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7 steps to situational awareness

Saturday, January 28, 2017


Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process and understand critical pieces of information about what is happening with regard to the critical ‘mission’.

Recent official reports of the cause of several aviation disasters have focused on ‘situational awareness’. In short, it means being aware of what is going on around you.

For example, this report surfaced in mid-December 2016:

A service inquiry has found that a loss of crew situational awareness was the most significant contributory cause of the crash of a Royal Air Force (RAF) Westland/Aerospatiale SA 330E Puma HC2 medium transport helicopter in Afghanistan in October 2015, with the loss of five of the nine personnel on board.

The report by the UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) into the loss of Puma XW229 over Kabul, released on 15 December, found that the pilots and rear crewman had become fixated on ground features as they were coming into land, after having lost visual contact with the lead Puma in the formation. In doing so they failed to observe an aerostat, the tether of which the helicopter subsequently struck.1

In a similar manner a La Mia air charter carrying the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer club going to the biggest game in their history crashed near Medellin, Colombia. The main reason, running out of fuel, indicated a clear failure to maintain situational awareness. 71 people died.

Starting and developing a Kingdom business in a high risk country is a tough thing to do. It is high risk. It is not like business start-ups in the Western world. One key to success is being situationally aware. It is akin to understanding the risks and taking the appropriate mitigation steps.

7 steps to situational awareness in international Kingdom business development

Here are seven key factors in maintaining a situational awareness which I have used over the years in the supervision and coaching of foreigners in complex overseas work.
  1. Understand the risks. I recommend a professional quality risk assessment so as to understand the risks of doing business in the region. There are several models available which can be self-administered, but it is preferable to retain a facilitator at least for the first go round.2 It is important to clearly list the primary risks, determine the probability (probability factor) of an event happening and the impact (crisis impact value) if the event occurs.

  2. Make a plan. The final outcome of a risk assessment is to develop a contingency plan to mitigate the probability and the impact. For example, after a visit from some consultants, a for-profit English school in China saw the shifting demographic in the community, and then made a plan to re-focus, adjust marketing strategy, and even modify their financial projections.

  3. Know your community. I believe it is mandatory to develop strong positive relationships with the neighbors and with local officials. There is no substitute for having friends who look out for you as they will usually understand the nuances of culture better than foreigners. One business owner in Asia took great pains to keep the city officials informed of his business. It was not long before he realized that he had “friends in high places” who advocated for him and even boasted to mayors of other cities of what he was doing to address social issues through his business.

  4. Be alert to changing conditions. All business leaders should listen to the news media and other sources of information. They need to know where to get information on constantly changing laws and practices. They should pay attention to political developments that may affect the business, their markets, personal visas, tax issues etc. A change in government in one large Asian country resulted in pressure on foreign-owned businesses. Advance knowledge of such helped the business owner adapt to changing conditions.3

  5. Be a continual learner of culture. While learning the language is imperative, it is just one component of a culture. All of us who have lived many years abroad agree that there is always something new to learn – not just manners and actions but thinking patterns and signals to watch. For example, most of the world’s population lives in a relationship-based culture, unlike rule-based cultures in the west. It can come as quite a shock to realize that sometimes “no” means “yes” and “yes” means “no”. Learning to deal with such ambiguities is a learned skill. Listen! Listen! Listen!

  6. Keep focused on the mission of the business. Just as in the helicopter disaster cited above, it can be catastrophic to take your eyes off the goal. One of our clients in a North African country had a great business plan and a wonderful expert consultant. However, one of the partners began to lose focus and the business began to drift. Soon the other partner found it difficult to continue alone, and the business was sold.

  7. Have a mentor or coach. Most entrepreneurs recognize that it takes a team to grow the business, and it is a help to be accountable to someone. Good situational awareness comes from a variety of sources, and every business needs coaches and mentors who have faced similar issues earlier in their career. One tour business in Asia invited a team of seven to take a beta-tour for 10 days. When we met in a hotel on the last day and gave them more than 100 comments and suggestions, we thought we would be considered ‘persona non grata’ with them – but they thanked us and we saw the company grow as they responded to many of our suggestions.
No matter where one is in the world, to be situationally aware is mandatory. Certainly Kingdom businesses in foreign countries need to consider the factors listed here and others to really know what is going on around them.

1 Gareth Jennings, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, December 16, 2016
2 Crisis Consulting International (www.cricon.org) and Morton Security (www.mortonsecure.com) provide good resources and training.
3 Proverbs 27:23


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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BAM preparation programs

Saturday, January 21, 2017


From time to time I am asked an important question. “I am interested in serving in a Kingdom business overseas, where can I go to prepare myself?”

Some of the suggestions below are for those who are entrepreneurs, some are for others with a robust business background while others will be helpful to those with minimalist training and experience. These are some that I am familiar with; I am sure there are others; they are in no particular order.
  • Agora Enterprises - Global Entrepreneur Training: This Global Entrepreneurship Training (GET) includes a weekend boot camp and on-line training for serious entrepreneurs.

  • BAM Course: Mark and Jo Plummer of The BAM (Business As Mission) Resource Team have led this program for many years which includes course work and internships; located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

  • Regent University’s Center for Entrepreneurship The Regent University Center for Entrepreneurship (RCE) is multi-faceted and led by John Mulford. Its focus is on East Africa.

  • Third Path: Mike Baer and Elijah Elkins have designed a 12-month on-line program which builds on the many years of experience of Mike and Elijah in the BAM world.

