Welcome to episode 2 of the show. This episode is also my first 1:1 interview.
When I developed the idea for this show I knew who I wanted to chat with in this first episode.
My guest today is one of the emerging young voices in the industry. He has built his own social media audience around his BC blog, LinkedIN group and Twitter – all focussed on Business Continuity. His articles have been published on Continuity Central, in the BCI’s 20 in their 20’s publication and he has compiled his own experiences and blog posts into an ebook available on Amazon.
He was also the BCI’s International Newcomer of the Year for 2014. Join me as we go beyond the Black Stump with Luke Bird.
Key references from this episode
- Teaching your parents (my review of the 20 in their 20’s publication)
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You are welcome to discuss and debate issues raised in the podcast at our LinkedIN community.
Ken: Luke, after all this time, great to actually chat to you. Welcome to the show.
Luke: Thanks very much, nice to finally put a voice to the name and the frequent emails.
Ken: That’s right, it’s been over 12 months now we’ve been communicating via email, there abouts.
Luke: Yeah, and possibly longer.
Ken: Yeah and it’s the first time we’ve actually spoken.
Luke: Hopefully you can understand my Dorset, Birmingham, West Midlands tones, from the UK.
Ken: I think we’re putting a challenge to many of our international colleagues to understand both our accents. That’s the nature of audio and podcasts, I guess.
Ken: Luke, the show is about learning and thinking and the journey. The concept of the black stump is a metaphor from early Australian history, where surveyors would mark a black stump as the limit of the surveyed landscape, the known universe, if you like. I wanted to talk to you to start, a little bit about the journey that you’ve been on. You’ve got this great picture on your blog, it’s about you, at an intersection. There’s sign posts pointing in different directions. Tell us a little about the paths you’ve followed and the kind of learnings that have led to your current situation.
Luke: I think, you’re right, on my blog it’s a picture paints a thousand words. Probably for most people, I imagine, zero to first five years into any profession, I think you’re caught up in somewhat of a whirlwind of different levels of exposure to different situations and incidents. I think, when I started my blog I was certainly, at that point, there was several different directions and thought processes going thought my mind, didn’t really know where to turn. It was a very confused photo of me on my blog to demonstrate that.
For the last five years, I’m one of the new emerging generation of emergency management and business continuity purists, so I’m fresh out of the box from university, having done my disaster management and emergency planning degree. Shifted neatly into public sector environment for emergency management within local governments. My exposure there was predominantly working on the behalf of the community during major incidents, the usual floods, famine, fuel strikes, pandemic flu, industrial action. Making sure that the local communities were looked after and cared for, and evacuated safely during any major incident or event.
That was really my initial exposure for the first few years. Following on from that, I progressed into a private sector business continuity executive role, with an international IT outsourcing provider. They faced off to many clients and provide services, of which, business continuity is one of them. That’s really where I’ve got my wider exposure to things like work in recovery sites and setting them up, understanding the challenges involved with applying the business to them.
Also we’ve had a complete roll out now, complete it next month, for the international standard 22301, as a new resilience standard. We’ve rolled that out on behalf of the client, which is one of the largest investment banks in Europe.
Ken: Keeping you busy then.
Luke: It’s been quite a journey in the last five years for me personally.
Ken: Yeah, it certainly sounds like it. What led you, as you said, you’re one this new generation that are coming through universities and cursory education, straight into the profession. What led you down this path in the first place?
Luke: That’s a good question. I could probably give you two answers. I suppose the best response I could probably give to that is saying that from a young age anyway, I’ve wanted to work in a role where I felt like I was becoming, I was part of something, part of a real purpose. Hence why I went into community resilience within local government, because I wanted to feel like I was providing a contribution back to the wider society, I suppose. That was my cheesy answer.
My professional answer is, looking back over the last five years, I think perhaps the reason I got involved was because I have a tendency to look for gaps in process, look for risks. I have a natural inclination to spot holes in things. This sort of role complements that sort of mind set, I think.
Ken: I think you’re definitely right.
