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Experiences of a business continuity newcomer…

As a recent graduate now working in a business continuity role within a leading investment firm, I’ve been looking for a good mentor; someone I could shadow; who I could learn from; and who would help me develop to become the best I could be in the business continuity profession. Looking back it’s not been the easiest process. The most notable advice I have received thus far is as follows.

  • "Always look busy."
  • "Always know more than the person in front of you."

My first mentor was a really great bloke who you would undoubtedly grab a beer with any day. He was considered a subject matter expert for BCM but when asked to develop a business continuity policy his words to me were: "Here is my pal's policy - just change the name and we're good". It was after 120 pages of sifting that I realised two things:

  • The find and replace function on Microsoft Word would have saved me about a day’s work, and
  • A policy (or plan for that matter) doesn't work like that!

Nevertheless the policy was approved by a group of highly intelligent but extremely uninterested board members. Some great guidance there for my first gig: plagiarise to the nth degree!

My next mentor/ colleague was a very friendly chap in a public sector role. He liked a good chat at work (much like myself). He was a survivor and seemed to get away with saying the right things at meetings and making excuses for not producing a business continuity programme which lasted well over five years. It was only maybe a month into this job that I became so frustrated by his approach that I forged ahead with the approval of the senior manager to do what I could with what little business continuity management knowledge I had. He didn't like this at all. My enthusiasm was infectious and there came an explosion of truth from him one day when he misread an email and took umbrage. He screamed "Who do you think you are? Are you trying to make me look bad?” As if I was letting the side down by trying to do rather than just say. But in all seriousness he gave me a flavour of the industry. The smoke and mirrors, the bluff, the looking calm under pressure when all about you is falling apart. He was quite brilliant at pretending to be an expert. I'm yet to grasp this talent!

And finally my last mentor was in a government shared service. He was the business continuity lead and, while being quite brilliant at his incident response role, his business continuity management was left lacking. He did have a standardised template and approach but, if anything, it was a series of half completed, poorly maintained and misunderstood forms posing no value. However, by adopting a similar bluff to the previous person mentioned, he managed to convince three chief executives of having a comprehensive business continuity programme. Quite unbelievable.

So here I am now, facing a new line manager/ expert / mentor and I hope to learn from him. But will history repeat itself? Is a career in business continuity a playful mix of poker face, charisma and casual deflection? I certainly hope not because I really want to get good at what I do!

The author
We have maintained the author’s anonymity. To contact the author email editor@continuitycentral.com

Feedback requested
Continuity Central has made every attempt to avoid individuals being identifiable in the above article; however we feel that it raises issues about the quality of professional practices and was important to publish. It would be useful to know if the author has just been unlucky in the experiences he has had; or whether there is a wider problem. If you have experiences to share or comments to make please email editor@continuitycentral.com. We will treat such comments in confidence but will publish a de-sensitised summary of them.

Feedback and comments (latest first)

I can only sympathise with the author and applaud him/her on endeavouring to demystify the vagaries of business continuity whilst suffering what I could only term as being lack of commitment from mentors.

Mentoring in itself is a skill and passing on information in that role should only consist of that which is valuable and useable. It is about bringing new blood into the profession and equipping them with the toolsets needed to enhance their roles, it is not about cloning them into yourself. Business changes and therefore a business continuity practitioner needs to change with it. I can guarantee that eventually plagiarism will eventually catch up with you. Some previous classics I have seen in my working life are where documentation has been produced and submitted as being a person’s own work, but when you come to read the properties within the document, you find a completely different authorship.

From past experience I have personally found that the best way of mentoring the subject is to allow people to come up with their own conclusions, write it up initially in a form that they feel comfortable with and then spend some quality off line time in working through the subject and pointing out potential improvements. However, that said, it is always important to listen to what the person has to say and why they got to that particular analysis. We more mature BC practitioners can always learn from a fresh mind and new ideas.

The comment in later posts that executives and senior managers “Really don’t get it” is really quite concerning. I firmly believe that the majority really “Do get it” otherwise they would have not considered it in the first place. The expectation they do have however is that as BC professionals we should be in a position to convince them of the reality of what we have discovered and not just come up with what we think they want to hear. The difficulty sometimes is that we tend to give them the issues when we should be giving solutions.

I could go on more about this but feel that I have probably said enough.
I would however stress to the newcomer, that having myself spent numerous years in IT prior to business continuity that this is a rewarding career path that when you get it right, gives you immense satisfaction.

I too appreciate the honesty shared in this article and agree this is somewhat the situation I have been part of. I have worked within the insurance industry for about 40 years in various aspects, including Information Technology (IT) roles. During my role in IT, I was assigned the task of disaster recovery coordinator (this was an expansion of my existing job title). I was very interested in this aspect and attempted to read, gain expertise from the Internet etc.; but found little support from my management and / or company for proper training resulting in certification. The company eventually assigned the task of business continuity to another already established job of facilities management. Neither that individual nor myself had any official business continuity training. It appeared the company wanted to have a plan in place to “keep the business intact in the event of an emergency / disaster” and wanted everyone to be aware of the plan. In stark contrast they did not commit to nor invest in establishing a REAL JOB DESCRIPTION, filling it with someone who would be interested in or trained, nor support training and eventual certification for an individual. Management seems to settle for individuals / management who either appear knowledgeable without evidence or communicate what higher management wants to hear which potentially falls far short of what is needed. After repeatedly attempting to share with others what I was reading, hearing and learning about business continuity / disaster recovery without any positive response, appreciation for my efforts nor respect I began to lose heart. The management has since promoted (??) me to another more important role / job and business continuity has become a quiet topic.

