Shopping therapy — these two words generally conjure up scenes from rom-coms like “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” in which a woman scorned by a handsome scoundrel soothes her ego by purchasing the most expensive shoes she can find.
While these scenes tend to feel contrived, they represent something most of us can relate to — the desire to comfort ourselves with something shiny and new after the infliction of an injury. In this, corporations are just like the rest of us. When a company finds itself bruised after a continuity incident, business continuity shopping therapy begins. Eager to assure ourselves we won’t get caught unprepared again, we turn to the marketplace to build our arsenal.
An App For That?
As a society, we’re accustomed to solving problems with purchases. “There’s an app for that” isn’t just a tagline, it’s a lifestyle. In an industry that commonly refers to products as “solutions,” BCM practitioners can easily fall victim to the shopping therapy trap.
The impulse to purchase preparedness is natural, particularly in the aftermath of an incident. We urgently want to prove to ourselves, and to our senior management, that the next time disaster strikes, we’ll have the tools to handle it. Building quality plans, driving adoption and awareness, training employees — these things take time. Buying is something we can do now, so we fill our carts with everything from emergency notification systems (ENS) to stockpiles of Tamiflu.
The act of buying tangible items is reassuring, quelling our fears with a temporary, albeit false, sense of safety. This coping mechanism for uncertainty makes us feel like we’re taking proactive measures. We might perceive owning cutting-edge products as a reflection of our BCM sophistication, or as physical proof of our resiliency. BCM shopping therapy becomes a pitfall when we rely on products to determine our level of preparedness. Soon, we start believing the more tools we own, the better prepared we are. And this is where a BCM shopping addiction begins.
A BCM shopping addiction can be a symptom of a deeper issue. It might be the fact that plans haven’t been updated in ages, the reality that business continuity is a blip on the radar of senior management, or the fear that getting people interested in business continuity will be an uphill battle. Purchasing items can numb those troubling feelings — for a while. With each purchase, we might feel more resilient, but in reality, it’s the easy way out.
Of course, an ENS will be far more useful in managing an incident than a pair of Manolo Blahniks. But while continuity products and tools can prove invaluable, systems alone can never guarantee we’re in the clear. Alone, these objects are like band-aids for organizational health — they cover up the lack of preparedness without getting to the root of the infection.
Band-aids aside, further parallels can be drawn between the realms of organizational risk and personal health. Risk management insurance is similar to health insurance; both are purchased to protect against financial implications of a major injury, but neither prevents it. Even the best insurance plan doesn’t keep us immune or risk-free.
So how do we prevent illness? We care for our health through conscientious eating, exercising, and avoiding stressful and risky situations. Treating business continuity preparedness as a company health program means actively preparing, educating employees, and monitoring for threats to avoid incidents. Neither health programs nor business continuity have direct financial pay-off in the event of an injury, like insurance, but leading a healthy lifestyle determines our ability to bounce back after an incident, or avoid getting hurt at all.
A Must Have?
Like achieving good health, becoming resilient can’t happen overnight — it’s built over time through a commitment to regular habits and behavior. So instead of buying items for the sake of having them, consider how likely you are to get quality use out of them, and how they will help support long-term goals for maturing your business continuity program.
Developing true resiliency requires more than a financial investment — it requires time to build adoption for BCM, dedication to educate employees, and motivation to integrate BCM into the daily business. Don’t start with a 50-pound dumbbell if people will lift it once and quit. A treadmill does nothing left in the corner collecting dust, which is what your business continuity products and tools will do if you don’t use them often. The upside is, they will grow, if and as you use them.
If you believe there’s a true need for a product or tool, ask yourself three questions:
1. Do I want this product/tool to help me better manage the work my company is already doing, or am I expecting it to do the work for me?
Many people think business continuity tools will help them get something done, like finally finishing an incomplete BIA. With all the application interfacing and importing capabilities software tools employ, it’s easy to think you’ll be able to import everything and have half of the work done for you. But remember that no matter what, you and your colleagues still have to do the work. No tool will put together a BIA, call list, or BCP for you. Most often, time required for administration, troubleshooting, and training around software tools makes up for the time saved in any automated functionality; the difference lies in being able to do more with information collected using the software’s reporting or communication capabilities. If something hasn’t been done due to a lack of dedicated time and resources, a tool won’t solve that problem; you’ll need to build adoption and senior management support first.
2. Am I buying this product/tool because it would have been useful in an incident that just happened?
Hindsight may be 20/20, but it’s still hindsight. While the period after an incident can be a great opportunity to convince senior management to invest in business continuity products, take time to fully investigate the incident and invest appropriately, not reactively. There may be certain products/tools that would have been useful in that incident, but is there something you could have invested in that would have prevented the incident from happening? If you had better business continuity plans and better-trained employees, would the response have been better? Will this product/tool help in a broad range of incident types, or only in the type of incident that just happened? Is it realistic that people will commit to learning the tool to the degree for it to be usable in the next incident, or will their interest evaporate as their memory of the recent incident fades?
3. Would I have thought of this product/tool myself as a solution to my problem?
The business continuity industry has its limits. There simply isn’t an existing solution for every problem. When you’re in a tough situation, it can be difficult to accept this. We start making compromises, evaluating tools in a different light — “Maybe it doesn’t do X exactly how we pictured, but it does Y and Z, which are pretty cool features.” It’s important to take a step back at this point — Y and Z might be great, but if X isn’t right, the solution might go unused. If the product/tool isn’t a direct solution to your problem, it’s likely to cause more headaches than relief.
Food For Thought
Building a sustainable business continuity program may not provide the instant gratification that comes from a BCM shopping addiction, but if you can resist the temptation of purchasing preparedness, you can focus on making sound investments to work with your company’s maturity level.
Begin with the basics by engaging your employees to gain their support; if people don’t even know what BCM is, piles of data won’t hold any significance. Don’t hit people who are just starting in BCM with that 50-pound dumbbell, even if it’s already at your disposal. Even the most sophisticated product is worthless if people aren’t taught to understand its purpose or how to use it. Seek guidance from experts, or experienced BCM consultants who can act as personal trainers for your company’s program. In order for BCM to do what it’s supposed to do — protect an organization — it must be developed and matured as a long-term process.
Skip the million-dollar solution, and opt for a common sense one that protects your employees, and your business. Once you start investing your resources into cultivating your people, you’ll find it easier to start freeing yourself from a BCM shopping addiction, instead of feeding it.
Iris Chung is director of strategic communications at Lootok Business Continuity Consulting. She has worked with a broad range of clients including The Coca-Cola Company, Ernst and Young, ABSOLUT Vodka, and Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals. She can be reached at email@example.com.