When you’re building a BCM / DR program, there are allot of decisions to be made along the way. Some come from results of a BIA or other information gathering session and some have to be made through feedback received from the sponsor based on a potential roadblock encountered. Regardless, decisions get made and when they do, you – as the BCM / DR practitioner – should document these decisions. Continue reading
First of all, apologies for the delay in posting something new; I’ve been enjoying the beaches of Australia and New Zealand for 3.5 weeks. 🙂 Anyway, to the blog for today…
Well, it’s time to work on the Business Continuity Management (BCM) / Disaster Recovery (DR) program based on the maintenance schedule. You’ve got your plan all well laid out and people know it’s coming and are ready to participate…sometimes begrudgingly. Yet, for some reason your well-thought out plan isn’t going to plan at all. Continue reading
The message about disasters, disaster planning and business continuity is slowly spreading throughout the globe, as we see more and more organizations beginning to realize the value of preparedness and response activities to protect their operations and instil confidence in those they do business with.
Here at StoneRoad, we’ve seen a spike in people asking us questions and seeking advice on Business Continuity Management (BCM) / Disaster Recovery Programs – and we couldn’t be happier.
So we’d like to remind you that there are some great books by our founder, Alex Fullick, that can help provide great insight into how a good program operates – and how it shouldn’t. The books noted below are available on Amazon.com and at our own shop over at www.stone-road.com.
Keep an eye out for the next book by A.Alex Fullick; “Testing Disaster and Business Continuity Plans” expected to launch in the fall of 2014.
Until then, happy planning!!
The StoneRoad Team
© 2014, Stone Road Inc.
There’s allot of talk of organization’s becoming resilient and how they need to be resilient if they are to compete successfully and respond accordingly to the ever increasing disasters of the world – both man-made and natural in causation. But that begs the question: Can organizations be resilient? In this practitioner’s opinion, yes, they can though it takes more than a single aspect to become resilient.
Many would have you believe that you can buy resiliency off a shelf; a service or product purchased from a firm touting that they can make your organization resilient, as though the procurement of a ‘product’ will make an organization resilient. Well, unless they are a pseudo-psychologist or have a background in leadership psychology, they can’t; at least not completely. Sure, it’s fine to say that Business Continuity Plans (BCP) and Technology Recovery Plans (TRP) et al will make an organization resilient but that’s just not the complete picture. It’s only part of the overall picture of what will make an organization resilient.
It’s just not a simple concept – though it would be great it if was. What will make an organization resilient? Is there some sort of magic ingredient that will suddenly ensure that an organization will bounce back from any adverse situation? Well, yes and no. It’s not one single ingredient, it’s multiple ingredients that when combined just so, will help any organization get through difficult situations.
The following sections outline some areas that must be considered as part of the overall resiliency plan if an organization is to become resilient. See which one’s fit within your organization and which items you might want to focus on to improve or instil a sense of resiliency.
1 – Previous Adverse Experiences
Resilient by definition means ‘bouncing back from adversity’ so no one can be resilient if there hasn’t been previous adverse situations that the person / organization hasn’t bounced back from. How is an organization resilient if it’s never had an adverse experience? How can you measure resiliency? What are you measuring against? What has it bounced back from to prove it became resilient? It can’t be because it’s wouldn’t have anything to bounce back from, so how could it ever know it was resilient? It can’t. Of course, some would say that because the organization didn’t suffer badly during a disaster, it was resilient. Well, maybe it really wasn’t a disaster or major crisis, just a well-timed and coordinated response; that doesn’t automatically equate to being resilient.
2 – Plans/Process
It would be ridiculous to suggest that BCPs and TRPs etc don’t help make an organization resilient; of course they do. These are what get opened up and followed (or used as a guide) when the ‘real’ situation occurs. Through consistent validation and testing, amendments are made and they become more and more robust over time; able to deal with a myriad of situations. If the plans are living, validated and leveraged, then the plans will help the organization become resilient. Not just from providing point by point activities but because the validation and the testing that goes on behind them helps instil a sense of accomplishment and progression to those who use them.
3 – Technology
You can set technology functions up in a way that keeps it going even when the power goes out; even when a primary server (or other component) goes down and data/communications are redirected. You can keep the ‘green lights’ on in many ways (too many for this small article). The technology component is the single most discussed area of resiliency, to the point where many organizations believe they are resilient simply if they have a strong technology recovery or IT disaster plan in place. Well, we know that IT is only part of the overall picture.
