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It’s time to change your mindset…

Business continuity planners who feel that they lack top-level support should stop blaming senior managers: the problem probably lies closer to home. By John M. Stagl.

It is time to re-evaluate the business continuity contribution of the ‘planning community’ in support of the companies across the US and around the world that are the source of economic development and strength. Specifically, there is and has been a great deal of discussion and examination of what it takes to be an effective business continuity planner. You are hard pressed to attend a conference on disaster planning or business continuity without finding this topic on the agenda. Unfortunately, most of the speakers are individuals who have had limited and usually infrequent contact with the senior management level of their company or client companies. As a consequence, they are left with the only source of information upon which they can base their speaking points – their personal experience working within the company at the middle management level or infrequent and limited exposure to senior management. Under these circumstances it is not easy to form an accurate opinion of the values of the senior management team and what priorities actually drive their decisions. This leads to the well-intentioned conclusion that these senior executives are not committed to the actual business continuity effort within their company. This conclusion is simply not correct. Just because senior executives do not dedicate requested resources for business continuity planning within a company does not correctly lead to the conclusion of lack of commitment. Even David Honour, editor, Continuity Central, reflects this opinion in a recent article where he referred to a 2011 Continuity Central survey which found that the top three challenges experienced by business continuity managers were ‘Lack of resources’ (both financial and human); ‘Difficulties in obtaining senior management support and input’; and ‘Getting wider buy-in from the organization’. Mr. Honour goes on to say that in 2012, “Business continuity managers will have to continue to make silk purses out of sows’ ears. Likewise, the wider organization will continue to face similar time management and staffing problems: ensuring that it will continue to be very difficult to gain the attention and commitment of those for whom business continuity is an annoying distraction from their ‘real’ jobs.” Over the decades the opinion that senior management is not fully committed to continuity planning has become virtually axiomatic. For far too long now we have listened to the loudest voices expressing their discontent with the manner in which they had to conduct continuity planning within their organization. No-one has stood up and asked the question, ‘do these individually really know what they are doing, or are they asking senior management to buy into an action plan that is not going to actually produce continuity of operations?’ It is time to ask that question.

What is today called business continuity planning is in fact the evolution of the old disaster recovery planning that met with the same lack of senior support and commitment that we are frustrated by now. The reason for that continued frustration is the similarity of the two planning protocols. There must be a substantive change in order to get senior management attention and then, possibly, support. The problem that most planners fail to recognize is that senior officers are very familiar with ‘continuity of operations’. This is in fact their primary responsibility: keeping the doors of the company open and generating a profit for investors. So when you have the opportunity to speak with them on this subject, you had better bring your ‘A’ game and not be offering a collection of processes or procedures to reproduce some internal capability. You had better be talking about how you will ensure the achievement of their strategic goals; and that means you have to understand what those goals are in the minds of the senior officers.

At this point I want to digress and establish some credentials. I first started my planning experience in Vietnam as an Army intelligence agent. Planning in a war zone is very similar to planning for corporations: in a war zone poor plans result in the loss of life; in the business world poor plans cost people their incomes and careers because companies fail. In both cases the risks are real and catastrophic. Later in my career I became the director & VP of strategic planning for a company in Baltimore, MD. This meant that I was dealing with senior officers on a daily basis. During the early years of this assignment I too focused on the planning processes and received the same treatment from the senior officers that continuity planners complain about today. However, after years of frequent exposure to these company leaders, I finally realized I was the person who was ‘out of step’. These executives are driven to make their company successful; and that means that every day they deal with real threats to the very survival of the company. They are working every day on the goal of keeping the company successful and the doors open. More to the point, I spoke with the CEO of another organization and he explained to me that his job was “…not to run this company: I have department heads to do that. My job is to make sure the company will be here five years from now to serve our customers and investors.” That is business continuity!!! I will tell you that the senior officers of the company in which I worked reflected that same mind-set. It is for this reason that most presentations on business continuity that discuss preservation of existing processes and procedures with horizons of impact this year or even next year are greeted with acceptance and not enthusiastic endorsement. You are not in harmony with the senior officer values and goals.

I have said and written before that the best method to get senior officer support is to stop asking for it. The way to get their support is to give them something that they need and can use to achieve their continuity of operations goals. That does not include the ability to recover from a fire or hurricane. Senior officers are concerned about those issues, but the responsibility to deal with those short term problems are delegated to middle managers. You need to give senior officers information they can use to make decisions and set strategies for the future; today’s problems are the jurisdiction of department heads and middle management.

It therefore becomes obvious that most planners have not received adequate training in actual business continuity planning; instead they are presenting upgraded forms of recovery planning. Changing the nomenclature does not change the product or service. The problem we planners face is that senior management is expecting support in continuity of operations and long term strategic planning issues; and we planners are talking about short term disaster reaction issues. While these are important, they have been delegated to other management staff. Generally, you have about 3-5 minutes when you are before these executives to impress them with the fact that you are tuned into what they need and not talking about a needed protocol that belongs to some other management level within the organization. If you fail in those few minutes, you will be allowed to finish and you will be thanked, but you will not have connected and ultimately they will not be the source of any major adjustment in corporate resources to do your job. If you want to be part of the business continuity team – recognize the risk you are assuming, recognize the time horizons of the senior officers and then find them information so they can be more effective and accurate in their decision making. Business continuity planning is not your responsibility! Don’t be confused by titles, responsibility for keeping the company operating resides at the most senior level. As I stated earlier, the nomenclature is misleading to the planning staff, not to senior management.

Some indicators that may help with this differentiation are these: if your plan is updated once a year - or even two times a year – it is a disaster recovery plan. Business continuity plans are reviewed monthly and forecasts adjusted based on current performance and changes to external factors impacting performance. If your plan centers on the duplication of existing processes or procedures after an event, it is a disaster recovery plan. Business continuity is oriented to future goal impacts and adjustments that are needed to achieve those goals. If you are constantly trying to expand your staff to research the many aspects of company performance in order to be able to duplicate those capabilities after an incident – it is a disaster recovery plan. True business continuity is not labor intensive, it is intellectual intensive and forecast dependent. Senior officers recognize these different attributes. Business continuity is primarily oriented outside of the company and includes (just to name a few factors) competition, consumer values, economics domestic & international, government regulations domestic and international and interest rates. Business continuity planning is a very risky career; it is also a very rewarding and fulfilling career when it is done effectively. However, it is not for the faint of heart. The demands placed on continuity planners by senior management are constant. Once you are considered a part of their team (not equal to them, part of their team) they share the pressure they face every day with you.

So as David Honour points out, if 2012 is the same as 2011, it probably means that you are repeating what you did in 2011. The good news is this – it is all up to you. Senior management is always looking for new information and approaches that can make a real difference in the company’s performance. So the future is in your hands, but don’t try and send simple superficial material to these executives and expect to be recognized as a strategic thinker. True business continuity planning is unique to each company. There are no common protocols that can be applied to companies (‘best practices’ do not exist in business continuity only ‘effective practices’). If you want to change the game you will have to change your contribution. Keep this in mind: senior officers support people who support them. They do not support people who ask for recognition: among senior officers recognition is earned not solicited regardless of the title you have within your organization. True business continuity is a voluntary assignment that can only be accepted by the planner; disaster recovery planning is an assigned responsibility.

The risks and rewards of these two careers are entirely different.

John M. Stagl, CBCP, consultant and director of business continuity, BELFOR USA.

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•Date: 10th January 2012 • Region: US/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC general

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