Want to know one of the best ways of predicting whether a business continuity management program will succeed or fail? Look for those with strong support from management—they are much more likely to succeed.
In today’s post, we’ll look at why it’s important to have an executive sponsor and share some tips on how you can recruit an angel from within your company’s leadership ranks to support your program.
Every Program Needs an Angel
A lot has been said about executive sponsorship and BCM programs. Here’s what I think about it: Executive sponsorship and management sponsorship at all levels of business continuity is paramount to a program’s success. Every program needs an angel.
At MHA Consulting, we see a lot of people struggling with this issue—either because they have no sponsor or because their sponsor is just a figurehead.
BCM programs are driven from the top down or else they are hardly driven at all.
I suppose some organizations have enough trust and cooperation among the business units that they can implement a good BCM program without having a central authority directing traffic and laying down the law.
However, most companies require a firm and friendly hand reaching down from above to motivate the various players to do their bit—and to help the program obtain the resources it needs.
At MHA, one of the biggest gaps we see out in the field is the lack of an executive sponsor or of an effective executive sponsor. In our view, support from management is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. Such support is the linchpin of a peak-performing BCM program.
What Goes Wrong at Orphaned Programs
Programs lacking strong management support are vulnerable to a host of problems. Orphaned programs suffer from two principal drawbacks:
- There’s no one to motivate and compel reluctant participants to do what they have to do to make the program work.
- There’s no one to make sure the program has the resources it needs to be successful.
Programs without good executive sponsors lack governance, oversight, and integration. As a result, the people in the various business units who have to do the work do a half-baked job if they bother to participate at all.
In such situations, all the things that make a program viable are either poorly done or not done at all, whether it’s conducting BIAs, doing threat assessments, writing recovery plans or conducting IT/disaster recovery drills, or developing the capacity to meet recovery objectives.
People say, in so many words, “Forget it. If management didn’t say I have to do this, I’m not doing it.”
We’ve seen this a million times.
It’s like the children in a dysfunctional family arguing about who is supposed to do the chores when the parents are out.
The upshot is: time and money get wasted, bad feelings grow, nothing gets done, and the company remains unprotected.
And if, in the meantime, the program is going underfunded and is not valued or understood by senior management, you might as well wave the white flag. That program is going nowhere, no matter how smart and dedicated the members of the BCM team are and no matter how hard they work.
The Benefits of Having an Executive Sponsor for Your BCM program
How are things different when a program does have strong management support? It’s the difference between night and day.
When management believes in and supports the BCM program, business continuity becomes a part of the culture of the company. The people in the various departments realize that management values the program and that their participation is expected. They make the time and get their part done. After a while, doing BC tasks becomes so normal and accepted, they don’t complain. They don’t even mind. We see this a lot at financial institutions where oversight is critical. It could be this way at all organizations.
Executive sponsors may lack wings, but they can still be like angels in the positive impact they have on a BCM program. A good sponsor or sponsoring group can help the BCM program by making quick decisions, removing road blocks, making phone calls to tell reluctant players to pull their weight, identifying threats to the organization, developing mitigation strategies, and obtaining the necessary resources for the program, whether it’s budget, staff, or something else.
The Right Kind of Executive Sponsor
I’ve been talking about the executive sponsor mostly as if it was a single person. It could be that, or it could be a group of people within the larger management team who support what the BCM team is doing and will go to bat for them. It doesn’t have to be a team of twenty, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the CEO. Less is more. A group of three to five senior level people is good. Ideally, you want people with influence who can drive the larger group in a positive direction. You want action makers and action takers.
What you don’t want is a sponsor who is just a figurehead. The ideal person or people are willing to work at it. How do you tell the difference? A figurehead just comes for the lunch. A true sponsor comes for the lunch—and stays to help you sort out your problems.
And don’t forget that you, as the BC manager, need to work to keep your sponsor informed and engaged. It’s also on you to take the opportunity the sponsor provides you to broaden your network and deepen your support. For tips on how to do these things, check out “How to Manage Management: 8 Tips to Help You Bring Your Bosses on Board.”
How to Get an Executive Sponsor
I wish that finding a good executive sponsor was as easy as ordering one on Amazon. You are probably going to have work at it. The good news is, the pool of candidates is sharply limited: it has to be one or more people who is within the senior ranks of your organization.
You should research, observe, and canvas the top people, seeking one or a handful of them who regard business continuity management as important rather than as a pain in the neck.
One approach is to find out if any of the executives previously worked at a company with a good BCM program. Such people might have developed a respect for and appreciation of business continuity at the previous organization and be willing to help you try to cultivate such sentiments at the current company.
Another approach is to find someone who was impacted by an outage in the past, whether at your organization or elsewhere. Few things have the power to make someone grasp how important it is to be prepared for trouble like having suffered in the past as the result of being unprepared.
The Campion You Need
BCM programs that enjoy the support of an executive sponsor are much more likely to succeed than those that don’t. The lack of such a sponsor is associated with discord, paralysis, a lack of cooperation, and a lack of resources. Having a good sponsor gives a program the benefit of a champion who can push your peers to carry their weight and make sure you have the resources you need to do the job. In seeking a sponsor or group of sponsors, look for influential doers who understand the importance of business continuity, perhaps by having learned about it at another company or by having been seriously impacted by an outage in the past.
For more information on finding an executive sponsor and other hot topics in BCM and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:
- A Tough Crowd: When Management Gives You A Hard Time
- How To Pitch Your Business Continuity Plan To Management & The Board
- Demonstrating The Value Of Your Business Continuity Program To Management
- How to Manage Management: 8 Tips to Help You Bring Your Bosses on Board
- Boutique BCM Firms: Good Things Come in Small Packages