This article was published in Business2Business, October 2001
The events of the past few weeks are a clear reminder that emergencies happen unannounced and rarely at a convenient time. The devastation from this nightmare, which seems surreal and divorced from reality, is different from many of the other crises and emergencies we have ever faced. Since World War II we have lived through numerous conflicts, confrontations, invasions, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and even a near-nuclear meltdown. In these cases, the threats and warnings came and we responded. The events passed and we recovered. In this case it will take years, maybe even decades, to return to a state of normalcy.
And despite the devastation, so many systems did continue to work with a minimum of disruptions. To our amazement, many businesses that were nearly vaporized were beginning to recover by the next day. In less than a week, the economic heart of our country, the New York Stock Exchange, began to beat again. Can we attribute this quick path to recovery due to resilience and resolve? Yes, but only partially.
Getting back to business simply does not just happen without planning. Imagine needing to evacuate your business right now, leaving everything as it is and unable to retrieve anything again. The events immediately following an emergency or disaster of any kind are related to disaster recovery and business continuance.
A natural hesitation by managers in preparing for emergencies and developing business continuity plans is that they rarely have any immediate return on investment. At the moment of impact, however, the return on investment could be the difference between losing everything and keeping or regaining every thing you had before the emergency. Almost two years ago, individuals and companies across the United States and around the world were preparing for every imaginable breakdown linked to Y2K. Nothing happened. Many individuals and organizations believed their money and time investments in preparation were wasted.
The disruptions linked to Y2K did happen but not as a result of Y2K. Now thankful for the billions of dollars and man-hours invested in preparing for Y2K, the lives and livelihoods of many people were saved. Despite the thousands of lost lives and the billions of dollars of damaged property, this damage would have been a mere speck of ash on the mounds of rubble in what could have happened without recovery and continuity plans.
Before you begin to write your plan, it is important to ascertain the types of threats to which your organization is vulnerable. A sound business continuity plan or disaster recovery plan should then identify the probability and risks of each potential disaster. How would each one impact your business and what must you do to minimize the immediate and long term damage?
Having determined the impacts, it is now equally important to consider the magnitude of the risks that could result in these impacts. Again, this is a critical activity – it will determine which scenarios are most likely to occur and which should attract most attention during the planning process.
Having developed the business continuity plan, it is sensible to perform an audit… not just initially, but at regular intervals. This helps ensure that it remains current, and that it stands up to rigorous examination. Equally important are periodic checks on ‘business as usual’ contingency practices.
Having a plan and being able to implement it are two different stories. In the event of an emergency, do you have individuals in your organization that could actually lead a recovery and continue your business? With higher turnover and layoffs, many organizations find themselves without the expertise of the people who developed the plans at the critical times they may be needed the most.
The responsiveness of Rudy Guiliani, the mayor of New York City, during the days after the attack epitomized what I have identified as the Five R’s for Effective Crisis Management:
React quickly and effectively
Respond with confidence
Restore and maintain calm
Repair physical and psychological damage
Return to normalcy
The Five R’s are desirable behaviors that don’t always deliver desirable outcomes without also having a strong foundation of skills and knowledge. The combination of skills, knowledge, and behaviors collectively are called competencies. Competencies go well beyond intent and effort and integrity. Competencies have been also identified as the difference between highly effective managers and supervisors compared to average performers. Twelve competencies have been identified that are common to effective management, regardless of the task or industry.
In respect to Mayor Guiliani’s performance, at least 6 of these 12 competencies clearly rise to the top of his talent list. I have identified these 6 competencies and included a brief description of each below.
Getting unbiased information
Especially during emergencies but basically in all communication, much of the information we receive is second-hand. Yet the quality of the decisions we make and actions we implement can be only as good as the information we get from others.
Listening and organizing
The quality of information we receive serves as the basis for making decisions and is directly related to our skill in listening to the facts and sifting through the feelings we get from others. As employees were evacuating Two World Trade Center, an announcement declared it was safe to return to their offices. Some employees turned back, others ignored the warning. In this case, listening and organizing was the difference of life and death. Mayor Guiliani was bombarded with information, much of it second-hand. Taking it all in and quickly filtering its quality likely saved thousands of more lives and restored a degree of calm at a time of chaos and fear.
Giving clear information
No single skill seems more important than our ability to influence the thoughts and actions of others. This skill also requires the ability to assess a situation and give information in a clear, concise, well-organized message with a minimum of bias and with a maximum of trust. The Mayor certainly gets another star for his performance in this area.
Training, Coaching and Delegating
A manager’s own effectiveness is determined by the effectiveness of his or her people and the quality of the team they he or she built. Regardless of normalcy or crisis, one-man shows rarely survive.
Making Decisions and Weighing Risk
This really has to do with our ability to identify the limits, obstacles and risk of a decision, to identify appropriate alternatives, and then select the best option.
Thinking Clearly and Analytically
Refers to your ability to use logic, to recognize shaky premises, to avoid faulty conclusions, to avoid generalizing from inadequate information, and to approach decisions rationally and unemotionally.
In evaluating the key people on your emergency response and business continuity teams, how would they measure up to Mayor Guiliani and the other examples set by our rescue and recovery teams? How severely would your business survival be impacted by a lack of any of these skills? (By the way, these are not special skills but the same skills that differentiate top managers from the average performers who are responsible for even day-to-day operations under normal states.)
We don’t always get second chances. Today is the day to set time aside to develop a plan for disaster recovery, prepare contingencies for business continuity, and evaluate the individuals you have selected to lead, manage, and work your organization in both good times and bad.
Ira S. Wolfe is Founder of Success Performance Solutions, a training and assessment center helping business to match, manage and motivate employees. Success Performance Solutions would like to emphasize the necessity for religious and racial/ethnic tolerance. Now is the time for everyone to pull together and value both our differences and similarities to create a workplace and community where all people feel safe. Ira can be scheduled for a presentation on Now Is The Time for Tolerance at 717-291-4640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.