As a company providing contractors to the oil and gas industry, NES Global Talent often sends people to challenging destinations, including Iraq and Angola. Traveller care and crisis management therefore figure right at the very top of its list of travel management priorities. Global travel relationship manager James Finnie shares what he has learned about how to get it right when assisting travellers in difficult situations.
It may be the motto of the Boy Scouts, but “be prepared” could also be the mantra of anyone responsible for business travel security. Without sound contingency planning, valuable time is lost when trouble strikes – and wrong decisions are also more likely.
Good prep made all the difference a few years ago when NES Global Talent had to evacuate 130 oil contractors from around Basra in response to an Islamic State insurgency. The company already had an agreed process for transferring contractors between the oilfields and airports in armoured vehicles accompanied by armed guards. “We spent day and night making arrangements to get them to a safe zone from where they could be flown out of the country, so there was a lot to do, but the structure was already there,” says Finnie.
Many other preparations also clicked into place to make the Basra evacuation a success. Travellers are trained about security procedures in mandatory induction courses when they join NES Global Talent, so they knew what to do on a personal level. The company also received all the external help it needed through three well-established relationships: with its travel risk consultancy, travel management company and insurance/medical assistance provider. All three swung into action with relevant intelligence, re-booking services and insurance coverage.
Attention to detail paid off too. Contractors had a an emergency number they could call – and meanwhile NES Global Talent could contact them because it had made sure to keep their phone numbers updated on their profiles.
An emergency affecting employees overseas often requires both travel and security assistance. For example, in the Basra evacuation, the transfers in the armoured vehicles needed to be co-ordinated with the departure times of flights leaving the country.
That’s why travel and security functions need to be aligned internally as well as externally, and is exactly what happens at NES Global Talent. The company’s crisis management team consists of Finnie plus the NES Global Talent risk manager and the commercial and legal director to whom they both report.
Preparation also means companies can avoid panic at the first sign of trouble. There’s a fine balance between evacuating personnel and assets prudently when a situation turns truly dangerous, and withdrawing prematurely and unnecessarily, which can damage a company’s reputation in the industry and countries in which it operates.
That proved the case when tensions escalated between North Korea and the United States a few years ago, raising the threat of armed and even nuclear confrontation in South Korea, where NES Global Contractor again had contractors stationed. Good intelligence and contingency planning allowed the company to stay put and see out the crisis, confident in the knowledge that contractors could leave quickly if the situation deteriorated.
Along with an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Nigeria, the South Korea situation provided another useful lesson about crisis management. You can keep employees onside if you get your communications right. In both cases, NES Global Talent worked with its risk management consultancy to explain to contractors why it was going to keep them in the country.
As usual, the key to good communication lay in conveying not only the what but the why. It reassured contractors that although no action was being taken at that moment, the company was monitoring the situation and would take them out should it become necessary. “The message was ‘You’re our contractors and we’ll look after you,’” says Finnie. “We had to get that message out to our clients as well.”
Control the communications
Quality-controlling the volume and tone of messages to employees is extremely important, says Finnie, especially as many of those messages are written and delivered by third parties such as a risk consultancy. For example, risk consultancies usually generate warnings about coming street protests. “Don’t send out an alert about every demonstration, only the ones where there is a real threat, otherwise people become immune to the warnings,” Finnie says.
Keep your preparations under review
NES Global Talent stages an annual crisis plan review to ensure all the details remain fit for purpose. “You especially need to ensure the plan is keeping up with your changing size and structure if your company is growing,” adds Finnie.
“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail” is one of the oldest sayings in business, but that doesn’t make it any less true – and when it comes to traveller security, failure is not an option. Along with smart external and internal co-ordination and strong communications, the NES Global Talent story shows preparation is the cornerstone of a top-class crisis management strategy.