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Fire, flood and vomit: Defeating the Great White Whale of Fail

Got a plan? Better get one quick

The BC team

You should, therefore, have a BC team. It mustn't be any bigger than necessary, but it does have to be big enough to get the job done during a prolonged crisis.

The members of the team need to have personalities that fit within a team (no prima donnas, thanks); they need to understand the processes and procedures associated with your particular BC arrangements (more about that in a bit); and you must ensure that at least a goodly number of them have a problem-solving head on their shoulders.

By all means, split the team into two: a core crisis management team that deals with the crisis while the remainder deal with the business-as-usual work, albeit with a bit of prioritisation.

If you're wondering what I mean about the latter, take the example of the accounts payable team. If, during your crisis, you have a BC suite that only has space for half your AP team, you're only going to be able to process half the payments you normally would on a given day. Hence you have the opportunity to prioritise payments to more sensitive suppliers over those you know can wait a while.

When you choose your core crisis management team, don't be tempted to simply include all the senior management or directors. The more senior the manager the less familiar they're likely to be with the ins and outs of actually getting the job done.

I was once part of a BC simulation in which one of the fictitious “problems” was that the entire company board was marooned on another continent because the flights were all cancelled. In fact, this didn't matter a jot because the team was chosen from pragmatic middle-ranking people who had the balls to step up and make decisions.

The core capabilities you must include whilst catering for all of the above are communication and co-ordination.

Communication is key because you need to keep staff updated with progress, and perhaps put notices on your company website to keep customers appraised that any problems they're seeing are being dealt with.

I mentioned previously that you might not be able to pay suppliers as quickly as hoped, so perhaps someone could be given the task of calling or emailing some of the ones whose cheques are delayed.

If you're in a company with a significant public image (I presently work for a phone company, but I have peers who've worked in major TV and radio companies too) then you'll need to have a PR aspect to the team – if you're a telly company, for instance, and you have a big outage you can be sure the local competition's news team will be flinging mud at your reputation before long.

Co-ordination is equally important because in a crisis things can change incredibly quickly. You need to be able to react quickly, but to do that you need to be able to ensure that items that get de-prioritised don't get forgotten. Bring along a couple of your best organisers, then, to ensure continuity.

Some BC processes

Any business crisis has two types of activity: stuff that you need to do which can be procedural and executed according to a process document; and stuff that you simply have to do on the hoof.

The call-out list is an obvious procedural example. When a crisis is declared, someone must have the responsibility of initiating the call-out. This should be based on a cascade model, where the initiator calls perhaps three or four people, each of whom calls three or four people, and so on. Each person has a nominated deputy to cater for holiday and sickness.

This not only can be documented in black and white but in fact it must be – you can't figure it out on the hoof. Document everything documentable, and ensure that the people involved have the information in a form that they can access even if all the systems are down. Only stuff that can't be documented should be done ad hoc.

And of course a lot of what you'll do is ad hoc. You can't possibly document to the nth degree everything that might happen, because no two crises are the same. Hence the comment about including people who have a talent for solving problems – pragmatic individuals who have a decent balance of thoughtfulness and decisiveness.

In most crises – both real and simulated – I've been involved in over the years we've had a succession of instances where a piece of information has arrived and we've had to do something based on it.

The best results have been achieved by having a small group of individuals discuss the ins and outs for just a few minutes then make a decision about what to do. As in normal life, a decision is seldom final and you can tweak the direction slightly later on if things change.

One other thing about processes: keep them updated. It's a complete ball-ache, particularly things like call-out lists, but if something's in bad shape when you come to use it you're stuffed.

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