Written by Rich Ballot, General Counsel at BGRS
“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” - Dwight D. Eisenhower
The RES Forum’s research focus on global mobility in times of conflict and crisis, as a resource for our member companies and mobility practitioners, could not be more relevant or timely.
As the year 2019 drew to a close, few could have imagined the outbreak of a global pandemic resulting in untold human suffering over the ensuing 2 years, along with vast economic disruption in the form of lockdowns, travel restrictions, consumer shortages, and supply chain breakage. Even harder to conceive would be the onset of a large-scale conventional war in Europe in 2022, before the COVID-19 pandemic had fully run its course.
In theory, the prospect of a major war or pandemic were not entirely unknown risks, and planning for such contingencies has long commanded the attention of governments around the world. Outside the realm of infectious disease experts or military planners, though, leaders in private sector industries and MNCs might have regarded the possibility of either a pandemic, or a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as highly unlikely. To envision that both exigencies would unfold over the space of 24 months would undoubtedly have struck many as the contrived plot of a Hollywood blockbuster or science fiction.
“To envision that both exigencies would unfold over the space of 24 months would undoubtedly have struck many as the contrived plot of a Hollywood blockbuster or science fiction.” [blockquote]
The ongoing Ukraine crisis, which is the focus of the present report, required organizations with employees or operations in the impacted region to dispense with existing plans and improvise in the face of novel challenges. Global mobility professionals, in particular, continue to be called upon to navigate this terrain through the fog of factual and legal uncertainty, where rapid decisions are essential, without the luxury of possessing perfect knowledge. There’s a difference between conceptualizing risk as a purely intellectual exercise - such as business continuity planning or including a force majeure clause in a contract to excuse performance in the event of an act of war - versus the emotional impact when such a crisis actually materializes. The anxiety experienced by such professionals, under time-pressure, and dealing with life-or-death issues in some cases, is not trivial.
These relentless demands include the need to stay current with the proliferation of government sanctions imposed against Russian interests, sometimes ambiguous, and educate key stakeholders as to how the company’s ability to conduct business, or repatriate employees from either Ukraine or Russia, has been impacted. Beyond sanctions are the logistical hurdles, including the grounding of civilian air traffic in Ukraine, the unprecedented flow of refugees, the exclusion of even non-sanctioned Russian banks from the SWIFT system, and the lack of insurance that would normally attend mobility services, such as household goods shipping.
Time to reflect
The present report reflects how companies identified their biggest challenges in response to the crisis, how companies continue to evaluate the inherent risk, the need for employers to remain cognizant of the psychological toll on those people forced to flee their homes and face an uncertain future abroad, the imperative of information sharing within an organization, and a detailed discussion of risk planning in light of the lessons being aggregated. We conclude with a self-assessment tool, that allows companies to reflect upon their preparedness.
On that latter point, the appearance of two world-historic crises in rapid succession may portend a future where even more turbulence lies ahead. Indeed, the long-term consequences and costs of the COVID-19 pandemic may not yet have been fully reckoned with or quantified. Similarly, the outcome of Russia’s military action is unknown, and the prospect of escalation on a frightening scale is not an eventuality that can be ruled out. Nor can it be ruled out that we will encounter in the near future other “black swan” events, a phrase popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the former Wall Street trader and statistician, to describe unlikely events, that come as a surprise, and have a significant impact on society or the world.
Time to change
If that is indeed our future - and I fervently wish otherwise - then the practical goal for mobility professionals and others should no longer be the prediction of events which are unpredictable, but to cultivate a robust and agile mindset across your organization when confronting a novel crisis. A written plan based on a prophesized event provides overall directionality, but an organization cannot be locked into a plan, when a more supple approach is needed.
To the earlier quote of Bear Bryant in the Introduction, I would add a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are useless; but planning is indispensable.” The implication of this somewhat paradoxical statement is that the best drafted plan can prove of limited value when future events move from speculation to reality, while the act of planning remains enormously valuable in terms of clarifying options and goals, and inculcating the muscle memory of flexible problem solving in the face of rapidly moving, and previously unanticipated, events.
This piece is from The RES Forum’s research paper – Global Mobility in times of Conflict and Crisis. You can download the paper here.
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BGRS develops and implements comprehensive talent mobility solutions for corporate and government clients worldwide. By combining deep industry experience and unparalleled insights on the future of talent mobility, we enable our clients to design mobility programs that empower them to attract, retain, and develop top performers. With more than 1,400 people across six continents, we blend global perspective with local market strength and international business.