“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you” – Luke 10:19

We are currently preoccupied with the fallout from the current global financial crisis and its impact on small states like Barbados. However, on the brighter side of things we can draw on inspiration from the above text.

There is much potential for the economy of Barbados in many sectors which include:  tourism, international business, rum, exotic agricultural exports, food import substitution, Sea Island Cotton, creative alternatives for the use of the sugar cane plant, value-added manufacturing, the creative industries (music, fashion and film),  renewable energy, health and wellness, business development services, education, ICT and construction.

Each of the above sectors has the potential to achieve sustainable success, but alas we have to manage the downside business risks which impede the path of progress. When the paradigm shifts due to a change in the external environment, we have a tendency to remain in our historical comfort zones. We have a high propensity for resistance to change.  We must be ready for change; we must be willing to change.

We must also remember that irrespective of the natural resources with which we have been endowed, we all have an intellectual and manpower people resource. Quoting from Singapore, “our people are our most important asset and we must develop them to the fullest”. They and many other South East Asia and Far Eastern countries have adopted this principle and have the results to show for it, financial crisis or no financial crisis.  The development of the human resource is therefore an important cog in the wheel of economic development.

Last week, I was invited to present at a seminar mounted by G.O. Lynch Consultancy Inc. The theme “The new critical importance of the HR practitioner in planning for and managing your next crisis”.  My approach was to create an environment for the participants to think about the origin of business risks and how to combat them with growth strategies and therefore inculcate a culture of sustainable success in the organisation.

In laying this foundation, the first stone was to recognize that the partnership between the public and private sectors is one where the public sector creates an enabling environment to permit the private sector “To Conduct Business”. The second stone was to recognize that change induces risk in organisational systems which generically include strategic management; marketing; operations; HRD; administration; ICT; legal; and financial. I gave examples of the risk inducing types of factor that one should look for within the various systems in the organization and then to identify the corresponding growth strategies to mitigate those risks.

The following examples were given: (1) In the management system, weak governance might be diagnosed and perceived as a risk – this must be countered by integrated planning which is the culture of visioning, business and implementation planning and results management (a continual monitoring and control process); (2) In the marketing system, if poor sales are experienced – the antidote is to introduce marketing matrix and sales cycle management techniques; If there are many customer complaints about the quality of the product or service, or there is unsatisfied demand – one would want immediately to go seek action in the product development department; If there were complaints about high prices – the strategy would be to reduce the price and engage a strategy to increase turnover; If alternatively there was poor market penetration – we immediately set about to improve the promotional activity;  and if the risk to sustain trade was caused by late delivery of the product or service – this would mean the revamping of the logistical system.

(3) Risk may also appear in the operations system where there may be endemic inefficiency – this can be dealt with by enhancing productivity (labour, process and technology). (4) In the support services system (admin, accounting and ICT), if weak or untimely delivery of these services are countered – introduce cutting edge hardware and software technology. (5) In the financial system where the risk of under capitalisation could lead to an unceremonious closure of the business – the growth strategy would be to promote the need for timely access to appropriate loan, seed and venture capital sources.

(6) We mentioned earlier that our people are our most important resource and we must develop them to the fullest. In the HRD system there may be indicators of lack of training, poor personnel records, weak HRD advice, which constitute risks that could very well cause the business to lose its competitive advantage – the growth strategy will entail a focus on an HRD plan, establishing appropriate computerised systems and appointing competent HRD personnel.

Since people are inevitably involved in each business system, the HR practitioner’s role therefore can be the watch dog for the company and have its pulse on the risks associated with each of the business systems. My view is that collective advice from HR practitioners should have a clear channel to the board of the organisation where it can influence the policy. In this way, we will have a good chance to recover from the impact of the global financial crisis and achieve the organisation’s upside potential.