BCM Program Development & Buy-In: Managing ‘What If’ Questions.

31 05 2012

                There are many roadblocks to building a BCM/DR/ERM program; some are financial restrictions or varying degrees of buy-in from Senior Executives.  However, there is another type of to roadblock that can cause headaches for BCM practitioners and professionals; the dreaded barrage of scenario focused ‘what if…” questions. 

                What is a ‘what if’ question and what does it look like?  Well, have you ever been in a meeting or presentation, providing an update/status on the BCM programs’ progress only to be interrupted halfway through – or earlier – with questions that begin with the phrase ‘what if’ that would probably be answered if you were allowed to finish your presentation?  I’m going to assume that you have and that it continues on a regular basis for many practitioners – more times that one would like. 

‘What if’ a tornado hits in June?

‘What if’ the CFO isn’t available? 

‘What if’ ABC vendor doesn’t deliver on time? 

‘What if’ the power goes out on the weekend? 

‘What if’ we have a major legal case causing a Public Relations (PR) disaster?

These are just some examples of the questions that can be asked; all are valid, as there isn’t one among them that isn’t plausible – and possibly has occurred at some time or another. 

                However, it’s impossible to answer all of the questions that can start with a ‘what if…?’ but there is a reason why it’s being asked; there is a reluctance to address and accept the fact that disasters occur by the person asking the question.  Studies have shown that ‘what if’ questions are designed to keep people off track and focus on other important things – those of the person asking the question – because there is a fear of the key issues and concerns that can be raised and/or uncovered by the BCM professional when building and developing the BCM/DR program.  To a degree that’s understandable; not everyone is comfortable holding conversations about disasters and the potential the events have to destroy facilities, corporations, reputations, revenue streams and in the worst of case situations – lives.  By sending people away to investigate the ‘what if’ questions, these topics don’t get fully broached and communicated – or understood. 

                ‘What if’ questions tend to get asked more frequently at the initial stages of a BCM/DR program creation with the intent – hopefully – of ensuring all aspects and risks that can harm the corporation are addressed and incorporated into the program (i.e. plans, processes, procedures).  Imagined scenarios can go on forever, as one of the definitions of a scenario is ‘an imagined sequence of events’ and at some point the ‘what if’ question simply becomes a roadblock to development, as it prevents progress.  What they end up doing in many cases is sending the BCM practitioner back to the drawing table to review their work to ensure a specific scenario is addressed when all that might be needed is a slight adjustment to existing plans, rather than the creation of new plans.  If plans are broad enough and comprehensive enough – and flexible enough – then a majority of scenarios and situations can be addressed within the plans framework.  If they are tailored to specific minute detailed situations, they won’t be useful in a majority of situations except for that one specific ‘what if’ situation; this can be a waste sue of resources.

                At the outset the ‘what if’ questions actually help identify the risks that many within the corporation believe can impact and harm operations.  After a good awareness and training components have been implemented, the ‘what if’ questions should be considered as challenges to enhance the program, plans and components.  It’s at this point that some of the more obscure ‘what if’ situations and scenarios can then be addressed because a program and plan foundation has been established (and hopefully validated). 

                Here are a couple of tips on how to address the dreaded ‘what if’ question:

  1. Don’t fear a ‘what if’ question; stay calm, it’s only a question,
  2. Don’t be antagonistic; the person might be asking the question for clarity purposes or to ensure a specific aspect has been taken into consideration,
  3. Anticipate a ‘what if’ question; someone is bound to ask one, 
  4. Try and address potential ‘what if’ questions in your updates/status’ etc, that way, you might be able to minimize the number of questions,
  5. Don’t get angry when one is asked, because if you anticipated it, there’s no reason to get angry,
  6. Don’t say “that’s a good question” because you might not say that to everyone and they are going to think they asked a dumb question,
  7. If you don’t have an appropriate answer, say so and move on.  You can always take it away and state you’ll get back to the person(s) with a response at a later time,
  8. If a question uncovers an area requiring more investigation, admit it and thank the person for the idea.  This will make them feel part of the building process and most importantly, they feel you’ve listening. 
  9. If it can’t be answered because its so ludicrous, then politely bring the one person asking the question back to centre; back to the foundation of the program and the plan and where you are.  If the likelihood is so remote, say so but at the same time state that it could be something we look at once we’ve reached a specific milestone; the question just can’t be considered at the current stage because you don’t have enough resources (i.e. plans, executed tests etc) in place to be able to address the question. 

‘What if’ questions are asked across the board; in everyday life in every industry and every walk of life.  They are a matter of fact though when asked, people often become defensive, as if they are questioning ability, skill or knowledge level.  In some instances that may be true and in others it’s to help make something stronger – like a BCM plan or program.  They help ensure that all potential risks – perceived and real – are addressed and incorporated into the appropriate contingency strategy, response and plan. 

                So don’t fear the ‘what if’ questions no matter how they are intended; in the end, it’ll get you thinking and planning to ensure the best possible results.

(c) Stone Road Inc.

Checkout books by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA at www.amazon.com

 

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