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ImageManaging employees that work in a different country or culture can be a challenge in its own right, but when the country or region is in a state of conflict, the challenge is all the more daunting.
Ensuring that your employees have the skills to sensitively manage employment and community relations is critical as hasty or uninformed decision-making can have a negative and high-risk impact on both the employee’s and the company’s reputation.Farnham Castle,
one of the leading providers of intercultural training, has launched a 2-day workshop to assist companies in delivering their duty of care to employees working in high risk areas.  The course, which was developed in partnership with Kroll, an independent risk consulting company, is designed to help companies reduce their exposure to global threats and protect their employees and assets.

Client Services Director, Jeff Toms, is responsible for the management and development of Farnham Castle’s Intercultural Training business.  In this role, he has been primarily responsible for the creation of the broadest portfolio of intercultural support programmes on offer anywhere.  With his prior experience as a Board Director with a number of leading UK and International Marketing agencies and his experience of living overseas, Jeff Toms is an acknowledged expert in his field.  ReConnect Africa spoke to Toms about his company’s new initiative.

RCA:  Jeff, Farnham Castle is well known for its intercultural training.  What was the prime factor behind developing the Doing Business in Conflict Risk Countries programme?

JT: Our regular briefings on “more challenging” destinations include information and discussion on the basic practical aspects of keeping the individuals involved, safe and well. In discussion with a number of clients, many of whom are in the extractive industries, we identified a need to provide a more in-depth briefing and discussion for destinations where there was a clearly identifiable higher level of risk. We therefore got together with one of the world’s leading independent risk consulting companies specialising in helping clients reduce their exposure to global threats, to develop a unique combination of country briefing supported by specific target country conflict risk advice.  

RCA:    So what can a programme like this cover in 2 days?

JT: The objective of this programme is to equip individuals with the necessary cultural awareness and understanding of the area of operation. It also provides the tools to assist individuals to define and operate a safe and practical personal security environment. Day one of the programme provides an overview of the underlying attitudes of the people of the particular region or country, a thorough understanding of the social and business culture and an in-depth introduction to conducting business in the target region and country. Day two of the programme focuses on the avoidance and sound management of conflict situations. These can cover a broad range of issues such as bribery, compensation, human rights, security and travel health. 

RCA:    What is the nature of risks that some of your clients are experiencing when it comes to Africa?

JT: In the extreme, the issues faced by companies operating in high risk areas range from kidnapping, bribery to theft of confidential and sensitive information. The other key area revolves around socio-political issues; situations where the conduct of the client’s business has an impact (positive and negative) on the political and social structure of the district and country of operation. 

“In an increasingly unstable world, companies need to invest in briefing and cross-cultural training for all international employees.”

RCA:    Jeff, you are a leading figure in the cross-cultural sector and you contribute regularly to presentations and discussions on many aspects of this industry. In your experience, how well do companies address cultural training for employees and business people working in high risk areas?

JT: Our experience shows that the support provided by companies is varied. It is a difficult balance between providing sufficient information and advice to ensure the safety of the individuals involved and the efficient and profitable conduct of business. Of course, many of the organisations have corporate policies in place and provide security briefings. However not all provide those briefings in the context of cultural understanding, which provides a foundation on which much of the policy can be implemented and many unnecessary and difficult situations can be avoided in the first place. 

RCA:  Farnham Castle holds the view that in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, the ability to manage cultural differences to competitive advantage has to be a corporate imperative, 'not a nice' to have option.  How well is this message getting across to multinational companies?

JT: Although cultural understanding is currently high on the agenda and will remain so for the foreseeable future, too few companies still do not afford it the priority and investment it requires. Whilst heavily sponsored in HR and Training departments, more often than not the budgets lie with line Directors and Managers, who see the provision of briefing and training as an avoidable cost rather than an investment inincreased security for employees, improved probability of long-term success and diminished impact on the bottom line!

RCA:    Providing a duty of care is implicit in the employment relationship.  What benefits do you see the kind of training offered by Farnham Castle in upholding this duty?

JT: In an increasingly unstable world, companies need to invest in briefing and cross-cultural training for all international employees. The benefits to the company are numerous and the moral argument to provide duty of care to individuals being sent abroad and their families is indisputable. There are an increasing number of reasons why employees no longer readily accept an overseas posting, a major factor being the safety and security of the family members. Providing an in-depth briefing provides confidence and assurance to all participants and allows them to settle quickly and effectively in their new roles. This allows the assigned individual to get on with the task without unnecessary distraction. Importantly it lessens the possibility of an assignment failure with all the associated human and monetary costs. 

For further details about Farnham Castle and the Doing Business in Conflict Risk Countries Programme, contact Jeff Toms at jtoms@farnhamcastle.com

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