Friday, 30 August 2013

The Sum of the Parts...

Have you noticed the recent chatter about divorcing continuity and risk management?  It seems to me that this mindset is anchored in a cloudy, blinkered mentality.  At R2 we're really clear about the value of both risk management and continuity, and more importantly about how they fit together and, backed by a capable and flexible team, how they produce resilience.  We're not renowned for our algebra, but there's one formula we know works well. R + C2 = Resilience; that is to say, combining effective Risk management, Continuity management and a Capability vested in people provides real Resilience.

As business owners its obvious to us that business and risk go hand in hand, both in terms of understanding the risks you are presented with and in relation to the amount of risk you are prepared to take to achieve your goals.  Fair to say therefore that if you're running an organisation you're involved in risk.  Accepting that risk is the 'effect of uncertainty on objectives' it stands to reason that being able to deal with this uncertainty, reduce it when possible and respond when it disrupts are crucial skills for any organisation.  Its a mistake to expect risk management and continuity to work independently; in fact its our view that continuity management provides key tools that form a key element of the overall risk strategy.

To explain; there is no point in assessing the risk of every conceivable eventuality when its the risk to those things that are most crucial to your success (processes, information, resources) that should occupy your conceptual and physical efforts. In other words if the risk has no bearing on your short or long term business objectives then why manage it?  Best to focus on what matters most.  Business continuity's business impact assessment provides a great vehicle for developing this focus at the strategic, tactical and operational levels.  Done properly it provides a focus for risk, relevant to the whole organisation and its objectives, not just to continuity or operations.  Similarly continuity strategies and plans provide the treatment for many risks, both in terms of mitigation and response.  In these regards, risk and continuity work very well together to achieve resilience; keep these two disciplines in silos at your peril.

More importantly, despite the best risk management efforts, there's no such thing as 'risk free' if you're going to make progress; ships are safest in the harbour, but that's not really what ships are for.  So, given that you will be setting sail, its essential to have the resilience to recognise, monitor and deal with uncertainty and residual risk (the risk that you know is there but cant remove) as well as being resilient enough to deal with those unexpected and unforeseen risks (events that 'blindside' you).  In this regard its the capability of your people and the flexibility of your plans that will see you through the unforeseen.

Risk, continuity and capability: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Break the silos and combine these components for real resilience.

(With thanks to John McKee from Linkubator for the ships metaphor!)  

Friday, 16 August 2013

Lessons from Christine, Usain and Mo...


Did you see Christine Ohuruogu win her gold medal this week?  Incredible.  It was a display of determination and a world beating performance pulled from the top drawer when it mattered most.  Usain Bolt produced his magic again and Mo Farah just completed a double double - two golds at both the Olympics and the World Championships.  Of course these athletes are only  three amongst hundreds who have been preparing for years to achieve success under the most intense pressure.    

We could all learn a thing or two from all of these athletes, especially in relation to crisis management.  In our conversations with many shapes and sizes of businesses we sometimes come across those companies and individuals who think that when the crisis strikes (and it will one day) the crisis teams will simply leap from behind their desk and, with some mystical powers, conquer the crisis.  Seriously...these people do exist; I've had the conversations.

"Let me tell you sonny, we'll be fine.  I've been in business for over twenty years and not much gets past me.  We don't need a plan and we certainly don't have the time to practice."  Or the age old classic "Of course we have a plan... I think we exercised it a few years ago."

I wonder how many gold medals Usain, Christine and Mo would be wearing if they adopted the same approach?  How on earth can it be possible to avoid meaningful practice and preparation and expect to win when the stakes are highest?  Whether its the Olympics, the World Championships or the equally high pressure atmosphere of a crisis, the simple truth is that failing to prepare only leads to defeat.

So the lesson is simple.  If you want your business to avoid meltdown  in the midst of a crisis, its essential to prepare as thoroughly as you can.  And that means having a plan that fits your business; not a copy of someone else's or a template from the internet.  It means having people who understand their roles and responsibilities in a crisis and above all it means training your people and putting the whole lot through their paces regularly.  Make your training as realistic as you can and judge the progression - Rome wasn't built in a day.  By training and practising your teams will know what to do in a crisis - they'll perform on the big occasion.  More importantly they'll develop the confidence and flexibility to be able to cope with the unexpected.  And, by it's very definition your crisis will involve the unexpected, so you need to be ready or you don't stand a chance.

So learn from the World Champs.  Preparation leads to success under the most intense pressure, amongst hungry competitors who want to defeat you.  And remember, a plan that hasn't been exercised is no plan at all - its the capability that counts.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Decision Making or Analysis Paralysis?

How's Your Crisis Navigation...?

A crisis brings many pressures to bear.  Leaders at all levels will be faced with choices about the 'least worst' option, with little time, inadequate resources and sparse information upon which to rely; they'll have to navigate the challenges of the crisis.  The path ahead won't be clear.  And quite often crisis leaders run the risk of becoming trapped by their need for certainty and simplicity, while the crisis provides for neither.  In these circumstances it's easy to become stunned into indecision, searching for a complete picture, overwhelmed by the 'noise' and making little progress.  

US Air Force pilot, John Boyd, expressed the logic of his decision making in aerial combat as the 'OODA Loop' - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  Observation is about improving your awareness of the situation, whilst accepting you won't gain a complete picture.  Orientation talks to 'sense making' of what you've observed, relating it to what you already know and to your experience. Options might be generated at this point and tough choices follow.  Decisions are sometimes easier said than done, but decisions there must be if any progress is to be made.  And for all of this to have any effect, the decisions must generate coherent actions that lead to progress.  Don't forget it's a loop, so after the action there'll be more observation to see the effect of the action, and so begins another cycle of the loop... you get the picture.

Simple as this may sound in theory, many crisis teams struggle to provide themselves with quality information, making their decisions more difficult and less likely to have a positive effect. To help your crisis team make optimal decisions it's key that they are neither swamped (leading to paralysis) nor misled (leading to irrelevant decisions).  They should be presented with as clear a picture as possible based on the right information (filtered - not every possible piece of information) and anchored through the key issues in play.  And that's where many teams come unhinged; they have neither a system of  information management, nor the means to bring it to bear.  The more complex your organisation the more of a problem this is likely to create.  It's therefore key to have a system that coordinates the OODA loop effectively to give the decision makers the information they need to make relevant decisions that will have a positive effect.  

Our recent piece of thought leadership draws on some experience in designing and delivering just such a system; in fact a whole crisis management facility and the accompanying procedures were designed and built around this very logic. All that's needed to help your crisis decision making is the means to gather information, filter it, join it together and present it effectively - all enabled by a skilled team and some well thought through and rehearsed procedures.  OODA - not paralysis. 


Monday, 5 August 2013