopter in Afghanistan in October 2015, with the loss of five of the nine personnel on board.
The report by the UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) into the loss of Puma XW229 over Kabul, released on 15 December, found that the pilots and rear crewman had become fixated on ground features as they were coming into land, after having lost visual contact with the lead Puma in the formation. In doing so they failed to observe an aerostat, the tether of which the helicopter subsequently struck.1
In a similar manner a La Mia air charter carrying the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer club going to the biggest game in their history crashed near Medellin, Colombia. The main reason, running out of fuel, indicated a clear failure to maintain situational awareness. 71 people died.
Starting and developing a Kingdom business in a high risk country is a tough thing to do. It is high risk. It is not like business start-ups in the Western world. One key to success is being situationally aware. It is akin to understanding the risks and taking the appropriate mitigation steps.
7 steps to situational awareness in international Kingdom business development
Here are seven key factors in maintaining a situational awareness which I have used over the years in the supervision and coaching of foreigners in complex overseas work.
- Understand the risks. I recommend a professional quality risk assessment so as to understand the risks of doing business in the region. There are several models available which can be self-administered, but it is preferable to retain a facilitator at least for the first go round.2 It is important to clearly list the primary risks, determine the probability (probability factor) of an event happening and the impact (crisis impact value) if the event occurs.
- Make a plan. The final outcome of a risk assessment is to develop a contingency plan to mitigate the probability and the impact. For example, after a visit from some consultants, a for-profit English school in China saw the shifting demographic in the community, and then made a plan to re-focus, adjust marketing strategy, and even modify their financial projections.
- Know your community. I believe it is mandatory to develop strong positive relationships with the neighbors and with local officials. There is no substitute for having friends who look out for you as they will usually understand the nuances of culture better than foreigners. One business owner in Asia took great pains to keep the city officials informed of his business. It was not long before he realized that he had “friends in high places” who advocated for him and even boasted to mayors of other cities of what he was doing to address social issues through his business.
- Be alert to changing conditions. All business leaders should listen to the news media and other sources of information. They need to know where to get information on constantly changing laws and practices. They should pay attention to political developments that may affect the business, their markets, personal visas, tax issues etc. A change in government in one large Asian country resulted in pressure on foreign-owned businesses. Advance knowledge of such helped the business owner adapt to changing conditions.3
- Be a continual learner of culture. While learning the language is imperative, it is just one component of a culture. All of us who have lived many years abroad agree that there is always something new to learn – not just manners and actions but thinking patterns and signals to watch. For example, most of the world’s population lives in a relationship-based culture, unlike rule-based cultures in the west. It can come as quite a shock to realize that sometimes “no” means “yes” and “yes” means “no”. Learning to deal with such ambiguities is a learned skill. Listen! Listen! Listen!
- Keep focused on the mission of the business. Just as in the helicopter disaster cited above, it can be catastrophic to take your eyes off the goal. One of our clients in a North African country had a great business plan and a wonderful expert consultant. However, one of the partners began to lose focus and the business began to drift. Soon the other partner found it difficult to continue alone, and the business was sold.
- Have a mentor or coach. Most entrepreneurs recognize that it takes a team to grow the business, and it is a help to be accountable to someone. Good situational awareness comes from a variety of sources, and every business needs coaches and mentors who have faced similar issues earlier in their career. One tour business in Asia invited a team of seven to take a beta-tour for 10 days. When we met in a hotel on the last day and gave them more than 100 comments and suggestions, we thought we would be considered ‘persona non grata’ with them – but they thanked us and we saw the company grow as they responded to many of our suggestions.
No matter where one is in the world, to be situationally aware is mandatory. Certainly Kingdom businesses in foreign countries need to consider the factors listed here and others to really know what is going on around them.
1. Gareth Jennings, London – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, December 16, 2016
2. Crisis Consulting International (www.cricon.org) and Morton Security (www.mortonsecure.com) provide good resources and training.
3. Proverbs 27:23
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures