The subject of business continuity has never been more to the forefront in Ireland and the UK than this week. The so called Beast from the East and storm Emma have combined to cost many millions in damage and possibly hundred of millions in lost revenue and income. For businesses big and small there will have been lessons learned and mistakes made. In this article I want to talk about some of those lessons not just from a business point of view but also from an individual employee point of view. We all have a part to play in keeping our businesses afloat and learning lessons will become more important as the reality of these extreme weather events become more commonplace.
What is Business Continuity?
According to the Business Continuity Institute the definition of business continuity is ; ” having a plan to deal with difficult situations, so your organization can continue to function with as little disruption as possible” .
It is the process of planning for the worst case so that when the worst case happens everybody is on the same page. Many businesses would assume that it is only really relevant for large corporations but the recent bad weather will have harsh lessons in it for many. Business continuity does apply to large corporations but it also applies to small and medium businesses and even down to the level of individual employees. We all have a part to play in ensuring that our business (employer and employee) can operate safely in difficult times. We also have a part to play in identifying when it isn’t safe to operate and have a plan for this.
The security sector
The security sector has a particular role to play in this area. We are meant to be the industry leaders in security and safety issues yet this weather event has exposed flaws in many companies. I have been inundated with messages up until today from people in security who still don’t know if they will be paid for their time off during the status red event. Many of the clients will have been reliant on security to show up to operate a business and in many cases clients just closed leaving the security company and provider with very little information. For security providers I think it is most definitely time to accept that these weather events are no longer uncommon and start planning in consultation with clients and employees.
Many companies will be taking a look at themselves this week. Some will take the ‘ah sure we got through it grand’ approach and others will use it to learn and improve. I know which one I would rather have protecting my business. If I was throwing out advice this week to companies (and I gotten quite a number of queries) I would suggest a couple of things.
1. Draw up some policies. In particular an extreme weather policy, inability to fulfil contracts policy and probably most importantly a managing absence due to emergencies policy. Not having a policy to fall back on leaves the company, it’s clients and it’s staff in limbo.
2. Discuss these policies with your staff. In all of the queries regarding payment and deployment of staff in the past week one word is crucial. That word is consultation. Consult with your staff about how your priorities, expectations and how payment will be treated. Once everybody knows where they stand nobody can complain.
3. Design a communications strategy. The sound of silence from the security industry during the event was deafening. Staff didn’t know where they stood. Look at how the large players in the corporate world operate. Many had a clearly defined plan and the key to their plan was communication. They had pre-designed methods of communicating their status throughout the event to all stakeholders. The important word is pre-designed. Coming up with a communication strategy in the middle of the event pointless. Plan now and have communication templates pre-designed. You have enough to worry about during a crisis.
Also consider investing in cloud based technology so you can run a security provision and liaise with your management team from your living rooms. It doesn’t cost nearly as much as you might think.
4. Resource for the worst. Extra cold and extra wet weather is here to stay. Consider your choice of uniform and PPE into the future. Investment now could reap benefit in the future. What about your company or patrol vehicles? I’ve seen at least 5 photos and videos of Small hatchback vans with 1.4litre petrol engines used as patrol vehicle which either wouldn’t start or couldn’t operate in the weather. One video shows a security operative digging his patrol van out of snow with his bare hands. Again investment in vehicles and equipment such as shovels, tow ropes and warm weather gear could be the value added that you supply to your clients in the future.
These are only a start point to start considering business continuity. There is so much more to consider over the coming weeks to future proof your service delivery in times of national crisis.
All of the emphasis and the blame for recent poor weather events can’t be laid squarely with companies. As employees we also have to begin planning for the future. Let’s face facts here. As a nation we are poorly equipped to deal with such weather events and we have to get better. We can’t continue to shut down security provision ( which is an essential service) during weather events. From my experience of training and working in colder and more extreme weather climates where they just get on with things I know it’s not impossible. Some things to consider.
1. This wont be popular with some but it’s true. If your employer closes and can’t provide you with work and there is no policy in place to govern this then absolutely you should be paid for that time missed. On the flip side if can’t make it to work because public transport shuts down that’s not your employers fault. It’s yours. You were hired on the condition that you can get to work. Now is the time to start considering that for the future. Plan for contingency travel or consult with your employer and advise that you can’t make it in and come to some arrangement to make sure you don’t lose out on pay. You can’t be penalised from a disciplinary perspective but there is no divine right to be paid either.
2. We now have plenty of advance notice of these weather events so plan for the worst. Have a plan and prepare for getting to work, feeding yourself’ power outages and an inability to get home again. Pack a bag of gear just in case. In colder climates they have a saying; There is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing”. Consider things like offering to do double or triple shifts for overtime and getting additional time off after the event. This builds both time off and goodwill at once.
3. Don’t be stupid. Despite what I’ve said above if it isn’t safe to do something then don’t do it. Accept that you will miss work, be down pay or take a holiday day rather than two weeks in hospital. Don’t be pressured into being unsafe. You have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions and you can’t be disciplined for it. You may lose a days pay but so be it. Last Thursday night a small number of nightclubs opened and expected staff to work. Now I can understand a Hospital or high value site asking staff to travel for secure essential assets but asking staff to come in so you can make a meagre profit for some drunken revellers is just ridiculous.
These points may not seem like business continuity to you but they are. They all help to keep the operation moving safely or identify risks to the organisations ability to perform.
This is not a critical article. The work put in by the ladies and gentlemen of this industry in the last week has been amazing and we should be very proud of it. Give everybody a big round of applause and congratulate yourselves for a job well done. Once that’s done let’s knuckle down and analyse our performance and how we can improve for next time. We can always improve and events like this highlight our flaws more than our successes. Let’s not allow the next event do the same thing.
STAT SAFE AND WELL DONE EVERYBODY