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Leveraging Leadership’s Newfound Appreciation for Business Continuity into a Rational Approach

By Grace Burley, Managing Director, Corporate Resilience, Witt O’Brien’s:

Global disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the critical need for organizations to have a strong business continuity capability, as well as an organized process to anticipate, respond to, and recover from high-impact events. As business continuity experts, a big challenge we face is how do we leverage executive leaderships’ newfound appreciation for our knowledge about the importance of corporate resilience?

The first step is to channel leadership’s energy is into governance. Companies recognize the urgency in creating resilience, but often find that despite their best intentions achieving a cohesive, measurable, and sustainable business continuity strategy across the organization remains elusive. This remains the case even for many large, complex, multi-national companies that seek to implement resilience programs on a global scale. All too often this is due to lack of strategic direction.

Several well-tested activities that engage leaders to provide strategic input include:

  • Identify and rank risks from a leadership perspective.
  • Consensus on a business continuity governance framework that is strategic yet tactical as to unify the organization and offer clear direction for all business lines and geographic regions.
  • Calculate risk tolerance and examine recovery strategies. Although leaders may perceive that recovery strategies to be infinite, they simply are not. When a disruption occurs, can staff perform their work functions from home? Can employees transfer to another office? Are there risks that leadership must inherently accept?
  • Commitment to provide dedicated staff and resources to manage and overcome the disruption.

Once leadership offers their strategic input, a company-wide business continuity governance, inclusive of programming standards must be instituted. However, leadership should be prepared to secure the necessary resources to create tools for planning, implementation, monitoring, and reporting, along with upskilling your workforce to meet the new focus on business continuity.

Another vital process to channel company’s executive leadership involvement is to mandate business impact analysis (BIA) and training efforts. All too often, the business continuity experts provide their expertise and feedback for final approval, only to have it die on the vine. Leadership must exhibit solidarity in their support to fully engage in the BIA process. The more engaged business leaders are, the better the data will be, and, subsequently, the business continuity plans will be robust and exacting. When employees see the commitment leadership has for the business continuity effort, a true culture shift occurs which makes way for a resilient organization.

Finally, if your organization does not already have a software tool in place, or if the existing tool is outdated and lacks the capabilities to support the business continuity efforts, now is an ideal time to implement a new one. Start by defining your must-have requirements which will ensure you select the software solution that best supports your program. One of the most valuable lessons learned thus far from the COVID-19 pandemic was that the more robust software tools offered simplified data dashboards that leadership can easily digest. Plans were often based on specific assumptions, but the data to help make business decisions have been proven more important. For example, the ability to quickly create easy to understand reports about how many employees could transition to working from home was immensely helpful when offices began closing. Finally, be sure to select a software platform with a simple and intuitive user interface to allow for non-practitioner usage.

It takes a strong bench of business continuity experts to drive these efforts at a global scale, and building internal capacity takes time and effort. One way for businesses to ramp up their global business continuity programs is by enlisting third-party experts who can move quickly to jumpstart, coordinate, and help build the essential program elements and augment internal expertise in testing and implementing plans. At the end of the day, this may be a golden opportunity to leverage the attention of leaders to focus on business continuity.

About the Author: Grace Burley is the Managing Director for Witt O’Brien’s. For more than 15 years she has managed numerous crisis management, business continuity, emergency management, crisis communications and workplace violence prevention projects. She is also a certified Business Continuity Professional through BCI.

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