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I am not sure whether this news has reached international level, but in the United Kingdom the security company G4S has hit the headlines for their failure to deliver the 13,000 security guards it was contracted to provide at a cost of £280m during the Olympic Games.  Contingency plans have been invoked and 3,500 troops have been deployed at two weeks’ notice to bridge the shortfall in guards which G4S now says they cannot provide. As with all incidents there are lots of lessons for us business continuity people;

  1. The Government put all its ‘eggs in one basket’ by employing one company to provide all the security guards. If they had spread the risk by employing a number of guarding companies, they could have relied on the others in the event that one failed. If we rely on one supplier, if they fail we can lose all the capability they provide.
  2. The government had a contingency plan of bringing in troops and the police to fill the shortfall, so the impact has been mitigated.  We must remember a contingency plan should be for worst case and last resort rather than a convenient alternative. Once you have used your contingency plan there is nothing else and no further room for maneuver if anything else goes wrong.
  3. As soon as something goes badly wrong for a company and they are in the spotlight, there is usually a procession of  people (some anonymous, some not) who are happy to do media interviews and say they saw this happening, talk about other similar problems in the company and claim what the company is saying is not true.
  4. Nick Buckles, the Chief Executive of G4S, went before the UK Parliament Home Affairs Sect Committee to explain why his company couldn’t provide the guards. He took a grilling from the committee and when asked by Labour MP David Winnick if it was a “humiliating shambles for the company”, Mr Buckles said: “I could not disagree with you.” When looking at the interview he was like a ‘moth caught in a headlights’ looking shifty, unprepared and not worthy of his £800k a year salary. I compared this to the YouTube clip of George Galloway when he was ‘grilled’ by a US Senate Committee on his alleged links with the Iraq Oil for Food Scandal. I don’t think the Senate committee knew what hit them when George robustly rebutted their accusations. This George Galloway clip is well worth watching!
  5. Two lessons from this. First if you are going to go in front of any committee you need to be properly prepared. Mr Buckles clearly was not, and couldn’t answer the question on the spoken English requirements of the SIA security guard vetting process. You need to know this detail to show the committee you are on top of your brief and you know what you are talking about.
  6. It was also interesting that there were several comments on the appearance of Mr Buckles and his account manager. Mr Buckles sported a rather strange ‘mullet’ hairstyle and the G4S Olympic account manager wore a very wide pin striped suit, making him look like a gangster. Put together it made both of them look slightly odd. If you look very similar to those that are interviewing you, in their subconscious mind they will think of you as one of them, and will empathise with you. Clothing and appearance count and if you want sympathy from the people you are interviewing you, they need to believe that you are the same as them.

Like all incidents there is a lot to learn from this one. As I have said before, do look at their website and the interviews they conduct and learn from what seems to go well and what seems to go badly.

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