Whitewash: When Clients Try to Get Their BCM Consultants to Conceal Their Problems

Organizations often pressure their business continuity consultants to report that their BC programs are better than they really are. This stinks for the consultant, and it’s not good for the company, either.



Usually, in writing these blogs I try to share things I think might help the reader do better at BC.

Today, I want to write one that’s more about getting something off my chest.

I’m doing this from the point of view of a BC consultant with 25 years experience who is regularly hired by leading companies from all around the country to advise them about business continuity.

What is it I want to get off my chest? I’ll tell you in a moment. First, however, I’d like you to join me in a little thought experiment.



Suppose that you were a private pilot and owned your own airplane. And imagine that you hired an expert to give the plane an in-depth safety inspection before you put all your loved ones in it and went on a big trip. (I know airplane inspections don’t really work this way, but bear with me.)

And then suppose the expert conducted the inspection and came back to you with a report indicating there were some serious safety problems with your plane. How would you react? Would you:

A. Listen to what the expert had to say, investigate the matter carefully, then take the necessary measures to correct the problems, in order to ensure the safety of your loved ones, yourself, and the plane?


B. Tell the inspector he’s being unreasonable and making you look bad, then lobby him to change the report to say that actually the plane is in great shape, so that you can stop worrying about safety and get on with your trip?

If you answered B, then congratulations! You might be well-qualified to become an executive with oversight of business continuity at one of America’s leading corporations!



As surprising as it may seem, I frequently get a response similar to choice B when I present my Current State Assessments to some of the clients I work for.

The companies bring me in to perform an objective evaluation of their BC programs against their chosen industry standard, industry best practices, and national BC trends. But when I present the results of my assessment—and especially if things are not that great—they often try to pressure me into performing a whitewash.

In other words, they know they have major problems or gaps, but they want me to write that the program is okay and would work fine if they ever faced a disaster scenario.



Nobody has ever accused me of being a playwright, but today I am going to try writing a little dialog.

The following is a typical scene, of a type that has taken place many times, between me and management at some of the companies I’ve worked with. This scene takes place right after I finish evaluating the state of their BCM program.

Me: Your recovery plans have significant gaps in the level of comprehensiveness and exercises. The critical plans I reviewed are out of date and have not been exercised other than a tabletop two years ago. Overall, your Business Recovery plans are in poor condition based on industry standards.
Management: Michael, well, we know you found these gaps, but here is why what you wrote needs to be revised. You are being too harsh, and we really aren’t as bad as you document in your report. There are plan updates in progress, and you got us during a busy time, so we couldn’t exercise. We were in great shape in the past.

Sometimes during these conversations, I can’t help but think of management as a car salesman telling me that the beat-up Buick we are looking at is actually a brand-new Porsche.



I’m no more of a psychologist than I am a playwright, but I do have a few ideas regarding why this happens. Here are a handful:

Basically, people are terrified of looking bad. Management wants to represent that they are better than they are. People are afraid of exposing themselves personally and of what it will mean to their job and reputation. People lie to themselves. People get obsessed about their scores rather than focusing on substance. Sometimes people are freaked out because they worry that they are not doing a good job. (Sometimes these fears are justified because they really are not doing a good job.) People don’t want to be pressured to divert resources to BC. People are comfortable gambling that nothing bad will happen. Often people would rather put their heads in the sand than take productive steps to improve their programs.



A lot of this is about business continuity standards, and to what extent the company is measuring up to their chosen standard.

This is an objective matter, but often management will pressure me to say that they have met a given standard which in fact they have not met.




The reality is that many BCM offices are not performing well, and that this lack of strong performance negatively impacts the state of their program. In other words, there is a lot of trouble in River City.

Here are some unfortunate things that I commonly see in working with BCM offices from around the country:

  1. People don’t know how to apply and execute the BCM methodology in their organization.
  2. They have no clue to their strategic direction and aimlessly wander.
  3. BCM managers have no idea as to the skillset of their BCM staff and how to best use them.
  4. They don’t effectively manage the performance of their staff.
  5. They lack good time management skills.
  6. People are afraid of their management and of the ramifications of being truthful.
  7. People feel trapped and that they have no room for advancement.
  8. Many BCM offices are either understaffed with too much to do or bloated with too many people doing nothing or the wrong things.
  9. BCM management and staff believe they are better than they really are.
  10. BCM managers and staff hate their jobs.

When you have done this as long as I have, you can see right away who the real players are and who are the wannabes.



I have to say, it felt good getting all that off my chest. But now I’d like to leave you with some actual, constructive advice.

The advice is, don’t look at your BC consultant as someone who is grading you. Look at them as a resource.

And if you recognize yourself in my portrait of BCM people who put their heads in the sand, then take it out, face reality, and start taking positive steps to improve your program and protect your company.

Remember, denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s also a very common approach to dealing with business continuity problems. But it’s not an approach that you yourself have to take.

And finally, although I love nothing better than helping companies get better at business continuity, don’t ask me to come in and review your program unless you want me to tell it like it is.

To sum it all up: Just be REAL … it’s not that complicated.



For more on this and other hot topics in business continuity, please check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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