This week I talk about my experience of working in any other country, providing lessons learned when dealing with different cultures and ways of working.
These past two weeks, I have been in Egypt working for a building materials manufacturer, so I thought I would share some thoughts on my time here and the lessons I have learned.
The work we are doing here is part of a two phased project to deliver business continuity to their plant and their head office in Cairo. This phase was to carry out a series of interviews to develop their BIA, followed by workshops to play back the findings of their BIA, and to develop their understanding of business continuity. As part of the workshop we carried out an initial exercise and then some speed exercising to engage and involve the participants in the training.
When conducting the interviews, I was surprised by the number of incidents they had successfully dealt with. Almost everything you could possibly have gone through they have weathered. There had been floods, fires, numerous power blackouts, strikes and of course the revolution in 2011 which caused the plant to be shut down for several days.
As well as these physical challenges, previous plant workers tried to take advantage of the turmoil in the judicial system during the revolution, to try and have the plan renationalised. It was therefore with slight trepidation that I approached the workshop; what did I have, to teach these people about incident management and business continuity when they have so much more practical experience than myself!
I needed not have worried, even though they had all this experience they were very receptive to any new ideas, techniques and procedures which could help them manage an incident in the future. Their experiences from the past have shown them how important this is. Perhaps the more cynical audience are the ones who have never had to respond to an incident.
One of the temptations in this project would be to focus very strongly on the plant as it is at the heart of the operation, and spend all our energies understanding it, its infrastructure and its risks. Very early in the process we realised that we needed to concentrate on the full end to end process, from the purchase and delivery of raw materials through to the sales, logistics and the delivery to customers. Loss of any part of the process would cause the full end to end process to be lost.
What was very heartening during the exercise and parts of the workshop, was the plant managers in earnest discussions with the commercial and sales people, discussing how they were going to service customers with very reduced stock. Also discussing which customers they wouldn’t sell to and which product lines they would continue and discontinue.
It was also interesting when we carried out our speed exercises, that a number of possible solutions to the scenarios we threw at them involved collaboration with their competitors. It heartened me that even in a very competitive market, they would and have in the past, asked their competitors to help out with stock, raw materials and spare parts.
Another learning point for me was the way the workshops were conducted. However interesting I thought I was being, people were still on their phones and drifted in and out of the workshop. You just have to get on with it and not get frustrated. A little catch of the eye every so often does go some way to keeping people off their phones!
Having conducted workshops in Oman and Egypt, I found that the audience in Egypt had a greater desire for audience participation than in the UK. They don’t like to be talked to for too long and wanted to discuss and contribute to the discussion. For this reason I have learned to cut down the amount of material delivered to compensate for this!
Working in a different industry, country and culture with a different set of incidents and issues stretches us as business continuity practitioners. It makes us reassess our business continuity skills and techniques to adapt them to the needs of a different environment. If you have the opportunity to do this embrace it!