Sidelined: The Strange Fate of BCM During the COVID Pandemic

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As the COVID pandemic continues, I’ve noticed something strange regarding the role that organizations’ business continuity management offices are playing in dealing with the crisis. In many cases, it’s slim to none.

In today’s post, I’ll look at the extent of, reasons for, and costs of this perplexing trend. I’ll also share some advice for senior executives and BCM staff on how and why BCM offices can and should play a larger part in helping organizations respond to the pandemic.

 

 

I haven’t been traveling lately, but I’ve been spending plenty of time on the phone working with and learning about how different organizations have responded to the pandemic.

I’ve heard positive stories about companies for whom the pandemic has been more of an inconvenience than a source of chaos. Typically, these are companies where BCM is built into the culture from top to bottom and business continuity is seen as an integral part of doing business. The senior executives understand and trust the BCM process and have been letting it guide their response to the pandemic.

I’ve also heard a surprisingly large number of stories where the BCM office has been completely sidelined. Senior management has run onto the field and played the game ad hoc while the BCM team has been tasked with warming the bench.

In many cases the executives have turned to the familiar method of setting up task forces and committees, ignoring the crisis management and business continuity processes and teams they established to handle just this kind of situation.

Sometimes upper management has informed the BC office their role would be limited to providing key information as asked—then no one ever asks.

Why This Happens

Why have the senior executives at so many organizations ignored their BCM teams in responding to the current crisis?

I can think of three possible reasons. First, as I’ve learned being in a crisis, many people under pressure fall back on what they know best rather than going with what works best. Second, ego can be a factor since many executives equate handling crisis response with being the alpha dog. Third, many senior executives lack confidence in their BCM teams, whether rightly or wrongly.

Whatever the reasons, when senior management ignores the BCM team and process, the organization usually pays a price.

The Costs of Sidelining BCM

Typically, when executives have sidelined the BCM team in dealing with the pandemic, the costs have included the following:

  • Chaos versus organized chaos.
  • Preventable delays in responding, leading to higher levels of impact.
  • Rambling, inefficient crisis conference calls.
  • A response that is inconsistent and disjointed across the organization.
  • Duplication of effort due to a lack of centralized coordination of the event.
  • A random, inconsistent approach to determining which business processes are critical.
  • Paralysis.
  • Time wasted in repeating work that has already been done by the BCM team.
  • Improvising a work-at-home strategy and creating problems that were avoided or solved in the official work-at-home strategy.
  • The needless squandering of years of hard work and company investment.

The bottom line is, for management to ignore the BCM and crisis management teams in responding to the pandemic is not only bizarre (considering that this is exactly the type of situation they were created for), it also comes at a real cost to the organization.

Advice to Senior Executives

I’d like to share a few pieces of advice for upper management regarding this situation.

I know I’ve been a little hard on you. I don’t mean to be. Everyone knows you’re under tremendous pressure. From where you sit, I’m sure everything you’re doing seems like it’s for the best. But I would like to raise a few points for you to think about regarding how you might leverage your BCM team to help the organization in responding to the current crisis.

  • Is it possible you have a strong BCM and CM program at your organization and don’t know it? Find out if you do, and if you do, why not use them? Don’t let the power go to waste.
  • Consider the possibility that, however much you love being in charge of crisis response, there might be a team at your company who would be better at it, as a result of their having been specially selected and trained to play this demanding role. Let your organization benefit from their expertise. You wouldn’t feel any shame in hiring a surgeon to operate on a loved one rather than doing it yourself. You should feel the same about crisis management.
  • Could it be that you are aware your company has a BCM team but that you don’t trust them to deal with such a serious situation? If this is so, you need to examine whether your lack of trust is justified. Do you mistrust the people because they have failed in some way? Or because they don’t seem to know their stuff? Or is it only because you have never played golf with them and they sit lower than you on the org chart?
  • Consider giving the BCM team responsibility for part of the pandemic response, such as the return-to-work piece or the job of evaluating the criticality of your business processes. This way they can lighten your load, you can test their competence, and they get a chance to prove themselves.

Advice to BCM Staff

So far in this post, I’ve been treating BCM professionals as the unfairly neglected experts. Well, it’s time I got tough on you. I think a lot of the problem here originates on our side. Here’s my advice for you:

  • We’ve been assuming you know your stuff and that you’re being unwisely left out. Is it so? You have to be good before you can complain about being left on the bench.
  • Look for ways to gain more visibility with the senior executives. Find a sponsor in upper management. Send out monthly status updates letting people know about your program’s accomplishments.
  • Become a trusted advisor to senior management by demonstrating that you are worthy of trust. Check out this excellent post from the UK on Becoming a Trusted Advisor: The Ten Behaviours
  • Demonstrate that your team wants and is capable of taking on greater responsibility for the response to the pandemic.
  • Demonstrate that you understand the organization and its inner workings.
  • Propose that the BCM team take on responsibility for one component of the coronavirus response.
  • Integrate with the people that are handling the crisis.

Coming Off the Bench

One of the stranger aspects of this strange time has been seeing many senior executives sideline their BCM teams in favor of an improvised approach to managing the pandemic. This is understandable in some regards. It’s also a little bit nutty and has real costs for the organization in terms of hampering the organization’s response.

Senior executives should inquire honestly into whether they are harming the organization by benching the BCM team. BCM staff should step up, offer to take on some of the load, and show they are worthy of getting onto the field – and of being trusted advisors of their organization’s leaders.

Further Reading

For more information on managing the COVID-19 pandemic and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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