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Preparation is the passport to productivity

Author : Ciaran Barry CSyP CPP, managing director of Finbarr Solutions

30 September 2020

Businesses deserve a pat on the back for the speed, creativity and resilience they have demonstrated, in response to what at times has felt like insurmountable challenges presented by Covid-19.

There have been moments of panic and poor decision-making, but what I take away from this pandemic, from a commercial perspective, is a sense of pride in our collective perseverance.

Now is the time for reflection and planning, so that we are ready to tackle the future tests we will undoubtedly be confronted with. Reflection and planning may sound somewhat premature, given that Covid-19 isn’t going away anytime soon.

We are all adjusting to the new normal, in which we are expected to make overnight adaptations to how we live and work. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we can all be blindsided, but we can prevail.

I am reminded of the comment made by the former US Secretary of State for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld back in 2002 when he said: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns.

"That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.” He was lambasted at the time, but on reflection it sums up the world we live in perfectly at this moment.

Business continuity planning is all about understanding the knowns and unknowns that could adversely impact an organisation, and regardless as to whether it is an SME, or a large multi-national enterprise, the same question applies - What is critical to your business and how can you protect it?

Whether you had a business continuity strategy in place before the pandemic, or you have gone through a process of ‘accelerated’ business continuity planning on-the-fly, you will likely be able to answer this question much better today, than in early March.

This being said, a business continuity plan isn’t a panacea and nor is it something that can remain static. It needs to be ingrained in the culture of the organisation.

Consider how our bodies and minds function day-to-day. We are continually processing information about our environment, both consciously and unconsciously, making risk assessments and taking informed decisions to keep us safe.

However, should we find ourselves in an extreme situation such as thirst, starvation, heat, cold or trauma, our bodies will respond, by diverting resources to focus on what is critical to sustain life. If you have ever spent time sailing or kayaking you will have practiced being submerged.

In repeating the process over and over, you reduce the initial shock of hitting the ice-cold water, along with the fear and panic, as the training automatically kicks-in.

It greatly improves your chance of survival. The issue with business continuity planning is that whilst it is not new, it is still greatly misunderstood and a lot of work being done today is theory led.

You might be able to imagine what being in ice-cold water might feel like, but until you experience it you can’t be sure how you will respond! In order for business continuity planning to be effective it needs the collective buy-in from senior decision-makers across the key areas of the business, notably operations, facilities management, security (physical and cyber), IT, HR, finance and PR.

It is worth mentioning that whilst it is possible to do this in-house, an experienced risk specialist from outside of the organisation, can add real value in determining what is and isn’t critical, and mapping the response.

After all, everyone with a vested interest will argue the case for their department or function. Once the critical elements have been identified it is a case of implementing training, increasing awareness, and changing how certain processes run, in order to mitigate or negate the impact of an incident.

Crucially, these responses need to be rigorously stress tested on a regular basis to ensure they remain current and effective.

Imagine, you receive a call today saying that the government is about to impose a citywide two-week local lockdown from midnight. The city is home to your main distribution centre. What do you do? How would that affect the movement of goods and delivery of services?

The ability of employees to work and at what capacity? What would be the implications for other parts of the business not locked down, as well as the wider supply chain?

An out of date crisis plan, and team who have not trained together since their initial two day board-room session are going to provide little comfort!

Such a scenario would have been considered possible but highly unlikely this time last year, but now it is a very real possibility, and it emphasises just how important it is for business continuity to remain on the agenda.

With any business continuity plan, communication is key. Controlling the flow of information internally and externally is essential. Internal communication is vital to ensuring the situation is contained and brought under control as quickly as possible.

A positive to come from the response to Covid-19 has been a focus on the importance of health (both physical and mental) for workers at a time of crisis.

Open, unambiguous and frequent communication and guidance is not only important for the wellbeing of employees but also keeping them on-side throughout.

It is also vitally important to appreciate that how an organisation is perceived to have handled a crisis, can have an enormous impact on its longer term reputation.

Failing to be seen to be doing ‘something’, being seen to act too late, or in the wrong manner can be disastrous. Similarly, if the company isn’t the first to ‘break’ the news it can rapidly escalate from a situation under control to a PR nightmare.

In the past seven months organisations have proven just how agile, resourceful, communicative and adaptable they can be in the face of unexpected adversity and they now have a much better appreciation for the importance of business continuity planning.

Now is the time to build on the great work that has already been done to remove the element of surprise, reduce the risk, and instil an underlying sense of confidence and readiness.

So, take a moment to reflect on what you and your team have accomplished in the face of such unprecedented times and begin planning now for the future.

About the author

Ciaran Barry CSyP CPP is a Chartered Security Professional and the Managing Director of Finbarr Solutions, a company that specialises in security, risk management and investigations.

He has a wealth of experience within the corporate security and previously served 11 years in the British Army and more than eight years at Hertfordshire Constabulary.

Ciaran holds a BA in Business Management, a Diploma in Security Management (with Distinction), the ASIS Certified Protection Professional qualification (CPP) and is actively involved within both the Security Institute and ASIS International.

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