A Culture of [Business] Continuity | Part Two

Avalution Team Avalution Team | Aug 22, 2012

This two-part series from Avalution Consulting focuses on defining and embedding a “culture of continuity” within organizations.


In part one of this series we defined a culture of continuity as “an organizational state of being in which all personnel inherently work to minimize the likelihood of downtime and improve responsiveness and recoverability as they perform day-to-day activities”.  That’s a pretty high bar for most organizations to meet!

As such, it’s important to take a moment to truly assess the need for such an undertaking and the true value that it will add to your organization.  Much like any other initiative throughout an organization, it’s important for business continuity efforts to directly align to key organizational objectives, goals and priorities.  In doing so, you’ll be better prepared to gain buy-in and commitment from senior leadership as you will be working to add value to the entire organization, not just push a business continuity “agenda”.

Beginning with Change
Implementing a culture of continuity begins with an understanding of general change management principles.  After all, that’s what a culture of continuity is all about – adopting a change in practice, alignment and overall thinking.  Dr. John Kotter offers a great model for change in his book, “8-Step Process for Leading Change”.  The key activities are summarized below:

  1. Create Urgency
  2. Form a Powerful Coalition
  3. Create a Vision for Change
  4. Communicate the Vision
  5. Remove Obstacles
  6. Create Short-term Targets
  7. Build on the Change
  8. Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Many times business continuity practitioners don’t feel that they have the ability, resources or commitment from management to drive change in an organization, let alone build a culture of continuity.  However, business continuity practitioners are uniquely positioned to drive change.  In fact, key activities within the business continuity lifecycle align directly with these eight steps.  We’ll explore each in more detail in the next section.  You may find that you are already doing some of these activities at a high-level, but through minor modifications or adaptations, you’ll quickly be on the road to building a culture of continuity within your organization.

Building the Foundation
According to Dr. Kotter, 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail.  Why?  Because organizations often do not take the holistic approach required to see the change through to complete implementation.  When implementing a culture of continuity, business continuity practitioners should consider each of the following eight steps to gain commitment, implement change and maintain the culture throughout the organization.

Step 1: Create Urgency
This is an area where business continuity practitioners often get it wrong.  Establishing a sense of urgency around the need to implement or enhance business continuity efforts needs to be carefully undertaken so you don’t come across as a doomsday nay-sayer.   In fact, if you’re spending your time talking about all the potential threats the organization is exposed to and that is the main driver of urgency, you will often fail.  Why?  Because management probably doesn’t trust you enough to believe your assessment of the likelihood and impact of such threats.

In our experience, organizations are only pursuing significant organizational change around business continuity when the following factors are in play:

  • Outside regulations require business continuity capabilities (example: Financial Institutions
  • The board of directors has requested business continuity
  • Internal Audit has found business continuity to be inadequate
  • Industry competition, vendors or customers require a demonstrated business continuity capability

These four factors are the drivers around over 95% of the programs we have worked with.  To create a sense of urgency, figure out how your organization fits into these items, and then start building a coalition in step 2.

Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition
Following step 1, it’s time to build consensus that change is necessary.  This requires visible and strong leadership from a “change team” inclusive of executive management, senior leaders or other key influencers within your organization (regardless of job title, status or expertise).  To do this, it will be necessary to clearly define how business continuity will create business value (especially in terms of revenue) or mitigate risk.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Identify key leaders to become part of a governing body, such as a Business Continuity Steering Committee.
  • Ensure that the governing body is comprised of leaders from throughout the organization, especially key operating divisions.
  • Ask for commitment or feedback from the Board on business continuity expectations.

Obtaining management buy-in and commitment is so crucial for ensuring the success of business continuity and embedding a culture of continuity throughout an organization that we’ve written the following perspectives to guide business continuity professionals through the process:

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change
Similar to the start of any new initiative, many great ideas and solutions will be solicited from members of the “change team”.  In order to create a true vision for change, it’s important to keep in mind your end goal: a culture of continuity.  While many business continuity objectives may be similar across organizations, it’s important to remember what makes your organization “tick”.  By doing so, you’ll develop a vision that people can grasp easily and remember.

