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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Is Your Toolbox Missing Consultants?

Efficiently Building a Preparedness

Capability While You Manage the Program

Consultants are a key staffing tool that should be part of every organization’s toolbox to address resource constraints. Clearly, some organizations are appropriately staffed to address the development, management, and continuous improvement of business continuity programs. However, many have too much work for too few people. For these organizations, or for those lacking a specific skill necessary to meet organizational objectives, consultants provide a powerful opportunity to optimize staffing and enable rapid program development and improvement.

Why Might You Need Consultants?

It’s important to recognize that business continuity planning is a complex endeavor. Yes, business continuity is a relatively straightforward concept, but it takes a unique set of skills and experiences to be successful. These skills and experiences include:

  • “Strategic” thinking
  • Project and task management
  • Analytics
  • Communications (verbal and written), and in many cases, with an emphasis on selling ideas and concepts
  • Process understanding
  • Business and/or technical acumen
  • Specialized concepts, such as Six Sigma, Lean, and ITIL

Can any one person have all these skills? Maybe (but most likely not). Are all of these skills needed in each and every organization 100 percent of the time? Most likely not. This is where consulting organizations offer a cost-effective opportunity for many organizations. Instead of acquiring or taking the time to build these skills and experiences, consulting organizations offer the opportunity to quickly meet short-term objectives.

Comparing the FTE and Consultant

toolboxThere is a distinct difference between full-time employees charged with long-term business continuity planning in an organization and consultants often engaged to perform specific tasks over a defined period of time. The following table highlights the comparison.

Failure to recognize these differences can lead to:

  1. Hesitation to engage a consultant, thus leading to delayed program performance improvements when a specific skill or experience does not exist in the organization
  2. Unclear roles and responsibilities, which may impact the success of the preparedness initiative

Recognizing these differences, as well as the diverse skills necessary to achieve success in most organizations, it’s not hard to argue that organizations – even those that employ full-time resources dedicated to business continuity planning – should evaluate consultative assistance in certain circumstances. In most cases, supplementing the planning team is significantly more cost-effective when compared to sourcing and retaining permanent personnel necessary to build preparedness capabilities.

Above all, consultants should not be viewed as competition when compared to full time business continuity professionals; rather, one way to achieve more with less.

Ideal Consultant Focus Areas

Organizations engage the services offered by consultants to:

  • Get started doing something that is outside its core competency;
  • Tackle an urgent task when internal staff are resource-constrained;
  • Mature a process or solution and achieve a level of performance that is eluding the organization;
  • Bring focus to an urgent need that is presently failing to meet management expectations.

Successfully Engaging a Consulting Organization

It’s not an accident when an organization successfully employs a consulting organization. Although many articles highlight the attributes associated with a strong consultant, I’d like to offer four keys to success in evaluating the need for consulting assistance and the process to use to choose an appropriate consulting partner.

  1. Assess the skills, experiences, and competencies you feel are necessary to achieve success over the short- and long-term in your organization.
  2. Perform a cost-benefit analysis regarding a decision to hire full-time resources to close preparedness gaps versus retaining the services of consultants to do the same over the short- to medium-term.
  3. Where it makes business sense, investigate consulting organization options – as well as independent consultants – that appear to share the perspectives you feel are key to success in your organization.
  4. Evaluate potential consultants based on skills, experiences, and, of equal importance, cultural fit; discuss how the consulting organization approaches knowledge transfer and how they approach performing as a member of an internal preparedness team.

Overall, build a business case that addresses:

  1. Speed of program implementation
  2. Resource spend (short through long-term), including an investment in developing the skills and experiences necessary to be successful
  3. Organizational focus

An Example

Three months ago, Organization X hired John to develop, implement, and manage its business continuity program. John (CBCP, MBCI) has 15 years of business continuity experience – about half of which was as a consulting firm employee. During his first three months with Organization X, he did what most new employees do:

  1. Participated in new hire orientation, including required training and paperwork;
  2. Established personal employment objectives that align to his new manager’s expectations;
  3. Learned the organization and met with various managers to get a sense of the culture;
  4. Read and studied organizational charts, annual reports, and other business documentation; and
  5. Attended staff meetings and other discussions designed to understand business continuity-related needs and requirements.

Collectively, these five activities consumed a significant portion of his time, which left very little opportunity for John to establish the foundational elements of the new business continuity program. He quickly realized that he needed some help over the short-term in order to build the program. He was confident he could eventually manage the program day-to-day. However if he were asked to build and manage the program, it would take a long time to meet even his short-term objectives.

As a result, John began building a business case to acquire consulting services to assist him with building the business continuity program, with the objective of transitioning management and maintenance activities from the consulting organization to internal resources within nine months.

Conclusions

I’m not arguing that consultants are the solution to all issues, nor am I advocating that consultants can replace the need for in-house business continuity professionals. Rather, I am advocating that consultants offer a cost-effective means of meeting management objectives.

Recently, I’ve heard several internal professionals argue that consultants are competition and it’s their responsibility to build, manage and maintain the program – even when resource-constrained. I would agree it is their responsibility. I would also argue there are times when additional resources, possessing unique skills, are necessary to achieve success.

Unfortunately, business continuity professionals often hesitate to ask or make the case for consultants because of the fear that they will be perceived as inadequate in their own job. In reality, with the right business case, in-house business continuity professionals can actually be perceived by management as finding and managing the right mix of resources to achieve program – and organizational – goals.

Overall, I think it’s important to point out that the best consultants are those that work to complement and elevate the work done by the in-house personnel, deliver on assigned objectives, transfer as much information to the organization as possible, and eventually – unless they are assigned a long-term supporting role – do everything possible to work themselves out of a job!

Brian Zawada, MBCP, MBCI, is a co-founder and the director of consulting services for Avalution Consulting, a firm specializing in business continuity solution design, development, implementation and long-term program maintenance efforts. In addition to having served as both a consultant and internal business continuity professional, Zawada is a frequent author and speaker, a member of the US Technical Advisory Group to ISO, a former member of the ASIS Standard Development Technical Committee, and the former President of the Northern Ohio Chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners.