How to Stay Relevant in Tough Economic Times

Brian Zawada, FBCI Brian Zawada, FBCI | Feb 12, 2009

stay relevantAs Published in the 2009 January/February Issue of Continuity Insights Magazine

Tough economic conditions always result in a sense of uncertainty amongst business professionals.

“Will my business area or job be viewed as expendable?”

“Should I expect cut backs, or be asked to do more with less?”

“Will my organization survive, or merge with a competitor?”

Each question is normal, and as business continuity professionals, many of us are struggling with justifying the existence of the programs we’ve spent a considerable amount of time implementing and maintaining.  Yet, other business continuity professionals, some in the most economically-challenged industries, aren’t experiencing tough questions, massive budgetary decreases or even losses of headcount.  Instead, they are going about business as usual, and if asked, are prepared with very straightforward answers regarding the value they deliver to their organizations.  But why?  What makes them different?

This issue’s column captures the results of a number of interviews, as well as recent experiences with executive committees charged with business continuity oversight, regarding how to justify time and resource spend on business continuity capability. Organizations that continued to address business continuity risk effectively did many of the following five activities.

  1. Stay Aligned with Changing Business Priorities
    Stay aligned with your organization’s business model, strategy, priorities and organizational values.  In many cases, tough economic conditions result in tough decisions and changing priorities.  In an environment with resource reductions, focus on higher risk business activities and prioritize amongst the most critical business processes.If other areas of the business have experienced staff or resource reductions, and business continuity planning is characterized as decentralized, work to take on some of the planning to allow your business colleagues (which may have reduced numbers) to focus on their core business activities.  Doing so will not only maintain a focus on risk management, but will also be a form of justification for your existing headcount, as well as a major reputational win for your business continuity team in the eyes of the business.
  2. Demonstrate Value Through Incident Management
    Unfortunately, disruptive events appear to be on the rise.  The increased frequency and severity associated with natural disasters, and even the threat posed by extremist elements around the world, directly challenge the continuity of essential business operations.  Equally bad, current economic conditions are impacting critical members of many organizations’ supply chains.Above all else, take a leadership role in preparing for and leading the response to new, emerging issues and demonstrate value when called upon.  Following the response to key events, summarize how the business continuity program made a difference and be prepared to “take credit” for continuing operations that otherwise would have been disrupted.  Consider taking on an active role in supply chain risk management by highlighting the most essential supply chain relationships and better understanding their viability and current business continuity capabilities.
  3. Focus on High Risk, High Impact Activities
    The perfect business continuity solution is seldom attainable, and in tough economic times, the 80% solution may be acceptable.  Consider shifting resources away from lower risk business activities.  If management asks about your ability to decrease spend or eliminate personnel, begin modeling how far to decrease performance or program coverage before realizing unacceptable risk.  As part of this modeling effort, offer incremental adjustments to contribute time, resource and cost savings, but do so by also summarizing business continuity performance levels and priorities.  For some organizations, business continuity program priorities may be maintaining recovery sites or crisis management capabilities.  For others, it might be crisis communications strategies, records management and regulatory reporting.  Regardless, ask yourself – “What would happen if we stopped doing this activity?”
  4. Communicate with Management
    Executive managers are very busy people, and in today’s economic climate, they are subject to a number of new challenges.  However, don’t make the mistake of moving to the sideline and waiting for them to become available before discussing the importance of business continuity.  Today’s senior manager thinks about risk all the time and is constantly making tough decisions regarding resource allocation.  Consider proactively engaging your senior management team with a focused discussion on how to concentrate limited resources on the most important risks and business processes.  Identify ways to help the organization become more efficient risk managers.  Continuously report progress on areas where the organization exceeds management risk tolerance, and offer solutions to overcome identified challenges.
  5. Continue to Emphasize the Fundamentals
    Consistent with staying focused on high risk, high priority business activities, continue to focus on the business continuity fundamentals.  Identify organizational changes that affect business continuity priorities, prepare to respond in a timely manner, maintain recovery strategies, resources, plans and processes, and validate capabilities in order to avoid surprises during disruptive events.  In tough economic conditions, business partners may suspend operations, and personnel turnover may increase.  As such, two other fundamental business continuity practices may elevate in importance – creating business continuity awareness and supply chain risk management.

Overall, prepare now to justify your organization’s investment in business continuity.  In some cases, you have yet to be asked about resource reductions.  This could be the result of organizational economic strength, or even better, management’s existing awareness regarding the importance and value introduced by your business continuity program.  In fact, effective business continuity solutions are strategic assets.  Regardless of global economic conditions, business continuity processes and solutions are very important – arguably more important in this environment.  In tough economic times, many organizations have a smaller margin for error and therefore depend on timely and effective response and recovery strategies when faced with crisis events.  In conclusion, focus more on response and recovery capability for the most critical business activities, and less on decreasing capability across the organization as a whole.  Short-term resource savings will pale in comparison to the increased risk exposure and the cost associated with rebuilding the existing capability in stronger economic conditions.

Comments on this article? Want to discuss this topic further? Contact Brian Zawada now!