This Train

Like many people, often we feel like we’re on some long train speeding through the night heading for some destination we’re not quite really sure of.  Wouldn’t it be nice if sometimes we could stop, get off the speeding bullet and take stock of where we are and what we’ve done – not only that but find out where we’re going.  When it comes to Business Continuity Management (BCM), we sometimes get our direction from Executives who simply want to see us build a program and have no concern as to what that means. In fact, I’ve personally been involved in situations where Executive Management are convinced that BCM is about Technology and Technology related items. Now, it would be insane of me to state that technology isn’t a big part of what corporations need to build their programs but its not the only thing (I won’t get into that again, as I believe I’ve already stated that case in a previous blog).  However, if Executives want to focus solely on Technology and Technology recovery, our BCM train could be heading into the darkness with no lights at the front and no signals to tell us what’s up ahead.   
We – as professionals in BCM – need to ensure that not only are staff and members of Crisis Management Teams (or whatever term your organization uses) trained – but Executives must be as well.  I know what you’re thinking; “There’s no way I can get my Executive team to attend a training session,” but we have to make them realize how important it is.  They do have a role to play when a  disaster occurs, whether they know it or not; whether they want to know it or not.  If there is a disaster and the corporation is speedily running through the night out of control, don’t they want to be able to have idea how to manage the situation to slow things down and calm the public/media/staff/stakeholder down?  I would guess ‘yes’ because if they don’t, the disaster can spawn other situations – non-confidence, conjecture, rumours etc – and that can make the initial situation even worse.  
I’ve often seen many plans that state assumptions about Executives because people don’t actually approach the Executive Team about their role in the program – they just approach them for resources (people, finances etc) or just tell them how things are going; a status update.  But who is brave enough to stand up and state, “I need you to understand your role and what we need from you.”  Admittedly, the situation may not call for immediate intervention or participation from the Executive Team (as they may be waiting for assessments from Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) before taking any action or getting too heavily involved) but if it escalates they should know what is expected of them and the decisions they may need to make.  I have worked with Executives who are quite active in the development of BCM programs.  In fact, one team asked for a table top walkthrough – a training session – so that they could understand how things would work for them and who they would work with other members of ‘disaster’ teams.  To paraphrase one executive, ‘we don’t want to find out what we don’t know at the time we should.’   To use the train analogy, they want to make sure they know how to drive the train when its speeding down the tracks out of control.  So what did I do to help them?
First, I scheduled an awareness session – a sort of status update – as to what the BCM program contained and all the various parts that make up those components.  It wouldn’t’ make sense to throw them straight into a training session without even telling them what the training would be about.  Kind of like giving someone the keys to a car and telling them you’re going to test them on their driving ability and oh, yeah, I’m not going to tell you how to drive the car (and its a stick / manual /standard drive, not an automatic). 
Second, I scheduled a training session  with all the Executive members (and they all attended in case you wondered).  Where I could, I also invited other members of the ‘disaster team structure’ so that conversations could begin between the teams.  In a real situation they would be communicating with each other so I thought it best they get used to that system in a controlled – and fun – atmosphere than trying to figure it out when something real occur.  I presented the situation and some of the resulting scenarios and we simply discussed what would happen.  However, I also made note of and presented some of the assumptions made by teams about the Executive Team so that they (the Executives) understood what others expected of them.  It was quite enlightening. 
In one instance a person stated they would want a specific individual to help authorize the booking of hotel rooms but that executive immediately spoke up and said they wouldn’t have time for that – they’d be busy with the media, as they were the ‘face’ of corporation for interviews during a disaster.  The authority was handed to someone further along the chain of command, which as the program was being built, was assumed would come from the executive level.  I know its a small example but it was a start in getting teams talking to each other.  It turned out the executive were more willing to help out and take direction from those more ‘in the know’ than from themselves.  They understood the decision they would need to make – HR policy issues, Legal issues, Liaison with the Board of Directors and a formal Disaster Declaration – but they were willing to offer support and authority to those with a better understanding of processes and procedures and an understanding of the impacts a disaster would have upon core operational activities. (BTW, a year before, the Executives had approved the findings of the BIA project and formally stated what they thought was important to the corporation (their vision and mission and strategy) should a disaster occur.  This helped all teams work towards the same goals instead of going in different directions, building strategies and contingencies for things that weren’t considered ultra-important to the corporation.)    
This is a very high-level description of the table top but you get the idea.  If I went into more detail I’d end up with an essay or a book.  Hhmmm, there’s a thought….
Finally, the findings and updates identified through the Executive walkthrough were taken back by the BCM team (mostly me) and incorporated into appropriate plans and strategies.  We validated assumptions and clarified roles and responsibilities; something that took on a completely different look when we were finished.  The Executives for their part were very happy with what they went through and it gave them much more confidence in their program (and themselves) – the one they’d provided resources and finances for – than if they weren’t brought into the program at all.   They realized they each had a role to play and that they couldn’t be the only – or sole – conductor on the train.  They needed others to help keep things running and others realized how the Executive team could help them, not through ‘guesses’ or ‘assumptions’ but through real dialogue and participation. 
Executives may be the main conductor or the train engineer but without the rest of the team, the train ain’t going anywhere and if it is – it may be steaming out of control.  When things get out of control, they need to draw upon the skills and knowledge of others to keep everything on track.  Simply handing over responsibility won’t work or not being part of the overall process/program isn’t an option.  Who wants to take over a speeding runaway train when no one knows what’s going on?  Its not Hollywood and there probably isn’t a lone hero to save the train – it takes the entire team; from the Executive right down to the newest employee walking in the door the day of the disaster.  
If we don’t involve the Executive in program development (and crisis management), when something occurs you could end up with a runaway train, speeding into the night.  After involving the Executives, I felt much more confident in the overall program because everyone was participating and communicating. 

3 thoughts on “This Train

  1. I certainly agree with the need to include the Executive in your BC Program.

    Without management on board you are not doing BCM – just writing plans that nobody will use.

    I don’t agree that you can have a Crisis Management Team in place without defining what role the Executive will perform during a crisis.

    If it really is a crisis the Executive will take a role. To that end the need is often not to train them, but to rehearse how the management team will interact in crisis mode.

    • Completely agree – Executives should be part of crisis management teams, BCM program development and have a role to play. You can’t have functioning CMT without them.

  2. Something I forgot to mention in my post above, it would be interesting to read an elaboration on your approach to the Executive BC/CM ‘training’ session you mention.

    When I have done similar sessions, they are about exploring the different mode of operation, the information flows and how the Executive team themselves will be challenged. Generally I have found that they do not read ‘plans’ – and in fact a simple checklist, or aide-memoir, is all that is needed for these Executives.

    That tends to make these sessions fairly unique, and at times confusing to other BC practitioners who perhaps have not had the same access to Executives.

    When done badly they will mark the end of Executive belief in the relevance of the BC Program to them.

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