Beware of stereotypes…

Get free weekly news by e-mailBy John Glenn, MBCI, Certified Business Continuity Planner.

The garbage man just came by.

A gentleman of hefty girth with a diamond earring guided a mechanical claw around the plastic bin and supervised its travel to and from the bed of the truck where the refuse is collected and compacted.

All to the stains of a Strauss waltz pouring from a boom box.

Who would have thought to hear waltzes mixed with sound of a trash compactor?

The sounds I heard as the truck passed were unexpected; sounds my ears never had heard before from similar vehicles. A stereotype - garbage men don't listen to waltzes while working - shattered.)

And the business continuity lesson is …?

Be inquisitive.

Business continuity planners must possess a natural inquisitiveness, a native curiosity about their environment and the people who work in that environment. They need the same curiosity and willingness to poke a nose into other people's business that good journalists count as a valuable asset for their jobs. But it needs to be sincere inquisitiveness; most people can spot phony curiosity and they react accordingly - they keep things to themselves which may be critical to the business continuity plan.

When developing a plan, input is needed from just about everyone.

The planner needs initial input from management. Where is the organization going? Are there any major changes slated for the near (five years down the road) future. Any anticipated changes to a "P" word?

The planner needs input from functional unit managers, line managers. These people know their unit's function, its mandates and goals.

The planner needs input from functional unit subject matter experts (SMEs), the people doing the job, the ones who know the undocumented shortcuts and who to call when something goes wrong or needs follow-up. These also are people who sometimes grumble that "this could be done better."

The planner needs input from the tyro, the new kid on the block who may see things from a different perspective than the SME; the person who may have questions never broached to the SME or left unanswered by the SME.

The planner needs input from the rent-a-cop security guard, the receptionist at the front desk, and the folks in the mailroom. Smart planners will hang around and talk with the cleaning crew; what cleaning materials are used and where are they stored?

Everyone has something worth hearing and considering.

Everyone can teach the planner something, remind the planner of something, or simply show the planner a different perspective on something.

Successful plans cannot be created in a vacuum.

Planners may have stereotypical concepts about people based on their job, their environment, their appearance, or any other variable, but these concepts must be set aside at least until proven appropriate - if that is the case. Good business continuity planners are open minded and patient.

The smart planner allows the person being interviewed to occasionally stray from the main line of questions. Remember the caveat about stereotypes; the person being interviewed may be the organization's renaissance man or woman who knows much more than just his or her current job.

Frequently the tangent taken by the interviewee will lead to additional questions, questions which the planner failed to consider. In the end, the deviation from the planner's questions may be futile for the current business continuity planning exercise, but maybe on the next plan or plan iteration…

The planner also needs to know when, and how to diplomatically return to his/her own initial list of questions.

One-on-one interviews should supplement use of well-designed and focused questionnaires. Time must be spent ‘up front’ so that the questionnaires will be all-inclusive and appropriate for each audience. Changing a questionnaire between respondent groups skews the results when the responses are tabulated.

Many organizations have personnel who have encountered business continuity or disaster recovery planning efforts previously. Sometimes the knowledge they gained is similar to knowing a little first aid, but more often than not, these people will offer valuable assistance.

Planners need to put stereotype and preconceived notions out of their heads if they are to fully benefit from the knowledge these people possess.

Planners must hone their interviewing skills to take full advantage of the talents and knowledge each person can offer.

At the same time, a wise business continuity planner will acknowledge these people in the plan documentation - unless, of course, the contributor chooses to remain anonymous.

The bottom line: to create a successful business continuity plan, planners must utilize all resources to the fullest. Ignoring a person or group because of job title or function is foolish and counter-productive. Hanging on to stereotypes puts the best planning effort in jeopardy.

John Glenn, MBCI, CBCP, has been helping organizations of all types avoid or mitigate risks to their operations since 1994. Comments about this article may be sent to

Date: 10th March 2006 • Region: US/World Type: Article •Topic: Plan development
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