Whether they have one or not, most businesses know that they should have a plan against adversity. There are websites, step by step software and consultants out there to help you, but over successive posts we would like to share a DIY perspective of planning for business continuity, disaster recovery and how this meshes with Emergency Management.
In essence, your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is a plan to continuing operations under adverse conditions. It analyses internal and external threats, and the responses available to you to avoid, reduce or respond to these risks.
Plans will vary with the mission and scale of organisations, and may focus on supply chain interruption, evacuation drills, loss or damage of critical infrastructure, security and corporate reputation. It can be an excellent organisational learning tool if underpinned by a systematic review of all the processes required to keep your enterprise going in the short and medium term; that is, what needs to happen each day, week, month or year to keep going.
Business Continuity planning looks at non-critical processes, and what happens if they fail. It should also be a feedback loop; the plan is a working document as events unfold or conditions change, so the process or review – reporting when and how to whom – should also be addressed. You should be able to track versions of your BCP via incident logs over time.
A sub-set of the plan is your Disaster Recovery Plan; this defines what a critical service interruption is, and the systematic approach that can be taken to prevent or reduce risk or activate response procedures. (This will be covered in the next blog.)
Fleshing out the BCP
Divide your business processes into the major areas of concern and, in order of process or importance, itemise the key tasks that need to happen. Common categories are people, financial, premises, sales processes, technical or production processes.
Most of these processes should be happening already, but you may also wish to link tasks to individual performance indicators for particular staff; being clear about time frames, deadlines and responsibilities is important, and managers will want to be able to check periodically that the processes supposed to happen actually are being done as per the plan. Key tests may also be scheduled.
Even routine tasks can prove toxic to an organisation if not rigorously observed. Your audit could include checklists for running accounts, invoices, and back ups, month-end and year end processes; compliance with tax and labour regulations; tracking cash flow and budgets; checklists of key dates (BAS reports and payments, insurance renewals, accreditation or first aid certificate renewal dates, leases on assets and premises, staff leave and public holiday arrangements, and WHS site checks all come to mind). Regular marketing deadlines, training, new business development planning and business documentation processes could also be considered in the long term as part of your normal business cycle.
You may wish to bring together the plan as an overview (more like a policy) and specify the detail in a handbook, with all the contacts, file locations and specifics. One advantage of doing this is clarity; in a long detailed document it is easy to get bogged down with detail. Having an overview may also be easier for you in terms of confidentiality if you are asked to produce this document in external sales contexts.
BCP and Business Planning
The level of regulatory compliance in Australian business is now such that Well Done took the step of employing a CPA as our Compliance Officer; as we moved from a small to medium scale business, the Board deemed the risks of not doing so to be unacceptable. But it’s not an unrewarding burden. Take the next step and you can use this information to look for gaps in your existing plans, and do a periodic SWOT analysis for threats and opportunities. Do this as a group activity with your key management and invite some independent external experts every year or two and you should be better able to spot how your organisation is exposed to risk and think outside the box about where and how you might take the business to the next level.
The importance of Perspective
The top down view can be interesting because it can flag to you considerations that you might otherwise miss when hiring new staff, for instance. In my previous blog, HR expert Anita Radisic emphasised the importance of defining the job and looking at the demonstrated skill set and the attitude of the applicants in hand. From a business continuity perspective, however, your staff have strategic significance as well.
Based on our business continuity planning, we realised that it is vital to ensure that all key management always have an acting second in the wings, and that the ability to select at least some staff for internal promotion is a prerequisite for this to work. Internal promotion career pathways can also help develop understanding across different parts of the business and be a great motivator for your existing staff when opportunities are fairly offered on merit. From the business’ point of view, this is actually also a low risk approach, because if you employ someone with potential in one role, you can see how they perform in a range of situations and test them out in acting roles before committing to the higher appointment.
Recruitment is also a great way to buy-in new skills or knowledge to the organisation. When you recruit new people from outside the organisation for management roles, consider what new skill set that they can bring to your business, and what the existing staff can learn from them.
Continuity of Knowledge and Skills
How knowledge is routinely shared within the organisation impacts on your ability to respond to adverse conditions.
At Well Done we plan to have several people familiar with at least some parts of all work tasks. Client Services requests have been moved to centrally monitored CSR ticketing system with appropriate ETA response time frames so that the first available team member can do the work. Emails to individuals are discouraged as you have continuity problems if a person is on leave for any reason, and they may not be actioned in the time frame. The use of some group email addresses routed to several individuals by function can also reduce reliance on individuals.
We also have internal web-based wikis for different work groups (IT, Operations and Sales) to help newcomers orient to tasks, and as a time saving reference for more experienced staff about facts and processes that are used less often. Your business has paid staff to compile this information and it shouldn’t leave the business when individuals eventually move on!
Formal training documentation is helpful in this regard also, and at Well Done we have a number of internally produced training modules to support various services and that, taken as a group, are structured to facilitate operator progression through skills based queues in our Call Centres.
Centrally accessible procedural information linked to your BCP will also help you respond to adverse events. If this is sufficiently detailed, it will enable managers to delegate tasks across the team during an incident.
Taking it Seriously
One disadvantage of off the shelf software approach to BCP is that, as with some aspects of OH&S planning, if it seems fanciful, your people won’t take it seriously.
By sticking to the core threats to your business, and the key processes that you know must happen without fail, your plan can become a useful checklist to avoiding problems or at least managing risk. Your staff and managers also need to take responsibility for their part of the work, which they will also avoid if it seems irrelevant.
Relevance and process, and commitment driven from the top of your organisation down are all vital to the successful implementation of your Business Continuity Plan.
A final note
This blog has been written from the viewpoint of a business, but business continuity does figure prominently in our work at Well Done because we support so many other businesses and government agencies. Outsourcing call handling or escalation activations of staff and contractors on call to a specialist contact centre is an option most businesses should consider in their BCP, and the discipline of specifying this work for an independent third party is a good one for most managers in fair weather or foul.
For more information:
- www.searchrecovery.com – for a more technical BCP template
- A number of state government departments offer free templates to work through (e.g. - www2.business.qld.gov.au/.../Business_Continuity_Plan_Template.doc)
We suggest that you heavily customise or totally rewrite any template you use to fit your style of business and internal documentation to encourage your people to ‘own’ it. You can always add further detail over time as part of the process.
For sales enquiries with Well Done - www.welldone.net.au/contact.php