The last few months have changed so much about the way we perceive business risk. Compared to six or even three months ago, the likelihood of negative business disruptions, from process risks (reduced credit availability) to security risks (workplace violence), seems unquestionably greater. Where revenues are lagging, the impact from such disruptions has shifted from mild to severe — or, in some cases, become unsustainable. With each passing week, it seems we live in an ever more hostile and complex global business environment.
During these uncertain times, those responsible for managing business risks shoulder a heavy burden of expectations. Employees, shareholders, customers and even the general public expect the business to be up and running at all times, doing smart things to protect people and assets. And they are quick to anger if we are not.
In this belt-tightening climate, good-governance preparedness measures like crisis management and business continuity planning can bring both comfort and competitive advantage to the business — when implemented properly. Winning resources for preparedness planning has never been an easy sell, but there are quite a few strong leaders out there who, despite the economic crisis, still manage to do it. By contrast, many firms that, until recently, maintained large, mature internal business continuity programs have slashed headcount and, as a result, recovery capacity.
In the face of overwhelming pressure to cut operating costs, many business continuity programs have either failed to mount a convincing argument for their continued existence, or lacked an executive audience to which to present it.
What accounts for these divergent outcomes? The programs still standing have managed to deftly protect the corporate interests that matter most and also broadcast their value proposition in business terms for all to see. Those leading the charge have won a hard-fought struggle to become trusted advisors and strategic partners to the senior leadership team.
Relevance is key to the survival of any business effort in the current climate. “Radical relevance” in preparedness planning means not spending a dollar of corporate funds or a minute of management time unless the effort can be traced directly back to an agreed set of business-driven imperatives.
This requires bringing fresh eyes to preparedness each day as well as a healthy skepticism for programmatic inertia. It is time to approach spending on crisis management and business continuity planning with the same seriousness and rigor we apply when acquiring a competitor — either way, it is coming off the bottom line!
The Management Systems Approach to Preparedness
Let’s draw a key distinction between preparedness planning as an activity unto itself and the manner in which the firm successfully (or unsuccessfully) readies itself to perform that planning. The tactical and technical elements of good business continuity and crisis management programs are well-established; assembly instructions can be found in numerous reputable standards currently in print around the world.
What is less understood and, as a result, poorly captured in the current standards, are workable solutions for linking core business strategies and corporate preparedness efforts. Ensuring these two worlds align is one of the most valuable contributions an executive sponsor can make toward building a more resilient business.
As business management disciplines, business continuity and crisis management are still comparatively new. Knowledgeable practitioners still harbor reasonable disagreements as to the meaning of key terms, such as “disaster recovery.” But if one thing rings true, it is that implementing resilience programs in “stove-pipes,” as seen in years past, rarely achieves the desired results.