Luke: Over the last few years, I think that’s I’ve arrived at it, really.
Ken: I think a lot of people would take the same view. The business continuity guys, the risk guys, they’re the ones that are just looking at the whole process and trying to see the flaws that other people don’t see.
Luke: That’s right, yeah. Definitely.
Ken: Okay. You mentioned in your introduction there, that you’ve just done a big roll out of 22301 for a client. On your blog, a lot of your writing has been around this process of gaining certification against standards. You also, in my view, contribute some element of thought leadership in this industry. How do you see the idea of thought leadership in the context of standards and management systems thinking? What do you see as the scope for thought leadership in that context?
Luke: I think that the journey to which it’s come at the moment, and I still think it’s very much in a journey, I think that when I first looked, I realized I was taking a lead on rolling out a major iso project. First and foremost, it’s been done before with other standards to of the areas of your environment, the quality, IT security, these sorts of things. This is not new science in terms of its methodology. This is continuity, evolving and so the fort leadership, if I’m entirely honest, my impressions from it a year or two ago when I started to research current fort leadership and debates and conversations, I felt like it was fairly limited. I felt like there was … All I could find really if I’m being truly honest, I could find half baked lit service, which usually neatly links into somebody providing some sort of BC related product or consultancy. It’s a sweeping generalization I know, but I felt that it was a bit part. I couldn’t really get a full and clear answer as to what I was letting myself in for.
That doesn’t just related to the iso. I think with the thought leadership, it relates to across the board, I became increasingly frustrated for a short period of time because I didn’t feel like I could find the answers I needed. With the growing social media and web presence, I was quite surprised by that, coming from a completely academic and research background as well. I really think that it is growing now and we’re in a position now where it’s starting to mature. More people are contributing. We still have a long way to go in my view.
Ken: I would hope people understand that it’s a journey. We’re never going to get to some nirvana for information being out there. Where do you go today now that you’ve been around a few years. Where do you go to find leadership thinking in this space?
Luke: I think one of the key things for me in the chaos of the first few years of trying to get the most exposure occurred, was trying o find the right links for mentors. There’s a few regular contributors on social media. The first thing that I did was I went onto things like LinkedIn and Twitter, and search your standards in business continuity, and tried to find these groups with a big followings. I tried to read some of the conversations about what was happening. That was my initial step.
I did try to find some sorts of journals and contributions there but that was actually more difficult. Before that, I have a stream of books written by the likes of Hiles, at these business continuity handbooks, which provide you with a good basis of foundations for what we do. That was really my source of information at the very beginning but as I say it was fairly limited at the very beginning. Now the groups have progressed.
Ken: Now you’ve actually created one of those. With your blog and some of your writing, I think at one point you described your own work as venting because you talked about the situations that young professionals found themselves in. This pay it backwards idea, what would you tell your 22 year old self? What would you say to those just starting out, facing similar issues, than perhaps not speaking up and sharing at the moment?
Luke: I think in hindsight, one or two pieces of advice that I was given, that I perhaps took on but didn’t full appreciated and accept at the time. One thing that’s always stuck in my mind is somebody said, and made reference to in one of my blogs about, cross-linking to my sailing, and saying you’re only really get better at sailing if you accept the fact that you’re going to fall in a few times. Once you’ve fell in, you’ve actually become, it’s a quicker learning process once you get wet. The fear of getting wet in the first place is a boundary in itself. The self-preservation kicks in and you tend not to take the risk into getting greater exposure.
The way you respond to certain instances and the way you approach your professional situations, you tend to limit yourself in your development. I certainly did. Someone said to me three or four years ago when I went to him a few years ago he said to me, you’re not experienced enough. He says, go and get some more experience and says don’t be afraid to step on a few land mines. The he said, everyone needs to learn some really big lessons, that’s how we develop.
I think that would be going back to my 22 year-old self. I’d be saying, spend more time on trying to get it right then trying to be scared of getting it wrong.
Ken: You know, good advice. We do spend too much time, I think sometimes, being cautious and not willing to take a risk.