4 – Leadership
Leaders are usually leaders because they are resilient as a person, not because they have a high profile title behind their name. They have fought there way through the ranks, overcoming obstacles and thought their way through many complex challenges, all so they can be the leader – or a leader – of an organization; a reward for hard work and perseverance. A good leader will give back to the organization and help train others within the organization how to better focus energies and deal with adverse situations.
5 – Culture
Who creates the culture? Leaders, create it. If the aspects noted in #4 are true, then the corporate culture will eventually sway in that direction, even when those that oppose the leader find they have to deal with the new way of doing things or decide to leave for other pastures. We all know what flows downhill when theirs a problem, but if a good leader really is a good leader, then the good also flows downhill. This positive aspect will help
6 – People
People. People are the most important component of resiliency. Without resilient minded people, no organization will ever truly be resilient. Its people that bounce back from adversity and as the old English adage states, ‘Carry On.’ From the org’s leadership right down to the newest person walking through the door. They all must work together to support each other; from the top down to the bottom up. Everyone has something offer in an organization and everyone has a role to play when a disaster occurs.
When all these aspects are combined, then and only then, will an organization have the chance to become resilient. Then, an organization must encounter a situation that tests all these components and that’s when an organization can determine if it’s resilient or not. Once an organization has bounced back and can stand in front of its clients, customers, partners and the general public stating that it has weathered the storm with its reputation intact, that’s when it becomes resilient; not when it buys a product or service off a shelf.
© StoneRoad 2014
A.Alex Fullick has over 18 years experience working in Business Continuity and is the author of numerous books, including “Heads in the Sand” and “BIA: Building the Foundation for a Strong Business Continuity Program.”
Many organizations can build comprehensive BCM program and plans; detailing every action and activity needed to ensure the continued operation of an organization when a disaster strikes. However, even the most comprehensive program and plan can still suffer greatly when they are needed the most because many organizations’ DR team and team members forget what it is they are supposed to do.
There are many reasons for that. Sudden changes in environment can throw people for a loop, as the situation throws chaos into their normal day and it’s easy for people to forget what to do when they are required to do it. Sometimes the reason for plan activities or action items being forgotten occur even before the disaster situation makes itself known.
Below are some of the reasons why people – and organizations – forget their activities before and during a disaster.
1. No Executive Support: It’s easy to forget some initiative within an organization when even the executive leadership don’t support it. After all, if they don’t care for something, why should anyone else? It’s that simple, without executive support people will quickly forget that there is BCM or DR program in place for when a disaster occurs. Even executives will wonder where it is and believe it or not, even without their support having played a part in its development (if at all) will wonder why no one knows what’s going on and why people aren’t performing tasks.
2. No Leadership: Continuing on from #1, people want leadership during a disaster; they believe that those responsible for the organization in good times, is also responsible for the organization during bad times and will provide guidance and leadership on what needs to be done when a disaster occurs. If there is no one taking responsibility for the disaster, then people are left hanging – wondering what to do. This doesn’t mean the leader or coordinator of the response functions is responsible for the disaster, it means they are taking the responsibility to lead the organization resulting of the disaster. Even if employees and members of various DR teams are aware of their activities, they are still looking at the organizations leadership to provide direction and provide answers to any key questions that may come up as a result of specific situations discovered based on the disaster. If executives and/or senior management aren’t part of the decision making process and part of the BCM program, they won’t know what to do or what is expected of them. The executives themselves won’t be aware of the DR/BCM team makeup or what any of the program protocols are. They could end up trying to lead the organization through the disaster, blind.
