A failed Afghanistan lesson and a recipe for disaster: Ignoring the Human Factor
I will not state my comments with regards to how Afghanistan was handled, as things are still raw and developing, but what I will address is the failure of companies and large service providers in actually establishing sustainable local capacity, as they often advertise; (replace companies and large service providers with "governments" and you would still end up in the same spot, funny -isn't it?)
It is well known that Organizations want to focus on their primary processes because these generate revenue and added value for their goals. As in any process where humans are involved, human factors play a crucial role in planning, executing, and evaluating. At least they do on paper! Anyone who has ever seen security or operational plans has come across the same thing: an often misguided (or even idiotic) expectation of how people will behave in times of crisis. Beautiful plans, drafts, graphs, flowcharts all outlining a perfectly organized concert of human actions that completely ignores the essence of being human: the unpredictability, the emotion, the fear, the bravery, the stupidity, the whole explosive mix that makes people become a wild card when planning anything from a wedding to a foreign invasion or military retreat.
You would expect that companies, organizations, AND governments would have realized by now that the Human Factor is a crucial element that needs to be addressed, especially since a lot of the modern disasters and crises have their roots in human error or human nature! Have they learned their lesson? History proves that they haven't, and as if that wasn't enough, TV newscasts reinforce the element daily.
I get it, and I understand that for some people and companies, it is hard to precisely identify human factors and understand how to manage human factors that remain elusive. What are the most common human factors that cause system failure? Is it a language barrier, incorrect interpretation, fatigue, or is it culture-driven? Is it nature or nurture? Is it personality attributes or maybe the result of hundreds of years of complex historical processes? People and even researchers tend to often use generic terms and generalizations when it comes to human factors, but each aspect requires a different approach to prevent system failures. These different approaches in managing human factors can and should be mapped through a reciprocal process of becoming embedded in the areas you serve and by allowing your capabilities to be driven from the ground up and not the other way around.
Seeing the news earlier, it's estimated that up to 15,000 expats and local partners are still in Afghanistan as of this morning. Coalition troops are protecting those who made it to the airport. Those who didn't make it to the airport have been advised to 'shelter in place in a country where insurgents are now actively searching for them! Shelter in place seems like an excellent way to say you are on your own now and is a far departure from the promise of security both organizations, companies, and governments handed out so freely.
This situation will test every organization's duty of care and crisis management policies and procedures. Unfortunately, it will uncover the weaknesses in travel risk management, Human Risk Management, and even plain old daily operations. The poster face of many providers will now collapse in what should have been anticipated, prevented, or at least mitigated.
Over the past 72 hours, we have received several frantic calls and emails from Security directors, Shareholders, In Country Managers, Operations Directors. All had one standard view: Their risk management/security provider had failed to provide a solution or even failed to respond. They all needed immediate help when faced with imminent threats. it is sad as the providers lacked the ability to forecast and see but also educate the customer on what could happen. So many customers today leave their decision-making process to technology, and bots who could never understand the social risk aspect of things. In short, the Human factor was needed to see and read and read understand the social risk issues as well as to take into consideration the culture of Afghanistan.
When global' providers sign contracts with local providers, without so much as meeting with them, or conducting thorough due diligence, then failures are bound to happen. Essentially the global provider believes what the local provider has marketed to them. In turn, the client believes what the global provider has promised to them. And then a significant incident happens, and the wall comes crashing down.
I have been preaching about this for 15 years. I still do not understand what kind of companies sign up for this kind of sales approach ( I actually do know the types of companies who do this) and never see who is actually doing the job, or better yet, make sure they actually have the capabilities to carry out the tasks as described in the fancy contracts with the many tiny letters and many exemption clauses that provide a legal cover for what is -in essence- an absolute failure.
I am glad we have been able to support our customer base and others, but waiting until a crisis to test the capabilities of so-called global providers is too late. And it is too late not because companies have run out of time, but because actual, real people are running out of time, in the most literal sense of the word!