The Extra Mile

Wed, 06/30/2010 - 8:00pm
Michael Keating

Much has been written about getting “senior management buy in” for business continuity, but what about everyone else? What about middle management? How about the staff, the feet on the street? It’s just as important for those people to be involved and informed. And most of the time, we don’t do a good job of getting their attention, much less their involvement.

It’s time for BC professionals to go the extra mile, reaching out to everyone in the organization. But that isn’t easy. In fact, if building and sustaining employee involvement in any area of risk management was simple, everyone would be doing it.
I have had quite a few opportunities to work with line management and staff in managing continuity and other types of risk over the years. While some efforts have been more successful than others, there are some things I’ve learned that can help build and sustain the involvement of the people in the field who actually make the business work.

Speak Their Language

Companies with a multinational footprint tend to standardize BC and other risk management documentation in English, even in countries where English is not the primary language spoken. In many cases this makes sense. Sometimes, it’s actually the only viable option, especially if there are software tools involved in business continuity program management.
However, I have learned that training must be provided in the home language whenever possible. Language is tricky, and inadequate translation can contribute to the challenge. Delivering training in a native language also expands the field of managers and supervisors who can benefit from it, minimizing the dependence on local senior management to master the content and perfectly pass it on.
You might consider conducting training using a concurrent interpreter. While it does take some getting used to and is an extra cost, I am completely convinced that it is worth it. Additionally, distance learning is relatively easily converted into other languages, using examples and illustrations that will be more powerful for the intended participants.

Promote the Right Wins

There is a simple reason many business continuity and risk management professionals feel as if they can’t win: They get no glory when best practices work and all the grief when they don’t. Learn from that! Continuity professionals typically don’t connect risk management practice effectiveness with the day-to-day lives of field managers. When efforts are made to promote “successes,” we tend to focus on benefits we realize rather than translating the benefit into a message that is meaningful to line management.
When you promote some success in the program, do it from the field manager’s perspective. Did you save cost on a continuity strategy because managers took the time to explain their need? Promote the fact that cooperation resulted in a lower cost allocation to their business. Did you overcome a data restoration obstacle during a recent exercise? Promote the confidence managers can have relying on their automated systems while meeting production goals.
This would also include using current events to explain business continuity and risk management principles in ways the business units understand. Business continuity managers look at something like the BP oil spill and see it in terms of business impact analysis and continuity strategies, but that’s not the way to use this event most effectively. This is a great opportunity to talk about how to make the corporate support for local offices/facilities more effective, the practical issues for media management during a crisis at a remote site, or the right way to think about continuity before beginning a new service line or operating location.

Short and Sweet

How many times have you received a three-page email from corporate management, human resources, investor relations or legal about some aspect of the company that doesn’t apply to you? You probably hit delete before you read the first page, if you opened it at all. People do the exact same thing with long emails about business continuity and risk management. The likelihood that operational managers will read something is inversely proportionate to its size.
That isn’t to say that all communication about business continuity should be Twitter-sized 140-character messages. There’s a reason Facebook is used six times as much as Twitter: While brevity can enhance communication, it doesn’t replace it. We still need to communicate with people about things that matter to them. Even so, keeping communication brief will increase the number of people who will read it and make your communication about managing business risks more powerful.
 “Blackberry Rules” is a self-imposed mindset I adopt when I want a lot of people to read something. Considering how your communication will show up visually on a Blackberry used by a plant manager or director of financial accounting is a huge help. How will those bullet points display? How many times will the reader have to scroll down to read the whole message? Are there any aspects of the message that are hard to read on the move, such as reference documents or hyperlinks to large files? Considering these factors is an important way to maximize how management in the field reacts to your communication style.

Learn from Social Networking

Much can be learned from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to help us get and maintain the involvement of line management and employees. These companies make their money by hooking users.
Consider how Facebook allows you to “tag” specific people and what happens when they are “tagged.” We can use similar techniques to create communities of interest within the business. Create small distribution lists of people with common interests and consider how social networking sites work. Facebook users might have a dozen different “friend” lists – this is not the AOL “buddy list” world. It’s not uncommon for people to have a list of friends from high school, college, their current neighborhood, church or community memberships, and work friends. They post different things to each group based on what those specific members are likely to appreciate. Do that at work.
If someone in accounting at the Seattle site does something interesting related to implementing HR policy in a pandemic, post it to your Seattle BCM group, a group of accounting leads across all sites, an HR policy design and implementation group, and a pandemic interest group.
Some people think this type of strategy will result in a glut of communication, but that will only happen if messages are long and tedious or if you try too hard to get every message read by everyone. Social networking users don’t expect all their “friends” to read every single thing they publish, and there’s no stigma attached to missing something. It wouldn’t be wise to use this kind of communication for essential communication or those requiring signoffs, but for everyday communication intended to build and sustain program enthusiasm, it’s perfect.

Show Them You Care

The single biggest thing that makes an impact on building and sustaining involvement from field managers and staff is simply demonstrating that you care about their time and lives by orienting the BCM program around them rather than the other way around. It will never be enough to retrofit concern for the people who have to live with your program after you have already designed it. Ask yourself hard questions about how well you are serving them:
  • Does the BCM software tool (even if you are only using Word templates) serve them, or was it designed to make your life easier?
  • Are the dashboards more important than the user interfaces?
  • When you perform periodic reviews of their plans or exercises, are you primarily looking to help them, or are you just trying to check the boxes necessary for the report you have to give your management? Do you see yourself as a governance or compliance role, or as a coach?
  • If you have a BCM standard, is it written to look good, or to help those who have to follow it be the best they can be?
  • How would those who have to conform to your program describe it to friends outside the company? What kind of comments do you get from them directly?
It’s very easy – too easy – to dismiss these kinds of questions because you have a big job to do without much help or because you simply don’t have time to re-orient things. The reality is that the benefits of orienting the program around managers and staff in the field are realized both in an easier life for those running the program and improved performance overall.
The burden is on business continuity to make the effort and explain the benefits of business continuity in ways everyone can appreciate. Senior management mandates and corporate business continuity policies cannot do that for you. Only the personal touch of someone they believe cares about their well-being coupled with effective communication strategies will work. CI

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