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Spring Journal

Volume 32, Issue 1

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Are you having trouble getting the support and recognition your business continuity program needs? Do your executives only give you lip service? Worse yet, do they just expect you to get everything done without their help?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to take more drastic measures to engage them in your program. Here are five actions you can take to improve your situation.

1. Don’t assume they are experts on BC. Find out how much they know.

Many program managers think their executives understand the depth and breadth of business continuity. But this is a relatively new industry, so executive impressions of business continuity are directly related to how much they have learned. With their busy schedules, this particular topic has probably not occupied their time more than a couple of hours. Consequently, their knowledge is limited to who they’ve talked to.

If your IT organization began the effort, perhaps your executives assume that the program consists of implementing back-up data storage and retrieval strategies. If your safety managers have introduced the topic, perhaps your executives are focused on emergency response. If your facilities department has raised the issue, your executives are probably thinking building safety. Each of these disciplines provides only a glimpse into the subject.

Suggested Action: Take the time to find out what your executives really know about business continuity planning. Ask them directly what they believe it entails. Then fill in the gaps in their knowledge by providing presentations, white papers, or whatever means will work best within your corporate culture.

2. Take one bite at a time.

Once you know what your executives really do or don’t know about business continuity, it’s time to take stock of what others have done before you. Whether you have executive approval or not, you can’t progress until you know what components are already in place and what is missing. Do you have a life-safety program? Does IT have a systems and telecommunications recovery plan? Do your facilities managers have instructions on how to turn off the utilities?

What about the hazards and risks your organization faces? Do you know what natural or man-made hazards are most likely to occur in your geography? What business functions are critical for your organization to continue? How soon do they need to begin?

Suggested Action: Approach the project methodically, laying out each step and educating yourself first. Your executives want to know that you are becoming their resident expert, and to do so you will need to become more familiar with the business from their perspective while you also learn about the hazards in your area. Take advantage of this early period to learn all there is to learn about both. Your local city or county emergency manager will be a ready source of information about your geography and the history of events that have affected others in the past.

3. Put your executive sponsor in the driver’s seat.

Your executives will be more involved if they understand their roles. Take advantage of every interaction with your executives to educate them further about how the program will develop and evolve. Help them understand that this is a cooperative effort among all, not a project assigned just to the coordinator.

Suggested Action: When you are ready to set up interviews with key managers, use your sponsor’s organizational clout to set expectations about what will occur in these interviews and how these managers should prepare for their time with you. Compose an introductory letter that introduces your program and ask your executive sponsor to sign it. Summarize the benefits of the program and describe the steps of the interview process. When you take the letter in for signature, be prepared to explain to your sponsor what you are doing and why it is important that the right people are interviewed. If possible, offer to deliver an executive briefing before the interviews begin to provide all with an overview of the process, and answer any questions they may have.

4. Give your executives ammunition.

Once you understand what already exists and the hazards and risks the organization faces, you will be able to determine the gaps in your program, but this is not the only information your executives are waiting to hear. An important part of your job is to understand the significance of what is missing, translating it into a proposition they can use. Your executives will not choose to spend discretionary funds until you make this business case clear and compelling.

Suggested Action: Don’t allow your executives to view your program as something “nice to do.” Do your homework well to give your executives knowledge and ammunition to use to convince the organization this program is critical to the business strategy.

5. Keep your executive sponsor in the limelight

You can count on executives to aggressively protect and nurture their programs. Giving your executive sponsors the spotlight during the initial stages of building your program makes you a hero in their eyes and gives them a strong incentive to help you maintain the momentum of your program.

Suggested Action: Using your executives to introduce the agenda at project orientation sessions, having them sign authorization letters to all executives, and making them physically visible at key activities are all a part of keeping your program in the forefront. Let your executive sponsors take the limelight by publishing pictures of these events in the company newsletter. Surround the project with publicity, reinforcing its importance through visual evidence of your top executives’ support. Your recognition will come later, when all of the myriad of details are in place to make it a true success.

Judy Bell is the co-founder and CEO of Disaster Survival Planning Network (DSPN). She is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) through the International Association of Emergency Managers, and a member of the American Society of Professional Emergency Planners (ASPEP). As a division manager for Pacific Bell, Bell directed the activities of 2,400 employees and was responsible for all central offices and data services within area codes 213 and 310 (Los Angeles), as well as all long distance services within Southern California. During the Whittier Earthquake of 1987, Bell, as EOC chair, coordinated the overall restoration of the Pacific Bell public telephone network. She has participated with industry associations at national and international levels, and, in 1991, authored the first book on business continuity for the private sector, “Disaster Survival Planning: A Practical Guide for Businesses.”

Steven P. Craig is DSPN’s co-founder and chief operating officer. He is a Certified Business Continuity Planner (CBCP) through the Disaster Recovery International Institute and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) through the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium. Craig has participated with industry associations at local chapter and national levels, and, has published numerous articles relevant to the industry. Steve is one of the initial developers of the California State University Fullerton certificate program in business continuity and emergency management. Prior to his consulting career, Craig was chief information officer for The Geneva Companies, a major mergers and acquisitions company, and director of information systems for Silicon Systems.