The past few decades have seen a significant increase in society’s level of awareness and investment in personal and workplace safety. In the opinion of those of us at MHA Consulting, similar attention must be given to business continuity.
In this article, we will sketch out the rise over the past few decades of what might be termed “safety culture,” define an envisioned “continuity culture,” and set forth how such a culture can be brought into being at your organization.
The rise in safety consciousness in today’s society can be seen in everything from the creation of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1971 to the introduction of polarized electrical plugs to the increasing emphasis on people’s wearing seatbelts and bicycle helmets. In the business world in particular, many companies have over recent decades developed a strong emphasis on safety, with consideration for safety permeating everything their employees do.
At safety-oriented firms, staff habitually raise safety concerns at routine meetings, and discussions about changes to company processes automatically consider their potential safety impacts. (Companies in fields that are highly regulated by OSHA, such as construction and manufacturing firms, tend to be especially safety conscious.) Though opportunities always exist for improvement, the safety situation in the workplace is much better than in times past. At the most safety-conscious companies, safety is not looked at as a cost but as an investment, and promoting safety is not a task but rather a culture.
In our view, the same thing that has happened over the past few decades with safety is overdue in the field of business continuity. Just as business has developed a safety culture, it now needs to develop a continuity culture. We are currently a long way from that point. Most executives understand the need, but often neglect to invest resources to implement strategies or make plans to protect the organization in the event of disruptions; most employees are not engaged with the continuity process due to a lack of understanding of their role; and most organizations are woefully underprepared for potential disasters.
However, the possibility of disruption is real, and the potential impact is too large for organizations to not have a culture of continuity.
Defining Continuity Culture
Continuity culture is where the practices, habits, and investments of an organization are oriented toward ensuring that their essential functions are resilient and not just recoverable in the face of a disruptive event.
Just as with safety, continuity culture is where continuity concepts and considerations permeate everything that the organization does.
When an organization has a continuity culture, its employees constantly ask themselves the question: How do we ensure that this process, application, or function will remain available (even in a degraded state) in case of a disaster? In such organizations, continuity is not a task to be checked off and forgotten about, but an ongoing process that has the steady backing of management and the informed participation of all employees.
Establishing a Continuity Culture is one of the keys to Staying Resilient in Today’s Threat Environment.
Creating a Continuity Culture
So how can you help create a continuity culture at your organization?
For starters, it’s important to realize that continuity is not only a problem for the business continuity office or staff.
Do you know those job site signs that say, “Safety is everybody’s business”? It’s the same with continuity. Continuity is everyone’s business, everyone’s responsibility, and everyone can make a contribution to improving it. (As a business continuity manager, you could do worse than putting signs up saying, “Business continuity is everybody’s business.”)
That said, a continuity culture really does start at the top. If upper management recognizes and prioritizes business continuity and resiliency as an underlying need and critical part of the organization’s activities, the rest of the organization will respond accordingly. Senior managers can then help others become more aware and engaged by asking them such questions as “Do you know where your business continuity plan is?” and “What would you do to keep your operations going if this building suddenly became unavailable?” Such questions, coming off-the-cuff from a senior executive to a middle manager, would definitely concentrate the mid-level manager’s mind on the need to revisit his or her business continuity plan.
Turning from senior management to the business continuity department, one of the best things the BC team can do is proactively communicate the state of the company’s preparedness to the management team. The BC department should not wait for an invitation. By telling the senior leadership where the company is at and where the risks are (whether the leadership is eager to find out or not), the BC staff can get the leadership thinking about continuity, cognizant about it, and maybe even doing something about it.
Finally, even the regular, non-BC employees have a vital role to play. Their responsibilities include understanding where they fit in in the plan, helping to identify risk, knowing their role and responsibilities during an event, asking for information if they don’t know what the plan is for their function, and always ensuring their function can be performed in a crisis.
The Importance of Communication
The reality is, generating a continuity culture will require constant reminders to employees at all levels of the organization.
These reminders can take many forms, including:
Incorporating tasks for business continuity or disaster recovery in the formal project management process related to all projects, large and small, for business or technology implementations.
- Having onboarding training in business continuity for new employees.
- Holding ongoing (annual or biannual) training on continuity concepts for existing employees.
- Conducting regular business continuity concept review and role-specific training.
- Sending email blasts to the whole organization asking such questions as:
- “When is the last time you looked at your business continuity plan?”
- “Do you know what your role is in the event of a disaster?”
- “Do you know what you would do if there was a fire in the building?”
- Demonstrating to people how business continuity benefits them and the organization. This can be part of the ongoing communication items.
- Capitalizing on events in the news to remind people of the potential for disaster and the need to be prepared for it. How might a similar event impact your organization?
- Reminding people that while no region has a high risk for every form of natural disaster, every region is vulnerable to something. Provide specific examples for the areas where your organization has a presence.
What’s the biggest thing in developing a continuity culture? Making it a regular part of people’s lives, and getting people to think about it and work on it on an ongoing basis.
Do you remember the days when parents piled their kids into the backseat of the car without giving a thought to seatbelts or car seats? Everyone knows better than that now. And, here in Arizona there is a saying repeated over and over on TV and radio – “two seconds is too long” meaning never leave children alone around water for even two seconds.
Hopefully, it won’t be long before companies know better than to do business without an adequate, tested business continuity plan or a properly prepared staff. When that day comes, we’ll know that the much-needed continuity culture has started to take hold in American business.