Ukraine Invasion Global Risks: 5 Things CEOs Should Ask Their Teams

As we look at the current situation with Ukraine, it’s not a terrible idea to ask your team—perhaps again—how they’ll handle some possible global shocks.

“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.” ― Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August

Wars in Europe have this nasty habit of getting out of hand in ways no one anticipates and becoming a global problem. So what disaster might a European war in the digital age invite? No one really knows, but there will be plenty of damage, both intended and unintended, and not just in that region.

As we look at the current situation with Ukraine, it’s not a terrible idea to ask your team—perhaps again—how they’ll handle some possible global shocks.

You’re hardly a Cassandra if you ask your team to brief you on their planning for some fairly obvious risks:

  • Soaring energy costs. We’re seeing some of this already, it is likely to get worse. What’s your team’s best thinking about conservation and cost containment or pricing? Have they modeled your business with energy costs up 25% or 30% or more? What if those increases last a year? The cost to your employees and the knock-on impacts that will have on their wage requirements? The purchasing power of customers? Have you communicated this to employees? What’s your plan for that?
  • Cybersecurity in the business. Businesses have already been warned that once sanctions are levied on Russia, retaliation via cyberattacks is inevitable. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal pointed out in our recent masterclass on risk, anywhere you use technology you also create vulnerability. Has your CIO/CISO briefed you in the past few days on what they’re hearing from their counterparts, from the government? Are they having these conversations? Have you communicated with the rank-and-file the need to be extra cautious in the days to come?
  • Cybersecurity and national infrastructure. How would your company deal with a substantial power or internet outage? What if it lasted more than a day or two? What if it impacted more than one region of the country or world? How would this impact your ability to communicate with employees or partners and conduct commerce? When was the last time your team had a conversation about this?
  • Supply chain. Already brittle, has your team thought through how you might handle even greater strain? What are your vulnerabilities across the full value chain? How about your suppliers? How is your team thinking about all of this? Have they modeled and stress-tested their assumptions?
  • Banking/financial system. Big picture, it may be hard to think through all the potential risk angles. But it is easy enough to ask your CFO when they last had lunch with your bankers. At a large multinational, that’s likely recent and routine. At mid-sized firms, that conversation may have last happened during the Covid crunch. Perhaps they can be reminded of how key those relationships can be in a pinch and that the time to say hello is well before you need to?

We’ve published some good resource material with key questions to ask around these different areas, including this discussion with Gen. McChrystal on building a better risk immune system and Ram Charan’s 5 priorities for companies during inflation (we’ll be hosting a masterclass with him, Leading Through Inflation, March 24; join us). Our sister site StrategicCIO360 has a ton of great thinking on cybersecurity, including this look at protecting OT networks. We hope it all helps. It certainly can’t hurt.

Dan Bigman is Editor and Chief Content Officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net, Boardmember.com and StrategicCFO360. Previously he was Managing Editor at Forbes and the founding business editor of NYTimes.com.