Luke: People are scared in this industry in my view, particularly the junior professionals. Naturally with business continuity and crisis management now, some very strong characters in the business, particularly in the government side of things. Everything’s asked, in order to get the right airtime, it has to sound sexier. There’s a lot of loud voices and strong personalities. For a wet behind the ears, new graduate like myself coming through, it’s very difficult to filter out what’s valuable, not valuable. Then having the guts to actually step in. It took me a good three years to go, I’ve actually got a point of view here. I was generally quite fearful of making a contribution, partially because of the characters I was working with and partially because I was scared of making a mistake or something silly.
Ken: That comes out in quite a bit of your writing at different times as well. It’s good to see you’ve found the voice. Let me read you something and see if you recognize it. We’ll talk about it a bit.
“The business continuity landscape is changing. There’s a new and rapidly growing breed of professionals directly entering into the industry from universities and colleges. The very make up of the profession is evolving as our membership moves away from those who perhaps dropped into business continuity almost by accident.”
I assume you recognize the words.
Luke: Absolutely. That’s a long standing view of mine. It’s as scary for me as it is for perhaps the elder statesmen reading it as well.
Ken: The impressing part for me, and for the people listening, Luke wrote that in his 20’s article, which will be linked in the show notes for people who need to go and find it. To me that was a really profound thing. I hadn’t necessarily grasped how many people were coming into this business through this path. What do we need to do? You’ve been through this path. As an industry, what do we need to do to address this dramatic shift of people coming in through that path rather than coming through that school of hard knocks.
Luke: I’m sure some of them would love to be described as hard knocks.
Ken: That’s the way we used to see it. You go in … Most people who came into this when I did, too long ago to even think about, it certainly wasn’t a job that you would seek out. Normally, it was the person who didn’t step back fast enough. It was up there with fire wardens for the job that you tried to avoid.
If people are coming in directly from tertiary education and with a totally different mindset and expectation, what kind of training and education do we need to be putting in place to meet these people’s needs?
Luke: I think that we do need to mature on a number of different platforms to get where we want to be. I mean you only have to compare us against other … If you look at … At the institutes I represent, business continuities, disasters, and so on across the globe, they are evolving. They are becoming bigger and their voices becoming more known. If you look at things like the insurance agency .. the institute of insurance or other wider institutes there. Across the board we just need to improve a little. For instance, in terms of the training, I think I would have benefited from was a solid program of maturity rather than having two simple check points of, did I pass a competency exam. Yes, all of the sudden I’ve made an associate member. If I passed it high enough and I’ve been working in a job for three years and I can send enough PDF examples, all of the sudden I’m a full member.
I don’t think that’s a true reflection. The PDP and evidence based competency is something we have a little bit more of a gap in when you compare it to other institutes around the world, in my view. I also feel there’s a gap in peer review in areas. For me when you’re working where I am at the moment, there’s people in my … It’s not just about the institute. I’m talking about the individuals as well. junior professionals are scared to contribute.
At last year’s BCI conference, I went all out to try and engage with as many junior pros as possible, particular those with an online presence. I met with them all individually. They’re all really great, willing people. I met other people who don’t have an online presence but knew what we do and they read it in their own time. Off the back of those conversations, virtually no follow-up had occurred. We need to understand why that is and encourage more people to contribute.
To be honest, I know one of the answers to that already. If you go online and you come up with a new idea or a new thought related to resilience in any way. You’d put it out onto one of the groups and come back in two weeks time, you’ll have a series of, as you say, hard knocks usually. We’ll give you pages and pages of what feels like abuse, it’s their opportunity to get on their soapbox and shoot you down if you will. I have this view, well you’re wrong because of and then there’s several pages.
I’ve only really experienced a few times where some people have come on and said, that’s a good point but what you’re really missing there is X, Y, & Z and more collaborative learning rather than get back in your box and have a voice in ten years time once you’ve gotten enough experience.
