As the recent events throughout the pandemic have all too clearly illustrated, businesses can never be too prepared for the unexpected — because the unexpected can and will happen. Natural disasters, municipal, state, or national emergencies, cyber attacks, and global pandemics are just a few examples of catastrophes that can result in a loss of product and revenue, induce layoffs, and in a worst case scenario, completely debilitate a business.
While this may sound dire, the fortunate news is that being prepared with a business continuity plan can ensure business runs as smoothly as possible.
Benefits of a Business Continuity Plan
A business continuity plan first lays out every hypothetical scenario that could threaten operations to come up with a response strategy in the event of losing technology, access to workspace, or other important business needs. Having a continuity plan in place is imperative for businesses to be able to weather the storm (often literally), if and when it hits, by continuing to operate during, and after disaster.
Having a solid business continuity plan not only provides peace of mind, knowing there is a set procedure to follow, it forces organizations to assess their business’s strengths and weaknesses to devise the best barebones way to keep operations running. A business continuity plan also ensures leaders can be proactive during a time of crisis, instead of reactive. Being proactive results in better decision-making from a position of strength. Following a prepared plan can alleviate fear and panic, from the top down. Last but not least, a plan of action assures shareholders and investors that the business is in good hands.
It may be helpful to think of your business continuity plan in three separate phases: Planning & Prevention, Response & Action, and Rebuild & Return to Normal, for example. Each phase will have its own goals and priorities. Here are a few things to consider when devising your own business continuity plan, although your mileage may vary, depending on the industry.
Lay the Groundwork
During phase 1, Planning & Prevention, is when businesses should lay the groundwork for the business continuity plan. A clear view of operations will require diving into each area of business. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not unusual for leadership to lose touch with how things actually work on the ground. Reacquainting yourself with how business is done — in practice, today — will lead to an action-oriented plan that makes sense.
Here are some questions to consider when devising a business continuity plan:
- Which areas of business are essential? (i.e. if they shut down, business shuts down)
- Which departments can be eliminated or downsized during a disaster?
- Which areas of business will be most affected and need complicated workarounds?
- Are those workarounds feasible?
- What are the key roles necessary to business?
- What are the necessary functions of a working skeleton crew?
Taking the time to go down the path of every what-if situation will make sure the plan doesn’t fall apart when put to the test. Getting a group to brainstorm will result in more solid ideas.
Perform a Risk Assessment
Now is the time to figure out which areas of business are essential to operations, and consider the risks, potential issues, and more importantly, the overall impact on business if and when business is interrupted, or in some cases, stopped indefinitely. Consider all possible scenarios that could cause a threat to internal and external operations. To make things more manageable, make a list of these important issues in order of importance.
Next, create an action plan that addresses each hypothetical scenario. The only way to be prepared for the worst is to plan for it! While creating several different “what if?” plans may feel like overkill, remember: it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Consider Pivots & Alternatives
During a crisis, in the Response & Action Phase, businesses have to get creative to make sure employees are taken care of and business continues to operate. Restaurants may have to switch to take-out, telehealth takes the place of actual doctor visits, tech workers key in remotely, and schools must hold classes online.
Businesses in a supply chains will also certainly face hardships when trying to manage operations during a crisis like a natural disaster or pandemic. Finding alternate sources and vendors for supplies when there are delays or stops in production or distribution will be pertinent to staying in business if primary pipelines are cut off.
Have Backup Communications
Included in your plans of action should also be a communications plan. How will teams communicate if and when normal channels, like the internet, are down? Who will need to be contacted (clients, vendors, regulatory boards, etc.) Who will be the key communicators?
While some disaster scenarios may feel far-fetched, today’s natural disasters can have more far-reaching impact than we imagined in past decades. And if the global pandemic is any indication, some crises may require working from home - again, and for unknown stretches of time - which requires a plan. Making sure your infrastructure can handle the remote workload, and continue to operate as normal is critical. Getting all employees set up with a way to work remotely (even providing equipment if necessary) also makes the transition smoother in case people need to hunker down. Companies that can be flexible during a crisis are most likely to get through it little-to-unscathed.
Prepare & Train All Employees
Every employee in your organization, regardless of position or seniority, should be familiar with the business continuity plan to know their role during an emergency situation. Your staff will need to know what is expected of them during a crisis, including if and how they are to perform their jobs, whether that means remotely, or performing another role altogether.
Note that employees should be trained in all functions they need to fill. Consider special requirements, licenses or certifications needed to carry them out. The last thing you want to find out is the person assigned to forklift machinery isn’t up-to-date in their certifications.
Put the Plan in Writing, Then Share It
When you have figured out the logistics of keeping essential roles in operation, it’s time to commit the plan to writing. This is an important not to skip—because until it’s written down, it’s not an official plan. The next step is to make sure everyone in the organization is aware of the business continuity plan, so there are no surprises when it goes into action.
When sharing the business continuity plan, allow staff to ask questions to minimize misunderstandings. Just sending instructions over email once won’t cut it. An in-depth review that includes multiple test runs is crucial to making sure employees know how to respond under duress.
Test & Reassess, Rinse & Repeat
The hope is businesses will never have to put their continuity plan into action, but all plan scenarios should be tested beforehand to see if they will work. Likewise, it’s a good idea to map out how you plan to Return to Normal, after the crisis is over.
Most importantly, businesses should revisit the continuity plan on a regular basis. Organizations change, policies become obsolete, employees leave, and new employees come onboard, which means not everyone will be familiar with the procedures. The plan should and will evolve as business evolves. Reassessing and modifying based on changes will keep your business ready and agile.
What do you consider when creating a business continuity plan? What’s the most important thing for a business to do during a crisis? Share your thoughts with us below!