It has been some time since my last contribution to professional debate – September last year, on a BCI Webinar “It takes a village – to build resilience”. Here we all are, May 2020, and we have been cooped up in our own ‘isolation’ villages and (here in Australia at least) starting to think about venturing out into the wider world again. Hopefully your personal resilience is holding up.
Like many colleagues who were around when we last focussed our thinking on Pandemics, I had a number of contacts over recent months wanting to talk about what they might do in response to the outbreak. There are a few published articles here tagged with “pandemic” – mostly they talk about how the common approaches to planning for this were not really sustainable, and therefore not really fit for purpose. Ironically the most recent was this post from 2013 discussing Novel Coronavirus.
My wife was surprised when I showed her this 15 year old Slide Deck, so I guess some of our Bird Flu planning may have been applicable. But overall, beyond the Work from Home aspect, organisations were generally caught by surprise with this outbreak.
Preparedness, or lack thereof, is in the past. No doubt it will be retrospectively rationalised away.
How we exit, which of the competing ways off this roundabout we should take – and where we go personally and professionally after that are the issues we need to focus on today. Exiting and potential futures was the main focus of a conversation with my friend Jon, and you can blame him for encouraging me to kick start the writing again.
Since that chat with Jon about post-pandemic threats and opportunities for his business, I have been interested to see what people are saying about their learning from the current situation and where we might go next.
When I want the general pulse of the BC industry I generally start at Continuity Central. One article caught my attention where Michael Davies from ContinuitySA offered two important learnings;
“Regular real-life tests and simulations are the only way to ensure your company is battle-ready – and that your troops aren’t betrayed by their nerves”
A very valid point, but to me this is something that should already have been core business, not a new learning from the current pandemic. Perhaps the real challenge of this “lesson observed” is how we try to learn and apply this observation into our accepted practices going forward.
“To survive, our organizations (and governments) have to become truly agile”
This is a key learning for how we need to modify our thinking and work practices going forward. Both doing and being agile are increasingly being embraced by many organisations, and informing the practices of diverse professions – from Software Development to Marketing and Project Management.
Some Agile principles underpin the ideas of Adaptive BC, and I found some important ideas in David Lindstedt’s Standard Business Continuity Cannot Help You Now (and what to do instead).
David reads widely and is one of the few who regularly brings new ideas into the risk/BC domain. In this case I was very happy to be pointed to the McKinsey article “Getting ahead of the next stage of the coronavirus crisis” which David references. I would recommend both these articles for all practitioners to read.
Pandemic was never just a BC issue, and readiness should not have been approached as such. It was never going to be just about supply side (where work from home may assist some), it needed to be viewed from a strategic perspective around the demand side as well, taking into account the societal, systems and business model impacts. In this it is a harbinger of the stark difference between the operational and compliance approaches of Legacy BC – and how that needs to change when taking a resilience approach.
When engaging with your Executive they are more likely to have read, and be open to embrace, the thinking of McKinsey ahead of David Lindstedt – or any other risk/BC commentator.
The headline advice from McKinsey is;
Launch a PLAN-AHEAD TEAM to get ahead of the next stage of the crisis.
This is something that augments, or replaces at this stage of the response, your Crisis Team. They advise that the plan-ahead team should define scenarios along with recommended actions and the trigger points to initiate the actions. These are input to the CEO and the management team so that they can decide on the most appropriate course of action.
McKinsey suggest that the best method to develop these ideas is through tabletop exercises or workshops that force decision makers to engage on very real possibilities, including ideas and triggers that currently may appear unlikely. If you have developed your BC practice appropriately then this type of scenario and simulation activity should be a core practice. They do provide a clear warning, this is not a compliance exercise and you do need to be willing to be flexible and adaptive.
“It isn’t about starting with the perfect plan: it’s about being on the fastest improvement trajectory.”
Prior to reading David’s post, and the McKinsey article, I had heard about a similar approach via an Agile Business Consortium members’ webinar. The presentation talked about the uncertainty of the outlook for the next few weeks, months – even years. One effective way to deal with this uncertainty is to apply agile methods and agile ways of working.
We can apply these agile methods and approaches to how we prepare Crisis Teams and to inform how we manage a crisis and to inform our strategic responses.
The presenter (Vikram Jain from JCURV in the UK) encouraged organisations to set up multiple strategic response teams – a similar concept to the plan ahead team suggested by McKinsey. The difference here is they had each team focus on a different, specific, time horizons. Examples of time horizons might be the next quarter to deal with “exit”, 6 months for “recovery” and 1 year for the “new normal”.
The horizons are things you should customise, and the focus of exit/recovery/etc will obviously depend on where in the world you are and how your country is positioned with respect to lockdown and curve flattening.
Each of these teams would explore the various potential scenarios that could play out in their horizon and establish a backlog of priorities actions that need to be taken for either preparedness or response. They talk about “no regret actions” that could be applicable across scenarios, and trigger points that signal the need to act on a specific scenario.
Vikram has written up the approach and published on LinkedIn – Navigating the Crisis with Agility and I would highly recommend reading it.
My webinar from September 2019 (linked at the start of this post) talked about the need to adapt to VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), to embrace Agility and the need to promote collaboration and community building as a Truster Partner. All things that are more intensely in focus in our current situation.
Agile approaches, like those highlighted in Vikram’s article, are highly suited to managing uncertainty, and as per the learning I noted from Michael Davis at the outset of this post – we all need to learn to become more agile if we are to build our resilience.
If my new writing practice is truly resilient, then this conversation will continue in coming days.
Are you looking to include Agile methods and approaches into your Risk/BC practices? What love to hear about what people are doing in this space.
How is your organisation coping with the uncertainty and ambiguity of how we exit the current phase of Pandemic?
Of course I would also love to hear if you organisation actually had adequate remote access capacity to support work from home – which was no doubt included in the existing BC plans.