When designing or transforming business continuity programs, our consultants are often asked, “Who should participate on our organization’s business continuity steering committee?” While the answer may seem simple and straightforward for some, too often steering committees contain the wrong combination of participants, the wrong “level” of individuals and/or a focus on the wrong objectives. Without appropriate steering committee participation and thus the appropriate leadership, business continuity programs are far less likely to be aligned with business strategy and therefore less likely to be successful.
Organizations often rely on a business continuity steering committee for consistent program direction and guidance. The steering committee is responsible for reviewing and approving all analyses and all resiliency / recovery strategies for implementation. This is the steering committee’s responsibility because they are the core body that understands the objectives of the program and the business, as well as management’s risk tolerance.
The following key “tools and deliverables” often assist the steering committee:
- A scope statement (or program charter) that defines a clear and detailed set of business continuity program objectives, assumptions and roles / responsibilities;
- A policy that outlines management’s strategic, high-level expectations; and
- A realistic and flexible timeline for the key activities within the program.
In order to best accomplish the steering committee’s core tasks, consider each of the following four success factors.
1. The ideal business continuity steering commitee should be composed of five or six participants. More than six participants may be too many, creating situations where decisions cannot be made quickly and efficiently. Less than five participants often means that key areas of the organization (or areas of subject expertise) were not represented and therefore decisions will be made that do not consider all response and recovery issues, let alone benefits and costs.
2. The ideal business continuity steering committee should include leaders from various business functions.A common misconception about the business continuity steering committee is that it should include someone from every organizational department. This approach could turn the ideal five or six person team into a ten or twenty person team – depending on the organization’s size and product/service diversity. Instead, management should determine the critical areas of the organization and the processes that support them. For example, a manufacturing company may have a team made up of members from the following areas:
- Human Resources
- Information Technology
- Facilities and Security
Other roles that could provide input to or serve on the business continuity steering committee include legal and communications.
3. The ideal business continuity steering committee should include employees with BC leadership traits and a strong sense of the entire organization.Ideal committee members need more than the knowledge in the area they directly represent. First, members should be a mix of “big-picture” thinkers, with an ability to take a deeper dive into the details. This offers an opportunity to understand both strategic business continuity imperatives as well as details necessary to identify appropriate and complete recovery objectives and plans. Each member should also have a high-level knowledge of the area they represent, with an emphasis on process execution and organizational interdependencies. This includes knowledge of external parties and agreements, including vendors and customers. Lastly, a business continuity steering committee will be most successful if it is made up of members who have a desire to ensure the continuity of operations and value the time it takes to understand business continuity risk and appropriate risk treatment opportunities.
4. The ideal business continuity steering committee should include members that can serve as long-term members of the crisis management team.The other management level body critical to the success of a business continuity program is the crisis management team (CMT). The CMT is often charged with managing the activities that occur during an event. The more participants shared between the CMT and the steering committee, the more successful both teams will be due to in-depth business continuity process exploration and understanding. By participating in the analytic, assessment and planning activities as members of the steering committee, CMT members will be more knowledgeable during an event – providing experience that non-steering committee members will lack.
Once the business continuity program sponsor selects steering committee participants, these members should be encouraged to learn about business continuity by reading industry publications or visiting websites. If the organization is in the process of initiating a business continuity program and the steering committee members have little to no experience, it may be helpful to request expert assistance and guidance for to create an initial skill-set, experiences and overall awareness.
In the end, the steering committee should be a driving force behind the business continuity program, and therefore should be a body of professionals with the desire and capabilities to guide the achievement of the program objectives. Without a strong steering committee, effort is likely to be misplaced, money misspent, and requested participation / compliance not given.