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Building true organizational Resilience:

Sun Tzu Quotes; “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

Which battle you may ask? Having run my own business for several years now, I firmly believe to be successful in business you need to continually plan ahead. Examining what can stop or help you from achieving your business objectives and planning strategies to take advantages of the opportunities and reduce on the threats.

A recent study estimated that 70% of the businesses created die before they reach the age of ten.  Most of them succumbing along the way to a variety of ailments including cashflow problems, mismanagement, misalignment of strategy and simple lack of interest in your product.

Having been a business continuity professional and consultant for a number of years I had experienced a number of crisis situations and appreciated the fact that the wrong course of action during a disaster may cost you your company in the long run and quickly make you part of the “failed businesses statistic”.

Jan 15th 2019 was a sad day for Kenyans with a devastating terrorist attack launched on innocent people. The attack at 14 Riverside Park brought to a halt, operations at the Complex which housed a number of businesses. I pause for a minute and put myself in the shoes of the CEOs in these companies. A few questions come to mind regarding some of the things that they went through:

  1. A number of businesses lost critical staff
  2. The remaining staff were badly psychologically affected and were not in a state to work
  3. A number of these businesses had 14 Riverside as their Primary location and as such lost access to their office premises – files, technology, work tools including laptops and printers

These companies were successful businesses in their own right producing critical products and services to their customers. Over that week I wondered?

  • What was the state of these businesses? Were they still able to produce critical goods and services 1 days, 2 days, 10 days after the disaster? How soon were they able to restart their critical operations?
  • How were their staff doing? Was there adequate psychological support following the immediate disaster and a plan to support staff psychologically thereafter? Were the businesses well covered for this e.g. had they taken on medical insurance that covered counselling or were they paying out of pocket?
  • Were these businesses able to pay January salaries? Will they be able to pay February salaries? The disaster happened approximately 2 weeks before the end of the month. Were they able to run payroll? Did they have visibility on the payroll details even away from their primary premise.
  • Where are these businesses now housed? With access to 14 Riverside Park restricted were they able to get alternative premises?
  • What is the state of their technology and other work tools? Did they have their primary data centers housed here? Had they sufficient Disaster Recovery arrangements that they could activate remotely?
  • Have they experienced a customer loss due to lack of service during the disaster period? A key question here is, were they sufficiently able to communicate to their customers and stakeholders giving them the confidence that their businesses were still viable following the disaster?

Imagine now if you were part of these companies and had to answer these questions as the disaster was happening! You would be practically running around like the proverbial headless chicken.

Whenever business owners look at business continuity the focus is primarily on technology continuity – ensuring information systems are adequately backed up and there are resilience arrangements regarding technology.

However, there are a myriad of disasters scenarios you need to be prepared for and might not have adequately thought through: A bomb that wipes out several key staff, a flood or fire that renders your primary premise inaccessible, an adverse regulatory ruling on your business, a political disruption such as a riot that disrupts your distribution network or a supplier who goes bust. The list is endless.

So how can you be better prepared you ask? A Business Continuity Plan is a strategic process orchestrated by a company’s management that helps organisations build a Culture of resilience in business operations. It focuses on ensuring you are able to restart critical operations in a timely manner after a disruption.

Let’s examine a simple scenario. A supermarket typically has several processes, including procurement of goods, recruitment of staff, training of staff, cash receipt at the till, systems maintenance, financial reporting, marketing etc. However, during a disaster there are certain minimum operations that you MUST be able to give to your customers within pre-defined timescales in order to remain viable.

Looking at your organisation’s processes you can identify which processes would be critical to you and make plans to ensure these processes are prioritized for recovery following a disruption – obviously in the Supermarkets case it would be ability for your customers to pay for goods at the till. With this insight you can embark on documenting a business continuity plan for till operations. To be effective, these are some the steps that must be followed:

  1. Find out what are your most critical processes are by performing a business impact assessment
  2. Examine your risks that relate to business continuity and decide how to mitigate them – for example a risk could be your dependency on your head office for operations
  3. Draw up your emergency management plan. This plan focuses on effective and efficient emergency evacuation and incident response following a disaster. The main focus of this plan being to ensure lives are saved.
  4. Next draw up continuity plans for your critical operations. These should cover a wide range of scenarios e.g. loss of your head office, loss of staff, loss of systems, loss of a key provider
  5. Ensure you plan your crisis communications. This looks at what, where and how to respond to questions from your stakeholders during a crisis. These stakeholders can include staff, suppliers, regulators, media etc. Ensure you get expert help from Legal and Public Relations experts
  6. Test your plans to ensure they actually work. A simple test done by most institutions and required by law is the fire drill. A test raises awareness of the plans and also ensures assumptions are tested and corrections made to plans hence making sure that they are more effective during an actual disaster. To be effective, set objectives and KPIs to be achieved. For example, in how long does it take for all staff to be evacuated and accounted for 10min, 20min? What can you do to improve the time e.g. are some of the emergency exits very narrow?
  7. Lastly and most important, continuously improve over time.

A badly orchestrated plan can land you in financial, regulatory and reputational trouble and can signify the death of an otherwise profitable business. Forward planning ensures you build resilience in your operations.

Do not wait to think of resilience and continuity during the battle but take a strategic view to resilience with the help of proactive Business Continuity Management.

You can learn more by taking a course named Lead Implementer ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management.

For More information and to register for the course please visit our website on www.sentinelafrica.co.ke

Written by Stella Simiyu.

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