3. No Plans: One of the biggest reasons people will stand around wondering what to do is that there isn’t a plan – even a bad one – in place for them to activate, reference and follow. In a nutshell, the organization has done nothing to promote any sort of disaster response or planning mechanisms and when disaster strikes, there is no know prioritization of what needs to be activated. All the responses are made up on the spot, which could pose even more problems for the organization. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle; you don’t start putting the pieces together until you know the picture (or at least most people don’t) and you can’t rebuild a corporation after a disaster when you don’t even know what pieces you need first to rebuild it. No plans in place can mean the end of the organization, as it will take too long to figure out what is priority between the business and technology and getting the two to agree to a restoration, recovery and resumption strategy. You can’t ‘wing’ it in a disaster…
4. No Delegation of Authority: It’s often quite comical when someone is required to perform BCM activities, as captured in a DR/BCP or crisis management plan but they aren’t give the authority to do so. This can mean they don’t have the delegation of authority to make decisions or provide guidance to others or they don’t have the IDs and/or passwords to perform functions. It’s like giving someone a car and telling them it is all paid for and its there for as long as they want it but not giving them the key. This is one thing that stops many organizations from performing activities; people don’t have the authority to do anything and thus, they are waiting for direction from others when in fact they are the ones who are supposed to be providing the direction. If someone doesn’t have the right authority to perform activities, they will be a roadblock to other activities and many groups may be standing and waiting around for guidance and information. And further on the point of IDs and passwords; often this information is created and placed in a secure location that people forget about. Rarely are they reviewed and updated and even remembered because they are placed in an online folder, which is no longer available because technology has failed. These IDs and passwords are for use only during a disaster so they rarely get reviewed. These should be part of an annual (at least) review to ensure the people remember where they are and what they are – and remember that these are probably powerful IDs and passwords and only a few key people should know about them to start with. If someone leaves the organization, make sure you change the passwords and remove their ID just in case. When you test, try activities using these profiles to ensure that they are current and validated; that required activities can be performed using these ‘generic’ IDs and passwords but are amended after the test so they are fresh and those using them – the users – can’t use them during normal business hours.
5. No Testing/Validation: If validation activities are not performed, then how can anyone know exactly what to do? Testing is a form of training and training will help people identify their roles and build BCM plans and processes. When testing, start off small and then build upon successes – and upon problems – so that the program becomes stronger and stronger. If no one participates in test then no one has the opportunity to practice their roles and areas of responsibility; they then need someone to remind them or provide guidance to them as to what to do. Also, if you only test once or rarely, people will forget what they need to do and where their materials are located.
6. Assumptions: A key reason many stand around not knowing what to do, or forgetting what they need to do, is related back to the assumptions made during the initial stages of building and implementing plans and processes. All too often non-technology departments (i.e. “the business”) will make assumptions about technology departments (i.e. “IT”) but without ever validating that the assumptions are correct; sometimes never even letting the other know that an assumption has even been made. From personal experience, there have been too many instances where one side of the other states that ‘IT/business knows x or y…’ or that ‘IT/business will do…’ and it almost never proves to be true. Both teams end up confused not knowing what to do because they are waiting on the other for information or they are assuming that something is occurring while they’re just waiting for some confirmation that an activity is done. In reality, everyone is standing around not knowing what to do or who to even talk to. If you’re using assumption in your initial planning, through exercises and tests, the amount of assumptions being used should dwindle over time as they either become actual roles within a plan/process or become proven to be false and are removed from a plan/process.
7. No Awareness & Training: It’s a simple one really; no one knows what to do in a disaster because no one has told them about it. They haven’t been part of the overall program build or design (not that everyone needs to be part of every phase) and haven’t been told they are responsible for specific activities. Often, DR team members don’t even know they are part of that team until someone asks what they are going to do in a meeting full of other managers – some not sure why they are their in the first place. This also means that they haven’t bee involved with any testing activities to help validate plans, which is one of the best opportunities for training; executing activities under controlled circumstances to actually learn what needs to be completed and understand expectations.
8. Plans and Processes are Written in Isolation: Sometimes its not even a case of forgetting what needs to be done, as outlined in a BCP/DR plan – it’s never being told of what is in the plan and not being part of its build. All to often plans are build in isolation meaning someone not within the department is writing its contents based on what they know and what they hear at meeting yet if the actual user isn’t part of that development or the person responsible for actioning activities isn’t part of the plans development, they aren’t going to know what activities they are responsible for. Ensure that all plans are written with the person or persons responsible for the plan itself; the person who’ll actually be responsible to action the activities within the plan.
9. No Review of Plans (by Users): One of the best ways to ensure that a BCP/DR plans everything it needs and that the content is clear and understood, is to ensure that its reviewed by the actual user. When they review existing plans, as noted in #8 above, they can recommend enhancements, additions or even deletions based on real knowledge of what needs to be done. If a plan was written in isolation and not review was performed by an actual user, it’s no wonder people don’t know what actions to take or even where their plans is – if they even know there is a plan in the first place. If no review of the plan is performed then the users themselves don’t become familiar with content and what is expected of them. Instead of initiating proactive measures they wait for someone to tell them what is expected and in many cases, those individuals are assuming that ‘plan’ users know what needs to be done.
