Communication; the backbone, or cornerstone if you will, of any successful enterprise. Without it you can have an organization moving in multiple directions causing confusion and all archways falling down around you when you need to be moving forward as a cohesive unit – especially during times of crisis. What makes it so key to everything? Why that particular aspect of the Business Continuity Management (BCM) framework? It’s because communication is glue that holds more together than a disaster response; though of course, very key to a disaster response. It holds us all together and has done since he first two Homo sapiens caught each other’s eye.
Communication is used on a daily basis; from infancy to adulthood through to our autumn years. A toddler crying communicates its hunger or discomfort and as we get older we communicate the same thing using words or if we have lost that ability, with beautifully choreographed hand gestures. And we’re communicating in not just the good times but the bad times as well. It can comfort us when we are feeling down or enrage us when our dander is up.
When an community, organization or an individual experiences a disaster or crisis situation the thing we need most is communication. We need to know what is going on, what happened and what’s being done about it – and don’t forget, we want to know what is expected of us. Too much information can’t be a bad think in a disaster, yet often we find ourselves starved for information or rather, lacking in the amount of information detail we do receive, which only causes the expected responses to become something unexpected. If you aren’t sure what to do you stand there and ask and look for information rather than responding as expected. No matter how detailed a fire drill/response plan is, how often have you seen people stay at their desks or stand in the hallway asking if it’s a drill or not? Or should they vacate or not? Sometimes the response from others is that it’s not a drill and they should get their ‘behinds’ in gear and evacuate; others times people will head in the opposite direction and sit in a meeting room waiting for the floor to evacuate so they can go back to their desk and keep working. I’ve experienced that very situation when an individual decided to hide in a small meeting room to keep talking on the phone but were discovered by the Fire Marshal when he was performing his building inspection and ultimately failed my employer on the surprise fire drill test.
Having the right information – or even the wrong information sometimes, will provide comfort to confused individuals not so much for the details being provided but because they don’t feel forgotten. They feel as though they are being considered in all actions and are being kept current on the situation, whether they have anything to do or not is another point. But still, they are being spoken to and communication is being provided.
Now here is a key point; communication is dialogue. If there’s no dialogue it’s a monologue; it’s one side speaking at the other, not speaking with the other. If an employee has not ability to send requests or solicit information from the organization (i.e. a help line etc.), then all that is happening is the organization is just spewing information towards people expecting them to understand what they are stating. Since we are all different and have differing perspectives then not all of us are going to have the same interpretation of the messages being sent.
Then there is the ultimate and seminal issue; not getting any communication at all. Not receiving communication can cause the best laid plans to go astray. Many individuals may be required to perform actions – either IT DRP plans or Business Contingency Plan activities – but if they don’t even get the message they’re supposed to started executing the activities within those plans, then the organization will have a slow response and the public, media, officials and its own employees will start stating their own thoughts on the situation, leading to rumors and conjecture. Even with the best documented – and validated and tested – plans, a lack of communication can cause it all to come crashing down.
Here’s an experiment; try not communicating to your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend and see how well that goes. No matter how long you’ve been together I’d bet that that wouldn’t end well for you; because it’s communication that keeps the lines open and the relationship together.
© StoneRoad 2017
A.Alex Fullick has over 20 years experience working in Business Continuity and is the author of numerous books, including “Watch Your Step”, “BIA: Building the Foundation for a Strong Business Continuity Program” and “Testing Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans.”