I would like to see the business continuity community define more clearly what expertise is necessary to effectively perform this function and subsequently more educational institutions offer opportunities / training that would support that. I believe this is a necessity for every business as we move into the future and too bad that companies do that recognize and support it.

I appreciate the candor conveyed in this article and agree begrudgingly that this is somewhat pervasive in the industry – at least from what I’ve seen and heard over the past 13 years. While most are well meaning enough, the sense of entitlement for wanting to ‘save the business’ seems to deteriorate into bitterness when they are not listened to or asked to join the proverbial ‘table’. Fortunately, I have only ever been the sole planner or team manager and usually only had to deal with your experiences from senior planners I managed who either touted superior knowledge and expertise without evidence or drudged through their day mumbling about no one ever listening to them – which makes it’s difficult to want to start. Admittedly, I did succumb to this ‘Sisyphean malaise’ as I like to call it a few years after starting my initial role in the industry. You get tired of not being appreciated, not being heard and feeling like chicken little and then you start justifying and sometimes becoming lazy. I was able to expand my definition and approach to continuity and preparedness planning and leverage operational metrics, governance and risk themes - aka speaking the business and moving in their world versus trying to get them to come to the dark side. I believe this is an underlying issue to the potential demise of business continuity planning as a profession as our culture is not ready to carve out roles and processes for looking what can go wrong. Instead we need to focus on how we can get our message and skillset across using mainstream business terms. Keep plugging away Newcomer (bluffs will be called eventually) and get advice from those outside your company and industry – you’ll find some fantastic minds and creative approaches, not to mention a lot of genuine charisma.

I find it interesting that none of the mentioned ‘mentors’ seemed to be certified by either the DRII, BCI or another sanctioned certification body. I recommend you seek the advice and tutelage of a reputable (read that certified) business continuity planner rather than someone who is in the position at the moment.

When you understand the full cycle of business continuity you can understand the complexities and subtleties of the profession. Or put another way, if you were preparing a gourmet meal for an important event, would you consult a reputable chef or the burger flipper at McDonalds: they both prepare food but what seems more palatable.

The author's experience sounds very genuine. There's a problem in the BC industry that BC professionals and managers find it very difficult to relate and demonstrate the value of their programs to the organizations. I, and maybe others, have seen some professionals re-use and re-distribute BCM policies and procedures (including recovery plans) to others (clients and new employers or even colleagues in other places). Some of these were customized filed templates that contained some sensitive information. It's needless to say that they obtained no one's permission to do so. Surely, the BC professional doing that cannot build a robust ongoing program, neither would transfer knowledge and enthusiasm to his team and colleagues.

However, not all of your fingers are the same. There are some serious people out there who really make a contribution to the industry and other fellow professionals. I agree also with the idea of making more exposure to professional events and create connections of fellow professionals. This way you can see the other good side of BCM professionals.

I'm sorry that you've had a less-than-promising introduction to business continuity. I'd like to think that you were very unfortunate and that BC managers are, on the whole, much better than that.

I think that we suffer from the apparent specificity of our role: senior executives (e.g. the Board) don't really 'get' what we do, and so are happy with anything that sounds convincing. We’re also not good, collectively, at “punching our weight” – bringing our analysis and our recommendations to the right tables at the right times with the right data. That's why I think the soft skills of our profession - the negotiation, influencing, training - are so important, yet so often overlooked.

The development and use of metrics will also help us: let's show how our BC programs improve over time; let's show success in a quantitative manner, and more people will realize what we do and why it’s so important. It’s also crucial that we get out-and-about and forge links with Property, Security, IT, InfoSec, Enterprise Risk, PR, HR, anyone…anyone who can collaborate on our jigsaw-understanding of risks, threats, impacts, strategies, tests and communications.

Newcomer, welcome to our industry: it’s a fascinating place to be. I really hope your next role gives you greater satisfaction…

My heart really truly goes out to this person. It beggars believe that there are still people out there getting away with this type of attitude. I can honestly say, when I have taken on a new recruit I have always tried my utmost to pass on my enthusiasm for the profession. I can only hope that they have never gone away and had such negative thoughts on my way of teaching. I have always gone by the principle that someone took a chance on me when I was just starting out and it is now my turn to pay it back.

I am not saying I am whiter than white, there have been times when reinventing the wheel was pointless and using learnings from other practitioners was done. But then that is what the BC world created, we all loved to talk about what went wrong so others didn't make the same mistakes. I do believe there is still plenty of that going on in different forums,eg BANG and London BCI Forum to name just a couple.

I have to admit there are a few bad eggs out there, that is the way of the world these days, people getting jobs just because of who they know, but please be reassured that there are many that really do believe in doing a good job. Over the last few years I have seen some people trying to just work their way up the ladder without actually understanding the principles of BC and that is a shame, however if the author is looking for a good mentor the BCI have a mentor scheme which I am part of and believe it would be a great place to start.

The author’s experiences are a terrible indictment of some people in the BC profession, and I’m surprised that he or she hasn’t decided to follow another career. I would hope that they are in a minority.

I also hope that if these mentors were provided by the BCI that the author has provided feedback. Anyone with these ideas should not be mentoring anyone, and quite frankly, should not be employed in BC.

•Date: 6th December 2013 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC general

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