A clear vision can help everyone understand why you’re asking them to do something. When people see for themselves what you’re trying to achieve, then the directives they’re given tend to make more sense.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Understand the core values and belief systems within your organization.
  • Identify and review previous change initiatives for both success and failure.
  • Develop a short summary that captures your vision for business continuity and how it will play a core role in the future of your organization.
  • Create a strategy to execute that vision.
  • Develop an elevator pitch for your “change team” and ensure they are able to clearly verbalize the vision and value proposition for business continuity.

Step 4: Communicate the Vision
Now that you have a clear vision, what you do with it is a key success factor in implementing a culture of continuity.  However, communicating that vision will be difficult as it attempts to compete with other management directives and assignments.  It’s necessary to note that this isn’t just another “hot topic” – it’s a paradigm shift in the way your organization views and embraces business continuity.  As such, communication must be persistent, clear and powerful.  Still, it’s important to remember that actions speak louder than words; demonstrate the kind of behavior that you want from others.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Lead by example.
  • Communicate this vision to customers, business partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
  • Distribute company emails directly from senior leadership announcing their commitment to business continuity.
  • Distribute weekly updates from the business continuity program via newsletters and table tents in break rooms or cafeterias.
  • Host business continuity “road shows”, open houses, or “lunch and learns” for all organization personnel.
  • Openly and honestly address peoples’ concerns and anxieties.

Step 5: Remove Obstacles
When you get this far, give yourself a pat on this back.  You’ve spent the time necessary to successfully create a vision for change and are on the road to implementing a culture of continuity.  Hopefully, everyone in your organization is on board with your vision for change.  However, more often than not, some employees and key stakeholders will still be paddling uphill or fighting the current.

To tackle this, identify key concerns or disinterest around your vision for a culture of continuity.  Are there any recurring concerns or obstacles?  Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision, and it can help the change move forward.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Confirm that your “change team” is comprised of necessary executive management, senior leaders and influencers; modify as needed.
  • Review the roles and responsibilities of personnel throughout the organization to confirm alignment to business continuity needs/expectations.
  • Add business continuity responsibilities to performance reviews and compensation plans.
  • Recognize and reward people for making change happen.
    Identify people who are resisting the change, and help them see what’s needed.

Step 6: Create Short-term Targets
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be your culture of continuity.  In order to maintain momentum and vision, establish short-term targets (that can result in short-term wins) that personnel and groups can see.  This way, the entire organization can track your progress, executive management can justify commitment to time/resources, and naysayers will be silenced.  Perhaps most importantly, each “win” drives further commitment to your vision and helps to further motivate the organization.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Chose targets that can be easily attained, without sacrificing quality or potential rework in the future.
  • Develop and implement dashboards or metrics that help track progress on key goals.
  • Reward the people and groups who help you meet the targets.

Step 7: Build on the Change
If you’re seeing great progress throughout the organization, it’s easy to declare an early victory!  However, lasting and meaningful change takes time because it involves every aspect of the organization and its personnel.  Leveraging the short-term targets established in step 6, business continuity practitioners can use each success as an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what can be improved.  If you’re familiar with management systems, you’ll understand that this step mirrors maintenance and continuous improvement activities.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Continue to provide awareness and training opportunities to personnel in order to maintain top-of-mind business continuity awareness.
  • Following exercises, training sessions or actual events, document lessons learned and opportunities for improvement; track these through closure.
  • Facilitate quarterly meetings with management and the “change team” to maintain a pulse on change throughout the organization, course-correcting and requesting additional support/resources when required.

Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture
Alas, steps one through seven have paved the way for the successful implementation of a culture of continuity.  To deliver long-term value and maintain vision, it’s necessary to anchor business continuity in all aspect of the organization including policies, procedures, operations, human resources, and project management.  And, perhaps most importantly, anchor business continuity with senior leadership, executive management and governing bodies (such as a board of directors), as losing sight of your vision and commitment from key leaders could leave you back at the starting line.

Specifically, try the following:

  • Acknowledge key “change agents” and communicate successes and accomplishments to the entire organization.
  • Consider aligning the business continuity planning effort to established standards such as ISO 22301.
  • Ensure that business continuity maintains top-of-mind awareness throughout the organization and its personnel.
  • Include business continuity roles, responsibilities and targets in annual goals and personnel performance reviews.
  • Ensure that business continuity becomes a key consideration in all project management initiatives (e.g., new product/service development and process changes).

Understanding how to implement a “culture of continuity” is a key step in moving your business continuity program in the right direction – a direction in which the entire organization is committed to readiness and preparedness, and does so proactively.

The Avalution Team
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting