Sometimes, the biggest risk is not having enough imagination when considering the scenarios your organization might have to contend with. Many organizations tend to focus on the risks that are most likely, with the largest impacts, and create mitigation plans around those. In the current coronavirus crisis, we’re seeing things that are truly unprecedented and difficult to plan for. Even though a pandemic may have been on their list of things to be concerned about—and the impact was high—the likelihood was so low that a lot of businesses don’t have plans around it.
Sometimes, the biggest risk is not having enough imagination when considering the scenarios with which your organization might have to contend.
If a natural disaster like a tornado comes through and knocks out your headquarters, you can plan for your people to work together at a remote site and continue your operations. When it’s a pandemic, like the scenario we’re in right now, people can’t be around each other. We have to be dispersed, which means we have to rely much more heavily on technology. And if it starts to slip on us, there’s no next thing except for smoke signals.
So, we’re running into issues: Calls are dropping or we’re having trouble with email. People working from home may not have fast enough internet—because while the parents are trying to work, their kids are playing video games or streaming a movie in another room.
Business agility and continuity is all about identifying key business impacts based on most likely scenarios, and it encompasses people, process and technology. The nature of the risks and how you mitigate them depends on your business and the industry you’re in. But regardless of those differences, we need to support business agility with solid leadership and communication that’s concise and consistent across the organization.
Above all, your plan must be actionable: How will you keep critical business functions running during a disruption—or resume operations as quickly as possible?
Start with Solid Leadership
The most important thing is having someone who’s responsible for the organization’s business continuity and disaster recovery—one designated person who, at the end of the day, ensures that teams are there, meetings occur and that decisions and policies are documented, because if you’ve got multiple people responsible, then nobody’s responsible.
Build a business continuity steering committee that meets regularly and looks at events that could have caused a problem but didn’t—and then develops a backup plan for the next time. The specific roles and responsibilities will vary depending on your organization, but members should represent all of your critical business functions, including:
- Executive leadership. You need support at the highest level to get a lot of things done.
- Subject matter experts. Tap into expertise from different functions and departments.
- Locations. If you have multiple offices or plants, you might consider one representative from each.
The meeting schedule should be agile: If nothing’s really going on, maybe you meet once a month, and it’s only for 30 minutes. But when a problem comes up or disruptions occur, you meet more often for longer to create a more resilient response.
Communication Makes or Breaks an Agile Response
You should always have a communication plan, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for sharing information with different constituencies, whether that’s employees, the media or your legal department. One of our clients spent a lot of time developing and testing the perfect business continuity plan, but when it came time to put it into action, the communication fell short and only about 50% of the plan came into play.
Identify Critical Functions and Processes
Different organizations have different business processes that are key. It really depends on the industry and the business impact. For instance, how long can a mortgage company function without collecting mortgage payments? How long can any business function if they’re not processing payroll? You should determine which business processes are most critical and how long you can go without them—then work back from that to plan for those processes.
People and Processes Drive Technology Decisions
Crisis or not, critical business processes rely on resilient technology systems. But how, when and where people use those systems may be very different during a disaster or disruption. For example, if email is a critical business process (as it is for most of us), the service level agreement you have with your email service provider must support your uptime requirements. If you’re a manufacturer, consider backup contingencies for business-critical equipment or processes. It all comes down to the business impact analysis.
Small or mid-sized organizations are not alone in facing business continuity planning challenges—and even if you do everything right, it’s easy to miss the mark because of overlooked details and unintended consequences.
We worked with a global financial services firm that created an 80-page business continuity plan. It checked all the boxes for regulatory compliance but didn’t deliver on practical business requirements, such as prioritizing which functions needed to be up and running quickly. When the coronavirus hit, they had to scramble to figure out an action plan at the same time they were dealing with stock market volatility and working to keep their business afloat.
Another firm very quickly cut travel and enacted a remote work policy, with all meetings held via conference call. However, no one anticipated that the current bandwidth on their conference lines would be limited, and all the participants got busy signals when trying to dial in. As a result, calls started late, meetings ran over, meetings were missed, etc.
Don’t Have a Business Continuity Plan or Need Support?
If your organization is unprepared for the sort of scenario we currently face with the COVID-19 pandemic, you don’t have to start from scratch. We’re freely sharing our readiness checklist and business continuity planning playbook which you can download and adapt for your business.
You can also get a jump-start by tapping into our curated list of resources offered by organizations like Forrester, Gartner and Continuity Central, including a free webinar and templates to help you currently respond to today’s pandemic and be better equipped to manage future crises with greater resilience.
That’s what human agility is all about. And RGP is here to help in whatever way you need—whether it’s extra support in responding to the current disruption or in planning for the next. How can we help? Please reach out to us for guidance, whether now or down the road.