Ken: Don’t take it to heart. I still get people telling me, I have no idea what I’m talking about. Probably because I tend to take a lot of contrary views to others. The kind of things you’re talking about there, sounds to me like we’ve got a bit of work to do with the vocational training, the on the job training. If you were an accountant it would be called your professional year or your certification year, wouldn’t it?
Luke: Yeah. We do need to realign ourselves to similar practices and understand where it could be applicable to BC. Obviously because we’ve got an interesting area of expertise which is still evolving itself in terms of the concept alone. It’s going to be a moving target but it’s certainly more widely shared and collaborated. Potential improvements on what it is and how we develop. Not just from junior professionals right away.
Ken: Do you see a role for … you’ve done a lot of work with new media, with social media, and using it as a tool to promote your voice. Surely there’s a role there for not just social media but online courses devices like podcasts and webinars and that kind of thing to address the learning needs that are emerging here.
Luke: Absolutely. Half the reason, and what you’re doing now is a great example of taking it to the next level and getting us to that next level of maturity. I’m hoping that people will hear this. They’ll put a voice to the name. They’ll realize Luke Bird is just your every man that’s worked his way into this profession, as switched on as the next guy. They can take confidence that they can learn this as well. These sorts of things, the social media, everybody’s got 5 or 6 different social media platforms. Everybody uses it. People, you’d be surprised, you know yourself to be fair, Ken, you’ve had a wide online presence. It’s amazing the people that reach out to you from around the world. The reason that we sat on this today is primarily because we both reached out to each other over a year ago. There is a real lack of that. I think this sort of thing, like your podcast, your BCM journal that’s growing in involvement.
I think those sorts of things are really important as we move forward. There’s actually, the name escapes me now, but there’s actually a gentleman who provides from his website, he stands in front of his website and he explains certain parts of information that people can find for free. He doesn’t charge anybody. I approached him a year ago and said “Why do you do it?” I know why I do it because I get paid for it. It’s because I was venting to begin with but then I wanted to help and he said the exact same thing. He just wanted to provide advice and support for people that wanted to embed BC into their business.
The gentleman’s name is Alistair Lee. He’s a fabulous bloke.
Ken: There’s a lot of people that do offer a massive amount of material just to be helpful. The world’s a fairly good place like that sometimes. Let me dust out the crystal ball. Let’s go look out beyond the black stump, out into the area of discomfort.
You wrote a post, “The avoidance and illusion of competence.” Where you said, a comfort zone is like a warm blanket on a cold winter morning. People do not want to move. That’s the same idea of the comfort zone, the metaphor of the black stump, that not wanting to move. Is that a big risk for our professional development and what do you suggest we need to do about that comfort zone?
Luke: I’ve always felt this … From the last five years I’ve always felt, if you can cover up a couple of different areas and get yourself to a new level of maturity, you encourage new thinking anyway. If you empower departments and organizations to self sustain their image. That’s probably why it hasn’t happened because if I did it right then I’d be put out of a job, wouldn’t I.
First of all, one of the biggest obstacles is you have to add clarity to the business. You need to say, remove all those assumptions that the business has had. Some might have been there six months, some might have been there twenty years. If you put a group of people into a room and you ask them how they’d respond to something, you’d probably find you’d get twenty plus different answers. If you can get everybody on the same hymn sheet, so to speak, that’s probably the first step. I also think if you give people the confidence of knowledge.
I’d briefly worked with some clinicians in an emergency department, one of the largest in Europe. One of the most major receiving emergency departments in Europe. They’d seen and done everything. Although, they’re always on their toes. There was a comfort blanket already there. When we were trying to get them into decontamination exercises. It was something they weren’t comfortable with doing. I had to remove the assumptions that they thought they knew they were going to do. I had to instill the confidence that they knew where the kit was. That they could put it on. What they could physically do with it. How long it could last, all these sorts of things. I think once you give individuals, in respect to what level they’re at, if you give the individuals the confidence that the first 10 to 15 key things that they’re going to do during an incident straight away, it gives them that extra half a second, more presence of mind, to make better decisions. 9 times out of 10 they do better.
