street sign saying are you ready

September 2, 2020 / Articles

What You (and Your Customers) Should Expect of Your Business Continuity Plan

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian

When it comes to business continuity planning, one trait that seems to be common to successful organizations is a corporate culture of readiness and responsibility.

History is a teacher you can’t argue with, and she is always holding class. As long as there has been technology, there have been intense discussions about whether the advances we’ve made have exceeded our ability to respond to failures in these systems. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico over a decade ago certainly took that debate to a new level.

Your Business Continuity Plan: How Far Should It Go?

It’s a widely held opinion that the best an organization can do is minimize the risks associated with any inherently risky operation. From that perspective, you’re only obligated to prepare for risks you can reasonably anticipate but can’t control.

However, others believe that companies must have an understanding of all of the risks associated with their activities. They feel that, “We didn’t see that coming.” is an excuse that no longer carries any weight.

Where will this debate be settled? Not in the boardroom or courtroom, but in the court of public opinion. Consumers today seem to expect nothing less than a deeply ingrained culture of response readiness and corporate responsibility. In other words, your customers and potential customers demand that you respond appropriately to any crisis. The buck stops with you.

Business Continuity Planning: How We Got Here

How did cultures where poor preparation is the norm take root? Do any of these statements sound familiar?

“As an aviation organization, our safety standards exceed those found in virtually every other industry. We always have and always will respond to emergencies with the utmost professionalism.”

“We’ll leave our emergency response to third parties so we can focus on our core business.”

“No two accidents are the same, so why waste valuable resources guessing at the ‘right way’ to prepare? When an incident occurs, we’ll just respond on the fly.”

“The best emergency response is the one you don’t have to use. We operate safely and thereby prevent accidents.”

If those statements make you cringe, you aren’t alone. However, if you weren’t aware that some people think that way, this should be your wakeup call. Pledge to make positive changes to your culture right now, as demonstrated by:

  • An Emergency Response Plan that includes a letter from a principal officer stating unequivocally the organization’s commitment to emergency preparedness and outlines a “top down” commitment to shared readiness and responsibility
  • Recognition that, like your Safety Management Program or Business Continuity Plan (BCP), your Emergency Response Program must be a broad-ranging and robust system to maintain readiness for emergencies
  • A willingness to plan and practice for events that involve the tragic loss of both human life and material assets, with exercise resources that match the needs of the responders and the requirements of the test
  • Sharing the expectation that your vendors, contractors and industry partners have plans of their own and that, ideally, those plans align with yours

As any business continuity consultant will explain, you can’t develop or maintain a culture of readiness and responsibility through inspirational posters, cautionary placards or best practice checklists. Change requires honest discussions about your readiness and a “gloves off” assessment of your current condition. Only then can you begin to develop a plan to match your needs.

Ultimately, a culture of readiness and responsibility has the same requirements as an effective safety culture. Executive-level support and a clear understanding of company principles and expectations are essential.

Notable Quotes

  • “Safety culture is about having the will to do something – not the money.”
    The Deborah A. P. Hersman. Chairman, NTSB
  • “Learning disabilities are tragic in children, but they are fatal in organizations.”
    Peter Senge, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practicing of the Learning Organization”
  • “Without exception, the dominance and coherence of culture proved to be an essential quality of the excellent companies. In these [strong culture] companies, people way down the line know what they are supposed to do in most situations because the handful of guiding values is crystal clear.”
    T.J. Peters and R.H. Waterman, “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best- Run Companies.”
  • “… it is worth pointing out that if you are convinced that your organization has a good safety culture, you are almost certainly mistaken.”
    James Reason, “Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents.”