10. Focus on Blame: When an organization has a disaster, often you see the Public Relations (PR) representative or the President stand in front of a microphone being questioned by members of the media – or even the public sometimes – and they spend allot of time pointing the finger of blame or trying to deflect any criticism or questioning on what the organization is doing. When employees see this, they will spend their time trying to find the cause of the problem or the ‘right one to blame’ rather than concentrating on a proper response, restoration and recovery strategy. All hands are on deck to find out what is wrong and who should be help responsible but if leadership is busy with that approach then employees will be too, as they won’t be focusing on the right tasks at hand. It ends up being a crutch that organizations leverage so that they can start their restoration and recovery activities in the background, away from the face of the media. Usually, this means they didn’t have any strategy in place to begin with and the excuse that someone else is to blame is used as a smokescreen to cover the fact that behind the scenes, no one knows what to do within the organization.
11. Checklist Approach: If BCM is checkbox on someone’s report, the chances are it’s a checkbox on an executive report. They eventually see the checkbox ticked and then there is no more discussion or promotion of the BCM initiatives. This also means that the only reason the program was stated in the first place was to ensure someone’s checkbox was ticked and that it drops off of any report or audit ticket. Chances are good that the work and value of the work performed to plan, develop and execute plans was minimal at best and won’t be of much use during a real situation. Thus, no one will pay close attention to the BCM program and the related plans because it’s treated as a one-time thing – forgotten when the checkbox is identified as complete.
12. Seeking Direction: Like many people, when something occurs everyone looks around for direction; who will take control of the situation and tell us what to do? Staff will look to management while management is looking at executives; each expecting the other to provide direction on what they should – or shouldn’t – be doing. Think of when a fire alarm goes off in a facility – even a fire drill – most people keep working or start asking if it’s a real situation or not. Should be get up? Should we leave? Many wait to be told to leave before they bother responding to the alarms. If people can’t understand that they need to leave when the fire alarms go off its no wonder they don’t understand their role when a disaster strikes. Everyone is seeking direction from someone else.
Finally, panic is something that can run rampant during a disaster. When that happens, any thought of gaining control of the situation can go out the window and there’s no way anyone is going to pay attention to their role on a disaster team when that happens. This is why many of the items noted above need to be addressed prior to any situation occurring. When people are more aware of what to do and have been through it a few times – each more challenging than the last – they are better prepared to deal with the situation when it’s real – not faked under controlled circumstances, as it is usually done during a test. There will still be an element of panic – it’s almost a given – but putting measures in place to deal with it ahead of time can help reduce its impact and increase the chances considerably that no one will be standing around wondering what to do; they won’t forget.
© StoneRoad (Stone Road Inc) 2013
To most people a crisis is bad and for the most part, they’d probably be right. However, an organization can do good things when they are hit with a crisis; some may even say there is an opportunity. The situation itself might be bad enough but it it’s not being managed correctly or communications aren’t approached in a positive way, the crisis can be compounded because the media and the public will think there are more things being hidden by the organization.
If it seems that an organization isn’t prepared – through its communications and response actions – the media and public may start to go ‘hunting’ for more information and uncover other details of the organization that the organization may not want released. Not that they are bad examples on their own but compounded with the existing crisis they will seem larger and could create another crisis or even escalate the existing one. The organization will then be fighting more than one crisis on its hands.
Below are some tips for how to communicate during a crisis; some do’s and don’ts and tips for ensuring good communications when speaking to the media and the general public.
1. Lawyers Aren’t the Face of the Organization – This is one of the biggest mistakes organizations make when communicating with the media and public; they let their lawyers do the talking. Lawyers are good at what they do don’t get me wrong, they just aren’t the ‘face’ of the organization. Often they will speak in terms that the public either don’t understand or don’t want to hear. The public wants to hear what the situation is and what the organization is going to do about the crisis, not the legalities it’s taking to find blame (which is what the lawyers will be trying to do to wither minimize or remove the burden off the shoulders of the organization).
2. Apologize and Show You Care – Be sincere and offer apologies. Don’t say you’re sorry and continue with a ‘but’ statement, as it just nullifies the apology and the public and media will know you really aren’t showing care of the parties involved or impacted by the crisis. It shows you’re trying to defend the organization rather than helping those impacted – or possibly injured – as a result of the situation. Apologizing with sincerity can soften the anger towards the organization and actually help bring people towards the organization by offering assistance. Apologizing also shows that the main concern of the organization is people, not money or shareholders, but people impacted by the situation.
3. Leadership – You’ve got to have the leaders in front of the camera. Public Relations or Human Resource Managers can be in front of the camera only so long before people begin to question the leadership qualities of those in charge if they aren’t being seen by the public. Organizational leaders must be seen during a crisis, not just when good things occur.
