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The title of this blog may sound dry but it encompasses perhaps one of the most vital aspects of business continuity planning; provided of course that the organisation wants a swift return to ‘business as usual’ after a disaster strikes. And yet sadly, the way in which disaster affects people is generally way down the list of priorities behind IT, telephones, supply chain, premises, etc, etc, etc.
In our recent news piece, “Waking Shark II” we touched on the way in which the most robust business continuity (BCP) plans are likely to fail if employees are not treated as central to the process; but given the link between the way in which a demonstrable culture of caring and employee engagement affects business performance on every level we thought that a longer article would be appropriate. Our thoughts were prompted by a comment made by a contact who used to work in the BCP field.
Musing about preparedness, they highlighted the way in which businesses often drew up BCP plans with no briefing or thought for their employees. Their standard opening was to walk into a client’s office, stop the first employee whom they met and ask what that employee would do if the police closed off access to the building. On the majority of occasions their question would be met by a blank look, stammers, or “I suppose I would contact someone to find out what to do”. Effectively, any plan which that organisation had was worth nothing. Locked in some safe and restricted to a few people, all that plan was good for was fuelling the flames as the office burnt down.
So what should have happened? Employees should have been involved at the start of the planning process and briefed on the final outcomes. They should have been invited to think about key processes and key clients, to come up with innovative ways to carry on vital tasks and to understand what options were open to them. For example, if working from home was a part of the ‘business as usual’ plan then employees should have been consulted, equipment and broadband tested, security reviewed and alternate sites offered for those who were unable to safely or peacefully work at home.
Looking at communications, employees should be aware of their contact points and reporting pathways and have easy access to an information line or a web site. Plans should also be in place for relatives to contact the organisation for information in the case of a major emergency. And all of this information should be disseminated and tested on a regular basis.
But taking notice of the human aspects of continuity planning runs far deeper. Whether faced with a major incident or a colleague being taken ill in the office, the effect on those involved will run on for some time. Medical treatments, offering counselling, replacing smoke damaged clothing, all should be on the action agenda drawn up by the organisation. And whilst some will reach immediately, others may only show signs of stress and strain once the immediate emergency has passed or even at some time in the future. So team leaders should be trained to spot signs of stress and to react appropriately.
BCP planning is only effective if it considers all of those affected. This means that when considering the human element, organisations shouldn’t stop at immediate employees and their families. Suppliers, customers, the wider public; depending on the nature of the disaster all may need time and consideration and reassurance. In this, communication is key and plans for contacting those affected either directly or via press releases should be included in the BCP.
Taking time, taking care of people may seem like the last thing an organisation needs if it is to restore its business as swiftly as possible. But the simple act of caring, of including people within the planning process, of inviting innovative solutions, means that the business reaps the rewards of engaged employees and an enhanced reputation. Hopefully the plan will never be needed but even in the act of preparing it, of sharing and consulting the business has benefitted. And if the plan is needed, well the more engaged the people, the more they will work hard to keep the business on track, to keep the supply chain going or to stick as clients of the organisation as it swiftly returns to business.