The pandemic saw the slashing of corporate spending on professional development activities for business continuity staff. Most companies were glad to pocket the savings in the face of the many new stresses they confronted.
Whether and to what extent that funding will be restored remains to be seen.
Obviously, this question is of vital importance to us at DRJ. We just concluded our DRJ Fall 2021 virtual conference, Resiliency in a Time of Rebuilding. This was our third virtual conference since the pandemic began and a great success; however, we are determined to return to our 35-year tradition of live, in-person conferences.
Our next conference, DRJ Spring 2022: Resiliency Transformed, is scheduled for March 20-23, 2022, at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando.
At this odd juncture in the life of our industry, I thought it would be interesting to check in with a few of the members of the DRJ Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) to see what they had to say about these issues.
We connected with five members of our busy 15-member board: James Green, co-founder of the Resilience Think Tank; Ray Holloman, consulting BC administrator at HCA Healthcare; Joe Layman, president of the Orange County Chapter of the Association of Continuity Professionals; Margaret Millett, global resilience senior manager at Uber Technologies; and Matt Ziska, an environmental health and safety director and chair of the EAB.
Our conversations touched on four topics: the pandemic-era BCM budget shrinkage, the pros and cons of web-based BCM conferences, the benefits of live BCM events, and strategies for getting management to restore funding for professional development.
The group agreed on the effects of the pandemic on professional development funding.
“For most companies, training and travel was taken out of the budget,” said Millet. “Most organizations have taken it as a savings.”
“A lot of companies, after not having that line item for two years, are not going to put it back in,” said Layman.
The group members saw a mix of pros and cons on the topic of virtual DRJ conferences.
“Virtual conferences allow people to attend events all over the world they normally couldn’t attend,” said Green. He cited their lower cost as another advantage.
But Green added there is an elephant in the room about web conferences.
“When you’re at a virtual conference, you’re still doing work calls, making lunch, and playing with the dog or cat,” he said. “I see them more as a glorified webinar.”
Other members of the group mentioned as other limitations to virtual conferences the cramped nature of online Q&As, the impossibility of bumping into colleagues, and the unnatural constraints of such conferences.
“I worry about Zoom fatigue,” said Hollomon.
What does the group think about traditional, in-person BCM conferences, as opposed to the web variety?
Their answers didn’t surprise me since I’ve been running such conferences for 35 years.
However, and for the same reason, they did gratify me.
In my opinion, resources spent sending BCM staff to top-tier events like our DRJ conferences is smart money.
The group shared this view.
“We get a lot of value from in-person conferences,” said Holloman. “At an in-person conference, I can talk to other people in the industry, in health care, in DR. A lot of ideas spark from having those conversations.”
Holloman added that sometimes at past conferences when he’s been having a problem, he’s met someone who has previously dealt with the same problem. “When that happens, I can reach out to them after the conference and pick their brain, or vice versa,” he said.
Ziska had a similar take on the subject.
“In-person conferences give people a chance to interact with their peers, share information, and learn from one another,” said Ziska. “They give people a chance to understand and increase their knowledge and get nuggets of information they can take back to their organizations to improve them.”
Millett emphasized the benefits of seeing and talking to people face to face.
“A lot gets accomplished sitting over a coffee with someone,” she said. “That’s where you can ask people, ‘What are your thoughts on what the speaker just said?’”
Millett pointed out that the personal contacts people typically make at live conferences can have a lasting value to them and their organizations.
“Getting in a conference room, seeing people face to face, it makes a world of difference,” she said. “You feel a lot more comfortable reaching out to the person” for help after you get home than you would if you hadn’t previously met them in person.
The unique power of in-person conferences to boost attendees’ professional knowledge was a point Layman brought up.
“Going to conferences not only keeps your certifications up to date,” he said, “it helps you keep you up on the latest trends and issues.”
Finally, Green pointed out that in-person conferences are more immersive and impactful than virtual events.
“When you go to a conference,” he said, “you actually go to a conference.”
“At a live conference, you have a lot more time to think and reflect, whether it’s in your room, on the plane, or in the car,” said Green. “You have time to think about what you’ve learned and what you want to implement when you get back to your company.”
Given the value of in-person business continuity events, coupled with the difficulty some may encounter in getting their companies to restore the budget for them, what is a BCM professional to do?
The group members agreed that it comes down to communicating the value of these experiences to management.
“We need to unlock leaders’ psychology to start thinking about sustainable preparedness,” said Ziska. “There has to be a sustainable model of funding so we’re not a reactive society, but one based on preparedness.”
Millett said it’s important that BCM professionals learn how to put a budget together.
“We tend to be very lean,” she said. “We need to keep putting into the budget the things we need: expanding the headcount, training and development for your team, conferences. Put everything including the kitchen sink in there.
“Attending conferences is something that needs to get added back into the budget process for 2022.”
Layman pointed out that events such as live conferences provide great value to companies, but that BCM professionals need to point this out.
“BCM saves companies money and protects revenue,” he said. “The SMEs can learn how to do that through conferences. The SMEs need to really sell that to the leadership, but they have to back it up.”
This point of view was shared by Green.
“Attending conferences is about bringing best practices back to the company,” he said. “It has a tremendous return. It’s important for people who want to attend conferences to explain this to their boss.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Thanks again to James Green, Ray Holloman, Joe Layman, Margaret Millett, and Matt Ziska for sharing their time and thoughts.
For more information about DRJ Spring 2022: Resiliency Transformed, March 20-23, 2022, at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, visit www.drj.com/spring2022.