4. Responsibility – Many may not agree but take responsibility for what happened. To deny or lay blame immediately isn’t appreciated. Even if you know the situation was not caused by your organization, it’s your organization in the headlines and people are watching. So take responsibility and take control of the situation; you can always find the blame later and take necessary actions.
5. Don’t Delay – Too often many organizations take too long to put a response together. If there’s a delay in response it could send the message that you’re trying to hide something or that you’re hoping the situation will just go away, which it won’t. Even a quick press conference to state what you know – even if it’s very little – still shows that you’re on top of events and managing the situation, not letting the situation manage you.
6. Ask for Help – There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It may not mean asking for help to restore systems and processes but it may be to ask help from the media to communicate key phone numbers or websites that employees or customers or the public can access to get more information or provide information on what they might know about the disaster. The media is always willing to help and to a large degree, when an organization requests assistance with such initiatives, it helps show the public you have nothing to hide because you’re inviting others to participate and offer assistance.
7. Communicate Even When It’s Over – A crisis isn’t over after a day or two in the headlines; it’s over when you’ve learned something and resolved the matter so that it doesn’t occur again (if the situation allows for that). If you’ve had an internal problem that caused the crisis, communicating days or weeks later that the situation has been resolved, shows that you learned something from the crisis and saw it through to the end by resolving it and letting other know of that resolution.
8. Leaders Need Training – Everyone needs training to improve their skills and move forward, this includes corporate / organizational leaders. No one knows when a crisis will occur – and it will – so leaders need to have training on how to communicate in crisis. There are many crisis management & communication courses offered so leaders should prepare themselves. They expect the rest of the organization to be prepared and do their part when a crisis or disaster occurs, so leaders need to ensure they are prepared.
© Stone Road Inc. 2013
Many of us don’t hear about a crisis until it hits the newswires, either through social media, news websites or through a posting on a social site we might follow. In some cases, we might not know about a crisis until we see 1st responders racing down the road heading towards and emergency.
Some will automatically see a disaster as a large catastrophe and one of the BCM/DR industry definitions of a disaster is that it’s a sudden, unplanned event that prevents the organization from performing normal operations. Though both a crisis and/or disaster can start well before the public or media even get wind of the problem.
Sometimes a disaster doesn’t begin until after a period of time when a lesser level of operational hindrance has been experienced. Then when the disaster itself occur, the management of the situation will determine the level of crisis; meaning how well the crisis is handled from the perspective of the public, media, stakeholders (vendors, partners etc) and employees.
For an operational impact, it could be that a key application is offline but is that a disaster? Probably not. If the offline application has a major impact upon people causing major distress and problems such as something in health care or the financial industry, then yes, that application being offline – even for a short time – is a disaster. How the immediate response and post-disaster activities are managed is what will create the crisis for the company. If you get something up and running within a very short time (and in today’s world that’s usually no more than an hour) then it might not be a disaster and a quick response and communication to the community will suffice. If it’s longer, then the management level and involvement of the situation and the level of impact it has becomes a disaster.
Still, if an organization has an internal Crisis Management process in place, early identification and response measures may prevent the incident from escalating and becoming a crisis – or a disaster if nothing is done about it – in the media or public eye. It was just an incident that didn’t have any major impact. Oddly enough, it could have been a major interruption but the impact on Service Level Agreements (SLA), employees, customers, vendors and partners was limited in size and scope; it was just a major incident for the company involved because of the resources (financial, time, personnel) it took to get resolved.
So, when does a crisis start?
It starts the moment the organization believes that someone – anyone – will begin to ask questions. It could be a client, employee (who will access social media about it if they haven’t been educated about not communicating corporate activities), vendor, partner or in some cases a financial institution or legislative body. An organization may be able to manage the situation internally with little impacts being had on external – and internal parties – but as soon as questions are asked about the disruption, you have the start of a crisis. It’s how well you manage those initial questions – along with the incident response itself (I.e. getting the critical application up and running as soon as possible) – that will determine how big the crisis escalates. If you don’t manage it properly the crisis will grow and escalate, making it a ‘Public Relations’ disaster.
The start of a crisis is different for every organization. It all depends on the level of preparation, preparedness and response is developed and instilled within the corporate operations. If an organization doesn’t have anything developed or the level of development is sub-par and very ‘flimsy’, the crisis starts quickly and escalates quickly – reaching that “PR” disaster timeframe in record time.