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Managing Uncertainty

Aug 3, 2020

In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser discusses how business continuity strategy should be rethought in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

How are executives thinking about business continuity right now?  How did planning, or the lack of planning, impact the response of organizations around the world? What will the future of business continuity look like compared to the past decade?

Topics discussed include rethinking business continuity strategies, focusing on health as companies return to the office, governance practices, single points of failure, and more.

Related Episodes & Blog Posts Click here to get your copy of the Bryghtpath Business Continuity Framework

Episode Transcript

Hello. And welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, principal and chief executive here at Bryghtpath. And in today's episode, I want to talk about the fact that the pandemic I think has proven to us that how we think about business continuity planning is wrong. And how we need to think about business continuity in the months and years to come has to be different. That it's been heavily influenced by what we've experienced during the COVID-19 global pandemic and how this reshapes the way that executives and your boards of directors are thinking about business continuity right now, even if they haven't articulated this to you yet.

I believe as we have moved through the pandemic, now we're five months in if you're in North America and farther in if you're in Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Asia, where you've been experiencing this longer, there's no way to think of this other than this has been a serious disruption from COVID and that has had a material and significant impact on our workforce and on our businesses worldwide. And I'm beginning to see an awakening amongst the business and technology leaders around the idea of business continuity.

And if you think about it, this has to be true. Because the pandemic itself has exposed significant gaps in how we think about business continuity and how we think about business continuity planning. Or in some cases what we've learned is that plans and even programs that a lot of companies have simply don't exist and they simply... Companies who don't have plans or they have plans that are so ineffective or programs that are so ineffective and so buried in the organization and so esoteric in what they focus on, that executives are beginning to rethink how business continuity should be managed and led within the organization.

I think that this has created an opportunity. I think it's created an opportunity for savvy leaders, for business continuity professionals that get it, that see and understand what this change has been. After all, Sun Tzu said, "In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity." And certainly, we've had chaos creating significant opportunity right now. And this is the chance for you as a resiliency leader, as a business continuity leader, as a crisis management leader, to seize this opportunity and move forward with a different mindset that will better benefit your organization.

I think there's a couple of things happening at the same time right now that influenced this. The first is a realization that business continuity as we have performed it for years might not just be adequate anymore. It may not be what companies need the way that we've done it. And the realization that companies that didn't have plans, companies that didn't have programs recognize that they were put in a really difficult situation with the pandemic because they had no mechanism, no understanding of what was critical and what was not of where the work was being done, how work might need to be reallocated or shifted geographically.

And because they didn't have plans and didn't have a program, they simply weren't as nimble as companies and organizations that did. Also, I think there's the issue of we don't know what's left here with COVID. We don't know what is about to hit us next or how long we will have to manage this. But I think we've all come to terms at this point, five months into this pandemic, that this might be something that we are dealing with for months or even years to come. So, these are the challenges. This is how I would frame this up.

So, let's go a little deeper. Let's start with the idea that business continuity as we've performed it for years might not be adequate anymore. That it might not be what our organizations need. I think for at least the next year or two, this whole concept of business continuity is going to be dominated by the pandemic and the lessons that we've learned from this pandemic. And those lessons won't just be in the area of business continuity but it will be about your organization strategy and the overall response and how they took care of their team and what their reputation is like. It's going to be centered around all of that.

But one of the biggest focuses for companies and for BC programs moving ahead is this whole idea of health and the health of your employees that do the work, that's critical to your organization. What will be important to your executives and your board and your customers and your employees is if they are safe? And how do we keep them safe as the pandemic evolves? So, you think about what protective measures need to be in place in your workplace. How do we monitor the health of your employees? How do we make sure that visitors and vendors that are coming into the space are healthy and are not going to bring that pandemic with them?

And it's important to remember that this pandemic, this unexpected thing that has happened to us, we're now five months into disruption and our current state has become the new normal. And I don't know that what our workforce and workplace were like in January 2020 is going to be what it will look like when we're on the other side of this pandemic. It may have been fundamentally evolved. It's not something where we're at this temporary disruption or we're at the 72-hour long disruption and we're going to be going back to the way it was. It's here for the long haul. And we'll have to adapt workforce practices, workplace practices, we'll have to adapt to that.

And this might've been on the minds of some folks who cut their teeth on the pandemic in 2009 with H1N1 as I did, that was my first public health emergency as a crisis management and business continuity leader. But these things are now on everyone's mind. They're on the minds of your senior executives, on the members of your board, on your audit committees' minds, it's on everyone's mind, how do we manage through this situation in the future? How do we deal with the health implications of this issue? For your executives, this is probably the top issue on their minds.