What I suppose I’m trying to say is, if you do that and you do it well and you get them to a sufficient level of maturity. Eventually what you’ll see is a business will take responsibility for themselves. You changed the mindset of the culture. In my experience, what tends to happen is, because the nature of the corporate cycle, once you get through one cycle of delivering any sort of approach. Someone comes in with a different approach and it changes the previous maturity. It takes a step back. It sometimes can be a case of backward improvement.
Ken: One step forward, two steps back sometimes.
Luke: That’s exactly it. That’s not just from a BC professional point of view, that can be the executive sponsors, which in today’s day and age, we’re talking every two years, two and a half years, and the executive will move on. The initial drive and sponsorship of that level is gone. Then you have to figure out how to have a program to get the next person up to speed and bought in. They might not even have it on their agenda depending on their background. Really, it’s difficult.
Ken: In one of our previous e-mail dialogues, I suggested to you, it’s called business continuity. In your case, going out into a business area, do you say, is that part of what you’re talking about? That business continuity need to get out and immerse themselves in the business? Not as BC practitioners but as business people not doing.
Luke: That’s a very interesting question. I think that being a business continuity professional you’re always limited and challenged by the fact that you’ve never really been involved in a particular business. People will pontificate until the cows come home about how they don’t have to be an expert in something. That’s true but you do find some people that do come into the industry that have perhaps spent a previous several years in a particular output based environment. Something that’s completely focused on delivery. Then they come into BC, they tend to provide a different perspective.
Perhaps it could be argued that us BC professionals could benefit from taking some time out in the industry that they work in. It certainly is the case when you look at job vacancies now. Most business continuity vacancies, in the UK at least, unless you’ve been working in that particular sector, they don’t tend to give you much airtime. They tend to look straight for the people that have had previously worked.
For instance, at the moment, I was looking at, there was a role available a few months ago and it was for a health based emergency planning and business continuity officer. You couldn’t apply for it unless you were a registered midwife. Even so, you could have 20 years experience but if you haven’t gone and done that particular role they weren’t interested. They wanted you to have context first. These things are certainly changing. They’re similar. I think it’s Heathrow Airport, they have a social worker and a business continuity professional, to an ex social worker doing a dual role there to my understanding. It’s an airport anyhow. They have to have that experience in the background, so it must be beneficial because otherwise businesses wouldn’t be asking for it.
Ken: Absolutely. Again, it’s just this whole question of skills we need to bring to bear. Moving on … you had this wonderful idea. You suggested the idea of speed dating as a useful form of session for the BCI world conference when you reviewed it last year. I’ve never been to a conference that had speed dating and I think that’d it be a wonderful innovation but why was that idea important to you at the time?
Luke: I’d just like to be clear here, when I say speed dating I obviously mean in a professional setting. It very much blossoms where it blossoms. I can’t deny that.
Ken: We should point out to those listening you’re about to get married.
Luke: Yeah. Well, I still have 5 weeks. I’m still available for reconsideration.
Ken: Will have to be very speed dating then.
Luke: Definitely. I think the speed dating was what I found at the conference was I was meeting people I already know, vouched for, if you will. Every time I met somebody it was always a close confidant or colleague of somebody I’d worked with or was working with. I found that, that limited me. People come at things and have different relationships with different people so I thought what would be better is if there was people who were willing, and there necessarily is. There’s an abundance of people in terms of recipients like myself and people wanting to be mentored and to gain greater exposure and gain contacts like yourself Ken.
That sort of opportunity would be great so that we can set a speed dating session up and I’ve felt that it would be really useful opportunity to widen the web of networks in the industry in a simple session. I think on both sides, on the hard knocks and the junior pros, I think that would be welcomed and it’s fun as well. You can do it in any sort of whether it’s in the exhibition or on the evening. People tend to stay in their smaller groups. It’s only the well known characters of the industry work the room and meet different people, even in the evening it was still quite ancillary in some of the groups. That’s something we should break down those barriers. I think it’d be great.
