You might not believe it, but sometimes companies are more interested in looking good than in being good. This is especially true with regard to their ability to recover from business disruptions.
In today’s post we’ll look at the difficult situation of BCM staff who came under pressure from management to hide and conceal negative findings and share some tips on how to respond.
Have you or has anyone you know gotten a prescription filled at Walgreens lately? Did you hear about the recent scandal at the drugstore chain?
The New York Times discovered that senior leaders at Walgreens tried to smother findings by a consulting firm that there were widespread problems at the company causing errors in the filling of prescriptions.
That’s right: Walgreens hired the consulting firm, and when they came back with disturbing information, Walgreens didn’t correct the problems that were identified. It pressured the firm to rewrite its report, concealing major issues.
“I NEED YOU TO DELETE THAT”
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’ve never encountered anything this scandalous in my entire career.
I see it all the time.
“Hey, I don’t want you to present this to management,” employees at the client company will tell me. “I need you to delete that.”
Usually, it starts with department heads, when you find glaring issues with their ability to recover or respond. But I have dealt with it at all levels.
And it’s not just outside consultants like me that run into this kind of thing and are asked to conceal problems. On-staff BCM professionals encounter it all the time.
I don’t soft-pedal my findings. It’s not ethical, it’s not smart, it’s potentially illegal, and it’s bad for the company and its stakeholders, as I’ll explain in a moment.
But regular BCM staff might have a harder time than an outside consultant would in saying, Sorry, the facts are what they are.
Too often, the bad news gets whitewashed or removed, and the real picture never makes it to management.
THE MANAGERS’ HIDDEN FEAR
It might help to think for a second about why people sometimes want us to change things.
A lot of times they reveal their motivation at the same time they ask for the change. “I need you to rewrite this to make us look better,” they’ll say.
People are worried about being embarrassed or worse.
Once after I did an assessment, a department head brought me into his office, closed the door, and said, “You’re screwing with my job,” though he used a stronger word.
People can go bonkers on you because they’re afraid they’re going to get canned.
THE COST OF CONCEALING PROBLEMS
The fear of these managers is not necessarily irrational (depending on the culture of their organization), and there’s nothing wrong with sympathizing with those trying to conceal issues.
However, as BCM professionals we have to understand there are many things at stake here beyond the situation of the people pressuring us to falsify our findings.
Covering up truthful negative information about an organization’s preparedness can have serious, far-reaching consequences.
They can impact the career and reputation of the person agreeing to do the coverup, if the truth eventually gets out.
It can also cause legal problems in the case of highly regulated industries or at companies that experience disruptions and are later sued.
Most significantly of all, it can cause the organization to remain unprepared, which in the event of an emergency could impact its ability to recover and be devastating to its stakeholders.
HOW TO DEAL WITH INAPPROPRIATE PRESSURE
As practitioners, we have to be prepared to face this issue. Here are a few things you can try to help you in navigating the minefield:
- I’ve seen a lot of BCM professionals get beaten down by management to the point where they become afraid to identify issues and exposures. One thing that can help is keeping in touch with your peers, exchanging stories about your experiences with inappropriate pressure. Learning that others have also been through the wringer can help you realize that you’re not crazy.
- Find someone at a senior level in your company who shares your belief that knowing the truth is better for the company than everyone’s sticking their head in the sand.
- If you do have a tough message to share with management, make sure your report is objective, rigorous, and bulletproof. Come out of the gate so strong that few will want to challenge it for fear of embarrassing themselves. Make sure your report is built on a solid foundation made up of business continuity standards, documentation, data, and interviews.
- Save copies of every version of every report you circulate. It can help to have a paper trail.
- Consider using an assessment tool such as the BCMMETRICS suite (BIA On-Demand, BCM One, Compliance Confidence, and Residual Risk). Such tools convert your findings into numbers, giving them greater precision and heft. Many people who brush off written descriptions treat numerical assessments with respect.
A BETTER WAY FOR COMPANIES TO RESPOND
There is a better way for companies to respond to news of problems than saying,
“I don’t want to hear about it!”
Fortunately, a lot of my clients follow this alternate method.
The alternate way is, when the BCM professional goes to management with news of gaps, the department heads and managers say, “That’s what I was afraid of. Let’s start working on a road map so we can get these things taken care of. We’re proud of what we’ve built here, and we want to do whatever is necessary to protect it.”
Funnily enough, these tend to be the most successful and admired companies on my list.
HANDLING THE PRESSURE
If you are a BCM professional working on-staff at an organization, you will probably come under pressure to soft-pedal a negative finding if you haven’t already. Doing this might save someone pain in the short term, but in the long term, it has the potential to put you in hot water, damage the organization, and harm the company’s stakeholders.
To manage this kind of pressure, talk with your peers, find a champion in senior management, learn how to make your findings bulletproof, and consider using software assessment tools to quantify your findings.
For more information on what happens when you conceal problems and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:
- Whitewash: When Clients Try to Get Their BCM Consultants to Conceal Their Problems
- Standard Time: The Best Time to Choose a Business Continuity Standard Is Right Now
- How to Manage Management: 8 Tips to Help You Bring Your Bosses on Board
- The Face in the Mirror: The Importance of Truly Knowing Your Own BC Program