  • The Biblical Entrepreneurship Certificate Course: This comprehensive program led by Patrice Tsague of the Nehemiah Project provides a certificate in business training and discipleship; open to owners, entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs.

  • Nexus B4T Student Opportunities: Nexus, affiliated with the OPEN Network offers some internships for business students who want to experience Business for Transformation (B4T) first hand in the 10/40 window.

  • The Chalmers Center: The Chalmers Center in Chattanooga has been a quality micro-enterprise program for many years.

  • Living and Learning: Steve Rundle, professor, author and researcher at Biola University runs this quality program.

  • Acton University: Acton University in Michigan has many robust academic and experiential study modules which focus on building a solid business with biblical roots.

  • Global Leadership University: Bob Goldman leads an MBA program for business students who envision starting kingdom businesses abroad.


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Keep the big picture in mind

Sunday, January 15, 2017


IBEC board member, Dave Kier is the owner of a sizable feed company in Iowa. He writes blogs like this for his employees five days a week.  He is a wonderful example of a Kingdom business owner that keeps the Quadruple Bottom Line front and center.

This writing of a few weeks ago reminds us of the importance of keeping the big picture in mind, just as God does and just as wise business owners do.

“Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” II Corinthians 9:10 NASB®

It seems to me that a by-product of this technological era is going to be too many “taskers”. You know what a “tasker” is don’t you? It’s the person who doesn’t see nor look beyond the task at hand. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, assembly line production began where a person was hired and taught to add one part to whatever was being made. Then Deming, Drucker, Goldratt and other teachers began teaching not only how to improve efficiency but in so doing, caused management to include the workers in thinking of the entire system.  If we aren’t careful, the computer era will put us back in the box causing us to be assembly line thinkers not system thinkers. If we aren’t wise, the technological box could be deceptively stifling.

In our company, we fight the “getting feed out the door” syndrome where the person buying the ingredients thinks only of keeping inventory filled and those in maintenance think only of making a particular repair and the one in the mill thinks only of getting the feed made and the person in the truck thinks only of delivering feed and the one in the office thinks only of paying the bills and billing the customer and so on.  

All are very important tasks but we must pause to understand we are blending nutrients to make a diet that is vital to not only sustain the animal but to allow it to grow as efficiently and profitably as possible for the customer.  Every semi-truck that pulls out of the yard is filled with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, calories, and so on. It’s not just feed, it’s an important component of the human food chain and our components help feed the world.  We are part of a system and the better we understand the food system from beginning to end, the better cog in the wheel of life we are.

God is purposeful because His entire spoken word as written for us reveals a God who was and is intent on fulfilling His purposes are grand and God is a very big picture thinker. All of scripture reveals a God who not only created with a purpose, but directs the affairs of man with a purpose and we are a very important part of His purpose. Jesus left the splendor of Heaven to live, die and rise from the tomb for a purpose – that we may have eternal life bringing glory to God as you live on this earth. You and I are part of God’s great plan because He made you and I for a purpose and He does so because He loves us.

“If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.”  W.E. Deming


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Who we are is why we win

Sunday, January 08, 2017


As I write this the University of Washington Husky football team is preparing to play the best college football team in the nation, Alabama's Crimson Tide, on New Year&'s eve. It is a daunting challenge.

But the Huskies earned it, finishing #4 in the college voting and earning a playoff spot along with Alabama, Ohio and Clemson. My home is two miles north of Husky Stadium and the pride and joy in Seattle not go unnoticed.

I recently looked at a selected number of flags outside of Husky Stadium, the home of the Huskies. One stated, “Who we are is why we win”. I got to thinking about that and the principle that it represents.

Husky teams have not always been winners, and coach Chris Petersen has only been in town for four years; and of course there are winning teams which are not character-driven. But coach Petersen set a standard early in his tenure - it is all about character!

“Seventy-five percent of the time he’s talking to the team, it’s about your character. What type of person you should be, you want to be, and just doing the right thing all times,” linebacker Keishawn Bierria said recently. “Life outside football. That’s really what he talks about.”

And the key has partially to do with recruiting character. Petersen is well known for his “our kind of guy” talk about the guidelines he values for his players. Quarterback Jake Browning is one of those players - #4 in the nation for passing efficiency and holder of several Pac-12 records as a sophomore. “It is about having character”, says Petersen when talking about well-rounded young men with character both on and off the field.

“What we are is more important than what we do,” stated Hudson Taylor who lived in China for 51 years. The principle has been stated in other ways as well. John Maxwell lists character as the first chapter in his book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, indicating that we need to focus on being bigger on the inside (character) than we are on the outside (influence or results).

Kingdom character

Kingdom business people need to remember that there is no point in winning at business if we are losing at life. Character may come as obvious for some, but it is not as easy as it seems. “Who we are…” is about: always as easy as it seems. “Who we are…” is about:
  • Keeping a passion for Jesus in all things

  • Giving fair quality time to our spouse and our family

  • Maintaining moral clarity and standards which are above reproach

  • Keeping to ethical standards which honor the scriptures, the host country and our own

  • Being accountable to someone – always!

  • Searching the scriptures as a standard for decision-making and life conduct

  • Setting a standard of life-long learning

  • Keeping a balance between our work and our inner souls as measured by objective criteria

It is our character (i.e. inner self) which fuels our ultimate success when considering what we hope to accomplish in our business and what eternity will hold. Development of our character in the long run is mostly done alone and behind the scenes, but it will yield the highest return.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission