Doing the Right Thing: Putting Associates First in Times of Crisis
- Published on October 1, 2009
- Written by SHAWN BERG
Ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Fortune magazine for 11 consecutive years, diversified automotive company, JM Family Enterprises Inc. (JM Family), is known for best practices. Founded by automotive legend Jim Moran, and built upon his guiding philosophies, including the “3C’s” of communication, cooperation, and consideration, JM Family considers its staff far more than employees. We are associates – and, as instilled by Moran, our company’s “most important asset.” That fundamental belief is reflected in both day-to-day operations and how we handle crisis management. This critical function is viewed not just from the perspective of compliance; rather, we consider it the right thing to do. Simply stated, we put both associates and business continuity first – especially in times of crisis.
JM Family considers the most important element of any successful crisis management plan to be caring for associates. Following a crisis, it is only after we are certain our associates are safe and accounted for that we focus on enterprise concerns, including customer service. This approach is what we are all about. It makes good business sense and also benefits the company by building commitment and loyalty. If associates know they and their families will be cared for, they are more likely to go that extra mile, and do whatever it takes to recover business operations and related technology.
Crisis Management Team
JM Family President and CEO Colin Brown, and members of the executive management team, support and participate in our crisis management team (CMT). In addition to senior leadership, business-critical enterprise groups, defined as associates who provide services during a crisis, are also included in all planning. These groups include human resources, information technology services, and corporate security, among others. Crisis management is taken seriously at JM Family for our more than 4,500 associates working in 14 locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Keeping Associates Informed
JM Family has a strong and effective internal communications program. Throughout the year, crisis communications are sent to all associates to help them always be equipped for a crisis or emergency situation. Additionally, hurricane preparedness “lunch and learns” are presented each year, featuring guest speakers, such as representatives from the American Red Cross, and meteorologists from local news stations. We also print helpful information on “table toppers” displayed in our cafes, continuously disseminate key messages through our intranet, and provide useful updates via JMFE-TV, our company-wide internal television system.
Emergency Control Center
We have also established an enterprise-wide four-digit emergency telephone number. It allows all associates to reach our emergency control center, which is manned 24x7x365. Based on the severity of the crisis, the Center redirects incoming calls to the appropriate enterprise group. From there, the CMT is engaged on a secure conference bridge to follow the plan and make critical decisions. The CMT shares significant updates via all-associate e-mails and voicemail messages.
Our associate hotline is an interactive, two-way communications system, accessed by associates over a dedicated toll-free number or through an online system. The hotline broadcasts continuous crisis-related updates to associates and receives critical feedback from them. At the core of its design is an 800 telephone number. Immediately following a crisis, all associates are required to call, text message, or log on to the Web site and report their personal safety, home damage status, etc. The number for the associate hotline is printed on the back of each associate’s ID badge so that it is always available.
After the crisis has passed, departmental calling trees are activated and associates begin to report in. The human resources department also activates its call center to contact associates who have not been accounted for in a reasonable amount of time. If after several hours there are associates who have not reported in, volunteer search and restoration teams go to the associates’ homes to determine their status. Team members bring with them company-provided restoration kits to provide associates in need with roof tarps, food items, flashlights, etc.
Like many companies, we deploy on-site and away teams as part of our planning. Once a crisis is anticipated, several teams move into action:
- On-site stay teams for a planned disaster work out of an emergency operations center at our company headquarters. In this way, they can provide quick evaluations of the impact on business following the all clear. The families and pets of team members are allowed in the center, which is a concrete building within a building, rated for 200 miles-per-hour winds.
- Pre-staged “go teams” for a planned crisis concentrate on giving technology recovery teams time to prepare and get in place.
- Pre-staged business resumption go teams for a planned crisis are deployed to the alternate workplace recovery site. They allow resumption of business functions without interruption, right through the impact.
When available, JM Family transports go teams using corporate aircraft. This expedites getting associates on site quickly and safely. We also transport family members of the go teams to alternate locations.
JM Family has several offices in hurricane-prone areas, therefore our hurricane-tracking and plans for anticipated crises are well exercised each year. To best track and forecast tropical weather that could pose a significant threat, JM Family uses software that estimates potential impact to a specific location and its timeframe. We use this software to proactively forewarn associates in the field or at our various business locations. Detailed tropical weather information allows us to better prepare for impacts and respond appropriately without overreaction.
There are also some outstanding emergency-notification tools on the market. At JM Family, we use one of them to send “blast notifications” to associates statewide, or tailor the notice to those at a specific site. This service can be used for evacuation, stay-in-place, or site closure notifications to associate communication devices. An intercom system is another valuable tool to alert not only associates, but also contractors or visitors who may be on site as well.
Why Make the Investment?
JM Family’s most critical business functions include customer-facing or auto-dealership facing systems. Our investment in these areas, once again, is not driven out of compliance, or loss of revenue. We do it because it’s the right thing to do for our business, and most of all, for our valued associates and customers.
We have some compliance requirements for customer financial systems. There are also medical record systems in conjunction with our on-site health and wellness centers. However, these are a fraction of all our business-critical systems. JM Family has learned through experience that crisis-related impacts usually cause more delayed revenue than a sustained monetary loss.
At JM Family, we have shifted away from hosted disaster recovery in lieu of building out an alternate data center. The purpose is to move towards high-availability architectures, better infrastructure load balancing, and increased flexibility with testing. This allows us to have full-time staff on site at recovery locations, thereby reducing the size and expense of away teams.
In addition, we developed an internally-built system with planned and unplanned flow diagrams that include swim lanes by enterprise group and hot links to the related plans and documents. The flows permit a good high-level summary of activities across the organization. This tool provides a way to maintain current Word and Visio documents, and Excel spreadsheets without having to retrain all the business-critical incident plan coordinators. It also allows for managed lists, which work well for contacts. This tool is hosted in-house and is replicated to an in-house hot site.
A feature that was developed along with this strategy is a micro jump drive that maintains an off-line copy of the site with the flows and all the related crisis management documentation. The jump drives are not much larger than a quarter and information within them are encrypted and password protected. All members of JM Family’s CMT and first responders keep this micro jump drive handy so they always have access to the offline documentation – including the entire crisis management plan – whether they are at home or traveling. Plugging the drive into any computer allows off-line access to all crisis plans. Light versions of Word and Excel are included on the drive in case that software is not installed on the hosted workstation. When back in the office, the users simply plug the drive into their company workstation and a menu pops up, asking if they would like to resynchronize their drive.
Relationships with Local Authorities
One additional factor that JM Family has prioritized is proactively strengthening our relationship with local authorities. Since their services can be vital during a crisis, JM Family has established contacts so we are prepared before a situation arises. For example, our company has agreed to store overflow of local emergency vehicles in our on-site parking garages as needed. Also, previously, when the city of our headquarters was temporarily without an active emergency operations center, we committed to allow use of our facility in the case of a declared emergency. This kind of collaboration is invaluable in a crisis situation, promotes community goodwill, and is reassuring to our associates.
From a practical point of view, a focus on crisis management raises awareness of critical business functions and drives cross training. Moreover, an approach based on concern for the well-being of associates helps create a higher quality process for business and customers.
As our company founder often said, “the future belongs to those who prepare for it.” At JM Family, being prepared for a crisis, and caring for our associates before, during, and after one will always be a priority. Compliance is important. However, so is doing the right thing by the people who keep your company up and running every day.
Shawn Berg is vice president, technology operations of JM Service Center, LLC – a division of diversified automotive company JM Family Enterprises, Inc. In this position, Berg is responsible for the overall implementation and operation of JM Family’s technology and information systems. Berg joined the company in 1993 as programmer analyst. He was promoted to director of site operations in 2000, and prior to being named to his current position, served as director of several core IT areas, including end-user services, technology planning, risk management, and project management office.