How Business Continuity Is Like a Tree: BCM and the Corporate Hierarchy

How Business Continuity Is Like a Tree: BCM and the Corporate Hierarchy

Managing a business continuity program is a job that puts unique political burdens on its practitioners, as you will be well aware if that’s what you do for a living. Few other departments face the same need to continually justify their existence to senior management as the BC program, and few are as dependent on having good working relationships with other departments.

For these reasons, it is valuable for the BCM professional to step back every now and then and think about how they can work smoothly with the other entities within their organization, both vertically and horizontally.

To help you do this, in today’s post we’ll share a few thoughts on the different hierarchical levels found at most organizations, and sketch out what interaction each typically has with the BCM program. In the end, we’ll give a few tips to help you navigate among the different levels at your organization so that your program has a better chance of obtaining the resources and support it needs to perform its critical if sometimes undervalued mission.

If you think of a typical, good-sized organization as having an upper, a middle, and a lower level of the hierarchy, the outlook and role of each as they pertain to the business continuity program usually looks something like this:

  •  The C-Suite. The senior-level team members are the ones who are going to approve your program’s strategy and budget. What do they need to understand about your program? Not every little detail. Rather, they need to have a grasp of the high-level risk state of the program. These executive-level folks will want to know if the organization is compliant and functionally able to recover, as well as what the major critical risks or gaps are. They also need to understand what business benefits the program provides, or BCM may be viewed as a cost of doing business with a goal of minimizing costs.
  • Divisional or VP-level leaders. Individuals at this level are more hands-on than the senior level. These are the people who will carry your proposals to the senior group. Ideally, they are informed and supportive, are persuasive in making your case, and are available to help you get through roadblocks. A friendly sponsor at this level can be one of your program’s best assets; however, individuals at this level also have the potential of being a bottleneck that causes your program to languish. If these managers are slow to approve your initiatives and authorize your use of resources—this typically happens because their attention is monopolized by projects or tactical needs that they feel are more important or compelling—your program can plateau.
  • The Ground Troops. These are department managers, subject matter experts, and individual contributors, the people who have a deep understanding of the tactical issues and gaps in the environment that feed into business continuity. These are the people who do the day-to-day work, define the strategies and implementation, know the details, and write the plans. If you’re a business continuity manager, you probably interact with this group most as this may be the same level you are in the organization.

So that’s the organizational cast of characters. What are some things you might try to increase your ability to work successfully with people at every level?

Here are a few:

  • Think in terms of managing the program across the whole organization.
  • Make every effort to keep your divisional managers informed and involved.
  • In talking with the C-Suite or division leaders, keep BC jargon to a minimum. Talk about impacts and benefits for the business.
  • Business continuity is like a tree. The information has to flow up from the lower level to the higher ones like minerals being drawn up through the roots of a tree then carried up the trunk and into the branches.
  • Be responsible for relaying the tough news to the higher-ups. It’s better to bite the bullet and tell them what’s really going on than to hide out and wait for the bullet to bite you. Bad news doesn’t get better with age.
  • Facts are your friends. If your senior leadership has pertinent facts and good information, they are more likely to make decisions that advance the long-term health of your program and organization.
  • Keep in touch with your stakeholders. Use events in the news as opportunities to remind everyone that your organization is also vulnerable to that type of event, but that you’ve implemented Plans A, B, and C to be prepared for it.
  • Remember that, in the last analysis, business continuity is not a department; it’s a function for which your department is the coordinator. Business continuity is everybody’s job.

We have experienced both the engaged organization and the disengaged organization. In an organization with divisional leaders who listen, understand and bring information to the senior leadership, we see that the program is not only flourishing but that there is demonstrable functional capability, not just audit checkboxes. Honest and factual information is provided to management, including the bad news. The resource constraint and pull of business strategic projects have not stopped, but BC remains visible and moving forward.

In disengaged organizations, we see that they started out fully engaged at all levels. But once the initial implementation was complete and a couple of DR exercises were performed, the engagement of senior and divisional leadership waned, and there were no longer resources available for BC related activities; therefore, the program stalled or even regressed.

Is your BCM program backed by a culture of continuity? Learn how a BC culture can be brought into being within your organization.

Books have been written about how to communicate and collaborate effectively with people at other levels and in other departments. Obviously, there is a lot more to the topic than is touched on here.

Hopefully, the above information will at least get you started in thinking about this sometimes challenging, but always fascinating, aspect of our field.

One thing is for sure: business continuity is an area where you cannot hope to succeed if you stay within your own silo. The successful BC manager must be a master diplomat and skilled salesperson as well as a business continuity expert.


Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.

Business continuity consulting for today’s leading companies.

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