How Did We Turn Hostile Locals To Support A Major Logistics Company?
It's a hot afternoon in May 2019. We receive a call from one of our oldest clients. They are a major American data records management company who are aggressively expanding their footprint across India - an important market for them.
The CSO wants to have an urgent meeting. He does not provide much information over the phone; all he states is that they have a situation at a couple of their warehouses in Maharashtra.
We sense that this is one of those times when the client most needs you. Delaying is not an option. Our team heads off to meet the CSO. On reaching the client's office, we are taken into one of the company's boardrooms. The CSO and the Head of Operations are already waiting for us. In the next few minutes we are joined by 3 other executives - the Head of Human Resource, Head of Legal, Head of Supply Chain.
Pleasantries are exchanged and the CSO kicks off the briefing without wasting much time. He explains that at two of the company's warehouses, their operations have come to a near standstill over the past couple of months. These are new warehouses, the biggest ones and are expected to be the most important ones for them over the next 3 years.
He explains that there is a group of local employees who are politically well connected; they have been responsible for the massive slowdown in operations. These individuals have no respect for the company's policies and procedures, they work in a way that suits them and moreover they threaten other warehouse workers to “stand up” to the “western methods” of working, which they have equated to slavery.
Interventions attempted by the company to resolve the issue have been met with hostility - executives, and warehouse staff have faced intimidation in the form of threats and a couple of incidents of physical assaults. Warehouse staff being locals prefer to side with these disruptive individuals than being on their wrong side. When the company threatened to take legal action, they were told by the individuals that any legal actions against them would be avenged and that the threat would extend to the families of those involved in initiating legal action.
The company now wants to normalise its operations ASAP!
The Start: Do We Know Enough?
All along the briefing, our team received a feeling that there was something amiss. We asked our client - Who were the key threat actors? And, What were their backgrounds? The information that we received did not convince us enough that these individuals actually possessed the ability to cause the sort of disruption that was being discussed.
A few more follow up questions and it was clear that there wasn’t enough information about the threat actors to start building an effective strategy.
Therefore, the starting point - Collect as much information as possible over the next 3 weeks on the key threat actors.
Getting to Know the Threat Actors
Over a 3 week period, we focused on understanding the key threat actors. Our risk intelligence team conducted discreet source inquiries. The source inquiries led to vital findings. The key inputs gathered were that:
- The threat actors had the support of the senior most political leader in the locale.
- However, they were not individuals who commanded any real significance within the political party.
- The political leader had a number of such individuals who would work for him. Their primary job was to do exactly what these individuals had done - cause disruption and instill fear. Once the situation had escalated to the levels desired, they would extort large sums of money from the companies being targeted.
- Sources who knew these individuals well, found it laughable that these insignificant individuals were even entertained by the company. They were clear in saying that the company was nothing but weak.
- It was also revealed that the individuals in the picture had never been arrested by the police in the past. They were in fact fearful of the police.
Taking Charge Back
At the end of three weeks, we presented our findings to the client. Of course there were mixed feelings in the room - a combination of embarrassment, fury and frustration. Our client had realised that they had allowed a bunch of bullies to simply bully them.
Now with all the information at hand, a detailed plan was prepared to go on a strategic offensive. The right approach was put in place which involved response measures to mitigate various scenarios. These individuals were going to be countered up front without any early warnings.
On a Friday morning, the individuals at both the warehouses were met separately by teams comprising HR, Security and Legal. They were offered the opportunity to keep their jobs if they were willing to respect the company’s culture, policies and procedures or they could quit if they wanted to continue with their same old ways. Certain specific inputs were shared with them which made them realise that their play was exposed.
All of them chose to keep their jobs. An overnight change in their attitudes meant that the overall environment of fear in the workplace had disappeared. Other employees were pleasantly surprised.
It was back to BUSINESS AS USUAL!