It is. I can tell you with our clients and prospective clients we've talked with over the last few weeks who are looking to enhance or mature or build out their business continuity program, this is the top issue on their minds. How do we make sure that people are safe? How do we make sure that our workforce, our workplace, our offices are going to be safe? There are other key lessons I think that are important that we embrace as resiliency leaders right now. One is to recognize and embrace some of the changes that have happened that will probably be permanent.

This whole idea of work from home and remote work is probably with us now for the long haul. And certainly, there is work that has to be done in person. There is the collaboration that is so valuable it needs to be done in person. If you're a manufacturing or distribution company, there's no way around the fact that that work has to happen in person. But does your work have to happen in person? Does the work of your headquarters employees who are not hands on delivering a product, does that have to be done in person?

This remote work idea, which some companies may have challenged, some leaders may have been uncomfortable with, we've all had to do this over the last five months. Which leads to fundamental questions now five months in, "Do I really need the office building in Downtown, Minneapolis anymore?" Or, "Can I get by with having the team work remotely? Do I need to spend the money on a building that has sat empty for five to six months?" Those are questions that executives are having today.

The second is the whole sphere of online and mobile interactions, where we are minimizing the amount of human interaction that we have to have in terms of face to face. You might be ordering things through products like Shipt or DoorDash or Uber Eats, where you're not going and ordering something and picking it up at the restaurant but you're ordering it and they're bringing it to you and they're leaving it on the stoop of your office or your home. We also have this health focus for business continuity that I just mentioned. And then also, we have these other ideas that we've had to deal with these workflows that have been designed for in-person interaction.

And now they have been rethought and retooled for online interaction. It's a digital transformation that's happening in realtime. These are all things that as business continuity leaders, we need to recognize and embrace because they're here and they're not going to go away. This also comes... If you take these ideas that we've just talked about and begin to apply these to business continuity, well, we start to think about how do we retool this idea of business continuity for the post-COVID future, the future of new normal.

Gartner just did a survey of organizations last month asking about pandemics and other issues. And I was a little astonished at the results that only 12% of respondents said that they were prepared for a pandemic-like disruption. And by the way, this survey was geared towards resiliency and C-level executives. And they did bifurcate those results. It also showed that there was a huge lack of confidence from business leaders that took the survey about their comfort level with business continuity, their comfort level with their preparedness, that there's a lot of uncertainty around what does that look like and what will it look like in the future.

There's a number of things we should think about in terms of retooling business continuity. If COVID has taught us anything, it's that we need to make sure we're looking at the right risks that might impact us, that might become reality and making sure that we're planning for those across your organization, with all the right stakeholders and key players involved. We want to look for single points of failure, [chokeholds 00:00:10:14], that makes it impossible to move forward if a service that your company is responsible for delivering gets disrupted. Is there a single point of failure in one geography, one facility, one piece of software, one server, or one person? Those are all challenges.

We want to also look at what's the work that can't be done remotely and how do we make sure we have alternatives for that? One of our clients makes large industrial test equipment. And we're talking here like the kind of harness that you would put an airplane wing in and bend it lots of different directions in order to test the construction of the wing, the design of the wing, what we want it to do in terms of tolerance, to turbulence and severe weather and the stresses of flying repeated cycles in a commercial aircraft.

So, they build these test rigs and other things. But they have huge manufacturing facilities that build those kind of rigs and such. But they're custom, right? So, that work can't be done remotely. It's got to be put together by people in this manufacturing facility. But what's the backup to that facility if the facility can't operate. So, those are the things we have to think about with remote work. And you can extrapolate that out to think about the elements in your supply chain, your business process outsourcers, which were all impacted by coronavirus, the COVID-19 pandemic, and your other vendors.

We also want to think about with retooling business continuity about having truly effective governance processes that we have taught management and the board and other key stakeholders who are in these meetings, who are getting the right insights into the program that as BC professionals, we're not afraid to engage with our governance body, with our top management to talk through these issues. Because when the time comes, like is happening now, that's who we're interacting with to move the strategy forward to protect the business.

Now's the time to think about how to push forward with this sort of strategic alignment of business continuity within your organization. Now is the time for you as a BC leader to be assertive with your program and assertive with your strategy, wined up against your company's organizational objectives. Your company's leaders are looking for you to lead and this pandemic has created the moment for you to be able to do so and move forward with a retooled re-invigorated program that you can continue to mature.

If we can help you in any way here at Brightpath, we have worked with numerous Fortune 500 organizations and the privately-owned equivalent of the Fortune 500 to build and mature and enhance their business continuity programs, you can contact us anytime at (612) 235-6435 or drop us a note at I would love to have the opportunity to chat with you about how we can help. That's it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. We'll be back next week with another new episode. Be well.