Learning the Local Culture: BCM Pros Need to Suit Their Programs to the Locality

It’s human nature for people to take the assumptions of their culture for granted, not realizing that people elsewhere might look at things in a radically different way. Business continuity management (BCM) professionals need to understand and accommodate the culture at all their locations if they want their recovery plans to work. 

Different Localities, Different Cultures 

If you are a BCM professional at an organization that has only one facility, or whose facilities are all in one region, such as the Upper Midwest, you can safely skip this week’s blog. 

This post is for people working at organizations with sites in multiple localities—for example, a headquarters in New York, a design studio in Southern California, and production facilities in Alabama and Mexico. Or any other combination of locations that are far enough away from each other to have different cultures. 

Actually, locations don’t even have to be that distant for their cultures to differ. The New York metro area and upstate New York aren’t that far apart, but there’s a big difference in the culture of midtown Manhattan and that of a Syracuse office park. 

If you work at an organization with sites in multiple localities, or might some day, then this post is relevant to you. 

Tailoring Recovery Plans to the Local Culture 

The basic point of today’s blog can be stated simply: If a BC office in Location A creates a BC plan for Location Z—and this plan depends for its success on the people in Location Z sharing the values, attitudes, and assumptions of the people in Location A—and they don’t share them—then the plan will fail. Period. Game over.  

The upshot is just as simple: Responsible BC professionals who have a role in designing plans for sites in multiple localities have an obligation to understand the culture of each location and tailor their plans accordingly. 

There’s More to Culture Than Food and Clothes 

A common idea about local culture is that it refers to unique aspects of the way people in a particular place dress and the food they eat , e.g., sushi in Japan, barbecue in Texas, falafel in the Middle East. This is part of it, but there are other aspects that are harder to see and—from the business continuity perspective—more important. 

These appear in areas such as the following: 

  • Punctuality. Some cultures place a high value on punctuality, others take a more easygoing approach.  
  • Priorities. In some cultures, work comes first; others put a higher value on family life and the sanctity of personal time. 
  • The homefront. In some cultures, it is normal for employees to do some work at home. In others, there can be a bright line between being at work and being at home. 
  • Religion. Workers can be of many faiths or none. They might be devout or casual in their beliefs. They might or might not have convictions that could impinge on their willingness to follow BCM plans. 
  • Vaccinations. Prevailing attitudes about vaccinations might vary at different localities. 
  • Political beliefs. Prevailing political attitudes might vary greatly in different places. This could impact BC plan implementation if a disruption affecting the organization has a political element, such as a facility’s being closed by a protest march. 
  • Initiative. Some cultures place a high value on the ability and willingness to take individual initiative. In others, the default response might be to wait for instructions from authority figures.  
  • Urgency. In some cultures, people can be quickly roused to an attitude of urgency. In others, people tend to be more persistently mellow. 
  • Work from home. Some cultures are completely comfortable with work from home. In others, it is regarded as the road to ruin. 
  • Frankness. Some cultures place a high value on objective facts and the willingness to report bad news. In others, people will go out of their way to avoid telling leaders unpleasant truths. 

You can see how differences in these areas on the part of BC plan writers in Location A and front-line employees in Location Z could lead to problems. 

If a BC plan assumes that the staff in a distant facility will behave in a certain way—but those assumptions clash with the culture and customs of that locality—the plan is almost certain to be disregarded. 

Becoming Aware and Being Pragmatic 

What is a BC professional to do in the face of cultural differences?  

To begin answering this question, here are two things they shouldn’t do: judge the other culture and expect it to change. 

It’s natural for people to assume the ways of their own culture are best, but as a BCM professional you have to rise above this reflex. Your attitude should be all about pragmatism. You should try to understand the reality in each location and think about how you can craft your BCM plans so they have the greatest chance of being effective in that environment. 

Your goal is to protect your organization and its stakeholders, not change the world to conform with your particular culture. 

Once the right attitude is in place, the most important thing is to get a dialog going. Tell the people what the recovery plan calls for and get their feedback about it. And don’t just listen to their words, try to tune into the unspoken messages in their response.  

In some cases, the people might be perfectly willing to do what the plan envisions—but they might need clear instruction on matters that are new to them (however obvious they might seem to someone from your culture).  

In other cases, you might realize that it behooves you to revamp your recovery plan. 

If certain expectations are considered nonnegotiable by senior management, they will need to be communicated (and the consequences borne). 

Other responses might involve working with HR or the diversity office, creating incentives for certain desired behaviors, adjusting how people work, and changing workarounds. 

But it all starts with an awareness of the potential for differences and an attitude of pragmatism. 

The Keys to Success: Suit BCM Programs to Localities 

BCM professionals working for organizations that have facilities in locations with varying cultures face a special challenge. They have to understand how local cultural traits might impact their recovery plans and adjust them accordingly.  

In dealing with this challenge, the keys to success include developing awareness, refraining from judgment, cultivating dialog, and maintaining a pragmatic focus on protecting the organization. 

Further Reading 

For more information on the cultural aspects of business continuity, and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS: 

About
Richard Long
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.
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