If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we never know what’s around the corner. Businesses have faced severe disruption from events including:
- A pandemic that’s taken nearly three million people while causing over 100K businesses to shut their doors.
- Social unrest across the United States leading to more than a billion dollars in damage.
- An unprecedented wildfire season that burned 10.3 million acres (compared to 4.7 million the year prior).
- Several high-profile, state-sponsored cyber-attacks were affecting tens of thousands of businesses, intelligence agencies, and more.
Many businesses adapted to the changes that resulted from these events. And, of those that survived, many thrived. But why? Outside of being in the right business at the right time, such as Zoom, many companies excelled because they were agile and could adapt quickly. And, while Mercer reports that only about half of businesses have a business continuity plan, it’s often this type of thorough, proactive planning that helps companies successfully tackle the biggest challenges that come along. But how do businesses write a plan that will work when they need it?
Create a Business Continuity Plan
Business continuity planning requires companies to take a comprehensive assessment of their business, as they consider everything that could prevent them from continuing to operate if disaster strikes. Let’s look at the steps companies should take as they craft their plans.
Discuss continuity plan goals
Executives and key stakeholders should be involved in the planning phase along with department heads. Ideally, the plan should ensure that the business can keep employees safe and operations running no matter what happens (fire, cyberattack, trouble with a vendor). The company needs to address questions such as: if disaster strikes, how much downtime can the business afford? If equipment fails, how much data can the business afford to lose? What actions must the company take following a disaster, and what are the objectives? These need to be documented before moving on to the next phase.
Assign a team lead
The business continuity plan is something the entire organization will need to understand and participate in. As such, it’s wise to assign a team leader in charge of gathering critical pieces of information, ensuring that the plan is documented, and working with various people and departments to establish appropriate protocols. Once complete, these people may also help disseminate the plan to ensure that the entire company understands it.
This is a big step that covers the following categories:
- People: In terms of employees, who does what, how can they be contacted, and what is their role if something goes wrong? For vendors, who does the business depend on, and what will the fallback be if something goes wrong?
- Equipment: What equipment does what? Can it be put in a diagram and seen clearly how it all works together? What is the disaster recovery plan for things like desktops, servers, and so on? Is the business taking backups to prevent data loss? If equipment fails, does the company have a recovery plan to reduce downtime?
- Process: Does the business have documented standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything? Does each SOP include alternative strategies or a way to adapt if something goes wrong? For instance, consider the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure social distancing, healthcare providers changed their typical waiting room process by asking people to wait in their vehicles, where they’d check-in via text or phone call. It’s important to ensure processes aren’t so rigid they can’t be adapted.
Document the plan
At this point, the business should have the information it needs to document a plan. Though it may not be possible to create a plan covering every potential issue, the company can at least create a plan that covers the most common occurrences. What happens if there’s a large disaster? What about a significant data breach? What is the line of succession if something happens to an executive? What if a critical vendor closes? It’s essential to consider the most likely scenarios and document a plan for surviving them.
Test the plan
It’s important to schedule time to test various scenarios to ensure what has been planned is actionable and functional. Things like fire and earthquake drills might be obvious, but it’s also smart to test backup and recovery plans to ensure servers and other critical equipment can be restored promptly.
Start Planning Now
There’s no time to waste. Each day we hear about another data breach. News of droughts in the west brings fears that wildfire season will start even earlier. There are many unforeseen trials still to come. Now is the time to craft a thorough and flexible plan for handling them.