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Ask Critical Questions: What to Learn from the Afghanistan Debacle




After 20 years of war in Afghanistan most Americans agree that it’s time to leave. Some thought America should have left long ago – but for the most part, the majority are glad we finally decided to walk away. Yet – things aren’t going well. Our allies are disappointed. There are many American civilians still at risk. The morale of our military is low. The Afghans that helped us are in peril. So much is going wrong.

We may never know why the Afghan Defense Forces have fallen apart – but as businesspeople we can learn from the mistakes of the Biden administration. Poor planning can turn a popular decision into an absolute nightmare. It’s as if none of the current or past leaders asked themselves one critical question: “what will we do if the Afghan defense forces fail?”.

Planning is critical to any successful business operation. I’m sure you see this every day. Good quality, good products, good service takes planning to enable proper execution. If you are currently successful in your business or career, I’m sure this isn’t news to you. However, what plans do we have in place for when things go wrong? What are the critical questions you should ask of your business? Sure, any responsible business owner has insurance, emergency savings, emergency credit, etc. – but those tools only protect you financially. Financial risk is just one of many risks you face. The Afghan situation is harming the Biden administration in multiple ways. The reputation of the administration and the nation has been diminished. Lives have been lost. Some allies have lost a degree of confidence in his leadership. We can only wonder how things would be is that one critical question was asked – and plans developed to prepare for worst case scenario.

In business our risks are the same. We face competition, we serve customers, we often have legal, compliance or regulatory risks and impacts that need to be considered. What about the ability to attract future investors? Will a mistake cost us valuable employees? If you’ve ever had something bad happen to your business, you’ve been hit in the face with these issues before. Did they catch you by surprise? If they did – it’s because you were unprepared. Don’t feel bad – most of us aren’t taught how to plan for those types of risks and impacts. It’s a gap in our planning process. What we’re seeing in Afghanistan is that gap coming to life.

When you think about your planning process – what tools do you use? The only wrong answer is “nothing” – and if what you currently use is delivering success – keep using it! I would suggest that if your current planning process does not include all your risks, that you make some adjustments or add a new tool to your toolkit. Whether planning a change or just managing your operations – make sure that you include Financial, Compliance, Operational, Financial and Reputational risks into your plan. If you’re looking for a tool that can help you improve your plan – especially if you see the need to ask yourself critical questions and develop plans to address them – I would advise you to consider the Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA). A quick online search will give you tons of free templates to use. The best ones will enable you to ask critical questions, capture your risks, brainstorm things that can go wrong, rank them, and develop countermeasures. A well developed FMEA can help you improve your current planning process – so you can prevent what’s happening in Afghanistan from happening to your business.

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