Prepare a “What If” Strategy to Guard Against Disasters

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Is your business disaster-ready? Every day, businesses deal with the unexpected, from malware attacks and data breaches to natural disasters, such as floods or fires. While many of these disasters may be beyond your control, what you can control is how you plan for them.

Best of Times, Worst of Times

During “business as usual”, a robust process management discipline and a strong process culture provide a firm foundation for teams to document and develop new and innovative ways of working. Most businesses focus on the processes that influence daily operations: financial management, project management, customer experience, human resources, workflow, and so on.

When managed well, these processes provide clear and helpful instructions to teams on how to carry out their different responsibilities. They also allow for improvements in the quality and consistency of day-to-day execution and, for some teams, drive innovation and competitive advantage.

But do your teams know what processes to follow if there is an emergency? What happens if you lose your internet access or your phones go down? What do you do if half of your team can’t make it into the office because of severe weather? Who answers inquiries if your customer service center is suddenly without power?

Take Preventative Action

Over a third of businesses admit that they don’t have an updated disaster recovery plan in place. That number is as high as 75 percent among small businesses. While the nature and impact of disasters may differ, there are certain business scenarios business owners can, and should, plan for in advance. Here are a few crucial points to consider if you don’t already have a disaster recovery plan in place (and maybe even if you do).

The time to plan for a disaster is not while it is happening. There’s too much at risk for companies try to invent a plan while they’re responding to a crisis, particularly when an insufficient disaster response can translate into loss of data, revenues, jobs, reputation, or, in the case of natural disasters, life.

“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” should form the basis of any contingency plan. In the event of downtime, think about access to places of work, employee safety, business connectivity, product recalls, data back-up and retrieval, and flexible working.

Every team member should know when and how to trigger a disaster recovery response, as well as who else is part of the team.

Hardwire Your Processes

Business process management (BPM) can play an indispensable role in helping businesses prepare for, deal with, and recover from the numerous challenges caused by both natural and man-made disasters.

Once you’ve identified common “what-if” scenarios and estimated the likely repercussions they would have on the business, you will need to develop new sets of processes for different teams to follow if those “what-ifs” become a reality. For example, how will teams communicate with other staff or customers if they are unable to get into the office? What steps are in place to allow you to divert IT systems and data flows to another location if the physical office is unavailable due to a power outage, broadband issues, or a break-in?

The true test of a robust process is when those who need to follow it are under extreme stress. Emergency situations demand rapid decision-making and unequivocal process execution. Every business should always strive to design processes that are easy and clear for all personnel to find and follow, however processes that enable teams to act with minimum delay become absolutely critical in a disaster situation.

Cut Complexity with Checklists and Dress Rehearsals

It may sound basic, but well-designed checklists can improve outcomes for teams responding to a calamity or extraordinary incident.

Businesses also need to assess how and where to store this critical process information, how it can be accessed, and whether it provides adequate support for teams to respond appropriately and quickly when a crisis happens.

Simulation exercises are a necessity to help a business rehearse the measures everyone needs to take during an emergency. Unfortunately, while many companies spend considerable time building a response plan, few actually test their plan or update it regularly. With today’s pace of business change, that could be a recipe for disaster. A plan that might have been ideal two years ago will at best be less effective today, and at worst useless if processes have not been updated to reflect business changes or new threats.

It is imperative to assign process owners and experts to all of your processes, schedule regular reviews, make changes as necessary, and communicate these to all stakeholders. Make sure sufficient resources are in place to fully implement the plan should a disaster occur, and test the plan and processes internally with regular drills so it remains fresh in everyone’s minds.

Get Your Teams Involved

With the prevalence of natural and man-made disasters, no business can afford to think “this won’t happen to us” or rely on knee-jerk reactions to get through. Advance preparation and business readiness can make a tremendous difference to your customers, your employees, and your future performance when a crisis strikes.


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Author: Sarah Berkowski

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