Ken: I really like the idea of speed networking. Luke, if you’re going to be at the conference in London in November, I’m certainly going to be there. We should do something about trying to find, even if it’s an informal session, to do something about that.
Luke: I think that would be an absolutely fab idea. As far as I’m aware, I’m being invited down as a panellist unto the conference itself. I’ll be looking to utilize my time while I was down there to do some of this. You can never have to many friends in the industry, that’s what I think.
Ken: Absolutely. Let’s start to wrap this up a bit. Your Big Blue-eyed BC blog, one post in 2015, or for a good cause, the flash blog. What’s the future of that? Is there another generation of professionals that you want to get in there?
Luke: I think the reason why I did write a blog prior to that to explain, much like everybody else, there’s a change in people’s circumstances and personal life and professional life. As you leaded to earlier, I’m getting married and I’ve just purchased my house. In this period of time there’s an area where I’m in a particular state of transition where my learning itself is paused for the time being. Also, more important than that, I think if you apply the similar sort of when you thought leadership, it almost applies to a musician.
There’s a comedian in the UK that produced a comedy album and then produced a second one and called it “That Difficult Second Album.” One of my pal’s told me that after he sent me a text, as I’ve won my global award, he sent me that on literally the moment I received my award saying like, “What’s next?”
I need to go through a next period of learning. The next opportunity is a very major role for me. I need to take some key learning from that and try to apply some of the learning that I’ve perhaps given to the people as well because I was fire fighting and writing. It was a real whirlwind of learning. I do go to a couple of different universities in the UK and I present to them and their undergraduates and to give them a feel. For me, that’s more a case of, to remove the fear factor, demonstrating to them that somebody like me as a chatterbox, a blue collar guy, can have quite a successful career in this area. If you work hard and you’re willing to contribute and learn.
I get a lot of feedback from those university students and they tell me how it does help. Going back to the book as well, people are buying it which tells me something.
Ken: Yeah, great. Good for you. You’ve got to pay for that trip to Australia somehow.
Ken: Who are the emerging voices that I should be listening to for the next generation of practice?
Luke: One particular individual that really stands out for me is somebody that is, I assume narrowly missed out on the opportunity again, a recent newcomer award at the BC European awards. Her name’s Rina.
Ken: I read Rina’s stuff.
Luke: The reason that I think she’s particularly valuable is because she provides it for a not-for-profit sector. She also has a very interesting take on fresh approaches to it because she has to be innovative because there’s no budget, there’s very little resource at all there. She has a wide arraignment so I’ve always found the things that she writes about to be quite fresh and I’m always interested to look at it.
As I said, the other gentleman is basically a chap that forms the Continuity Advisor website. Very useful overview and support and how business continuity is delivered. I think that’s a usually quite a useful place to go as well. They’re trying to do some thought leadership but they’re a growing area as well.
There are one or two. I’ve got quite a few on my … You’ll see the people that I regularly retweet on my twitter page, I do enjoy just taking a look at. I suspect in the next few years we’re going to see that dramatically change. We’re going to see more and more people come out of the woodwork.
Ken: I sincerely hope so. It’s one of those things that this is tremendous era. Anyone can publish. As you said, here we are because we’ve got a computer and a couple of microphones we can have a discussion across the other side of the world and publish it in a podcast for people to listen and interact with.
You’re right. It’s a tremendous opportunity for trying to open people’s thinking. Luke, I’ve go to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today and to share fairly openly with the audience on what you’ve been through and where you see things going.
Luke: Yeah. Well, if anybody reads my work, Ken, that will make one of the key things about me is my honesty and frankness. Obviously as you can imagine, it splits the group down the middle. It’s what I’m about.
Ken: Excellent. I sincerely hope we get to, after 12 months of exchanging e-mails, our first conversation, I sincerely hope we get to meet up in London and I’ll even buy you a beer.
Luke: Look forward to it. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.
Ken: Thanks for your time Luke.
Luke: Cheers, Ken.