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Can business continuity management effectively manage cultural diversity?

By John Zeppos, FBCI.

Business continuity management in large organizations with many different departments and diverse personalities can be a challenge at times.

When you’re trying to implement good business continuity management in a company that spans countries and time zones it gets even more complicated. Throw in cultural differences between the various regional offices on top of the business-cultural differences within each office, and it can seem like a hard road to nowhere.

As a top-level manager in a multi-national company, you will understand the challenges in getting your own staff to understand the concept of business continuity, let alone the difficulties involved in communicating these plans to managers in overseas branches: understanding business continuity jargon is hard enough in one language, but communicate you must because resilience to business disruption affects not only their own staff, but the stability of the business as a whole.

How do you get people of different cultures, languages, and time zones all working towards business resilience?

Within any large organization there are different tribes of individuals that make it difficult for the business continuity management professional to use a single means of communication or even a single business language in order for the messages to go through and finally be accepted and digested. Engineers don’t understand the business or approach business problems the same way as someone in marketing, or in finance, and that is fine. Everyone is there to do their job the best way that they can as a small part of a bigger picture. These are the everyday challenges that we business continuity professionals are more than familiar with.

Taking this approach for a multi-national company is a good idea. Yes, there are now tribes within tribes, but the principle is the same. While there will be complications where more than one language is involved, there may be lots of commonalities across borders which can be used to your advantage: you may find that the digital manager in India gets on better with the digital manager in Europe than he does with his own finance director, for example.

The main way we overcome differences in expectations caused by cultural diversity is to instil a holistic approach to business resilience. By showing each team member how they fit into their regional branch, and into the company as a whole, it helps them to understand that it is important to find ways to keep their own little corner of the organization resilient and how their lack of resilience can impact on others within the organization, even though they may be many miles away. On the flip side, it also helps if team members can see how their job would be impacted if someone else neglected their business resilience duties. Having everyone working under the same brand name, in pursuit of the organization’s wider goals - from the janitor in your distribution centre in the States to the finance director in your Asian HQ - is a great start to better business resilience.

The biggest challenge we find as business continuity managers is getting all team members on board in helping the organization meet its goals. There will have been a complicated company history which resonates with some regional branches more than others. There are political and sociological reasons why the company can’t make everyone equal by implementing a global HR policy for example. Local economics may have made life tougher for workers in one branch, while others have thrived. There is also the added complication that local geography makes some branches more vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, for which business continuity plans will have to cater.

We have found that by empowering each regional branch to carry out its own business continuity planning is worthwhile. Once each team member understands why they need to be more resilient and the local management team is familiar with their own unique challenges, the plan can be drawn up in consultation with the local team. By giving the local strategic team the resources and support to develop their own business continuity plans, you are creating a culture of resilience which is sympathetic to the local culture, geography, and socio-political challenges. Of course, the global HQ would be there to oversee and support any disaster management policies, and to re-distribute operations to alternative branches should the need arise, but day-to-day resilience would be the duty of the local management team, who can use the benefit of their lived experiences and understanding of local issues to minimise the threats in the first instance.

We don’t really think that cultural diversity in multi-national organizations is a major issue when it comes to business continuity management. In theory, and in practice, we’ve all come up against it already in larger organizations. The trick is, as always, to instil the importance of business resilience in everyone and get all team members working towards the same goal, regardless of their language and culture.

The author:
John Zeppos FBCI, is the managing partner in Resilience Guard GmbH, a Swiss consultancy on business continuity operating in Switzerland and beyond. In his lengthy experience he has encountered cultural diversity in all its forms and successfully incorporated it into his clients’ business continuity plans.

•Date: 27th February 2015 • Europe/World •Type: Article • Topic: BC general

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