Business Continuity in a Crisis
Business continuity, at its heart, is a mindset. While there are countless frameworks, templates, checklists, and metrics integrated into business continuity, they are a means to an end and not the end itself.
The mindset is grounded in attentiveness, inquisitiveness, and adaptability. An organization must be:
- attentive to its activities and their inherent requirements,
- inquisitive to the risks, and
- adaptive to changing conditions and emerging challenges.
These core components are instilled in an organization through proactive leadership. Business continuity practices are common in the corporate sector and focused on maintaining operations in the face of crises or emergencies to preserve the bottom line. NGOs, however, often have a “double bottom line,” where continuity of impact is vital to preserve. If an NGO cannot deliver services or goods to vulnerable communities in need due to poor preparation and inadequate business continuity practices, then people will suffer, and trust will be broken. An NGO must develop a business continuity mindset amongst its staff to maintain continuity of impact to the people it serves.
Steering clear of prescriptive frameworks and business continuity jargon, the principles highlighted above will serve as guideposts towards developing a business continuity plan tailored to the organization’s unique needs.
To paraphrase Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.” It’s not easy to closely examine your company with the specific intent of finding weaknesses, gaps, shortcomings, or problem areas. It’s hard to admit to failings, and its human nature to overlook potential problems if nothing has gone wrong yet. This human factor is compounded in larger organizations when fundamental changes often require extensive resources, retraining, time, and energy. Leaders must set the example by closely examining core activities in their department and having frank discussions about what could go wrong.
Actively probing for weaknesses by conducting rigorous risk assessments takes discipline, diversity, and humility. Risk assessments are a constant process, where nothing is assumed, and even smoothly running processes are systematically examined. It is imperative to not take anything for granted and to continually ask:
- What is the impact if this fails?
- How do we recover?
- How fast do we need to recover?
- Do we have secondary and tertiary backups?
There is no all-inclusive list of questions, but it is rather the inquisitive mindset to always turn over rocks that is key. This is a team process and having a diverse group is critical. Only by having diverse perspectives in your risk assessment team can an organization hope to see a problem entirely. Proper problem framing is essential to developing a holistic and effective solution. Finally, risk assessment is approached with humility. The ego must be set aside to honestly assess risks, gaps, and other shortcomings. Leaders again can set the example by providing honest self-assessments of themselves and their departments.
I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
A business continuity plan that is written once and left on the shelf is useless. Planning, especially for business continuity, is a constant process of reexamination. And to use another maxim on planning, “No plan survives first contact.” No matter how rigorous the planning, there will always be unforeseen challenges and emergencies. Having a team that has been entrusted and empowered to innovate creative solutions to problems means an organization can effectively navigate fluid crisis conditions. The team will have a high level of cohesion and implicit communication primarily due to the extensive planning exercises, rehearsals, and brainstorming discussions it has conducted in preparation for an emergency. In a crisis, a team will not rise to the occasion but sink to its level of training. True business continuity and crisis response are built over time through diligent and consistent preparation.
Business continuity is not a course or a certification. It’s a mindset to intentionally build resilience in an organization to help it weather shocks that would break a lesser prepared organization. In the end, it is about leadership; leaders who recognize the continuity of operations as a supporting effort. It is vital not only to preserving the bottom line and duty of care to the employees but to continually provide positive impact to communities in need.
Brian von Kraus has worked with numerous NGOs in high-risk regions to help them mitigate risk and build resilience in their organizations and people. “Protecting those who do good” so the good may continue.