Posted on 12 Apr 2020
Every incident has a people aspect and the fact that a business continuity plan (BCP) requires individuals to respond effectively and quickly in some potentially extreme circumstances – and to adapt and perform under stress – means HR must be involved in shaping the plan from the start.
Rule #1: hope for the best, plan for the worst
Many SMEs have learned the hard way that Business Continuity Plans (BCP) are not just for large corporations and financial institutions. On 24 March, when the government announced an immediate 3-week lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19, the majority of small business owners had to think on their feet to ensure their company’s survival.
Irrespective of the cause, whether it be a pandemic such as Covid-19, a natural disaster, data breach, cyber attack or IT system failure, the fallout can have a huge and devastating effect on an organisation. It might result in an apparently established business reverting to look more like a start-up, and, at the very extreme, not existing at all.
What is a business continuity plan?
A BCP proactively defines the action you need to take to recover from (and in some cases prevent) extreme events that could result in a significant downturn in sales, reputational damage, or supply chain disruption, for example. The process of writing a BCP will force you to develop a strategy to communicate effectively with clients, suppliers and other stakeholders; stabilise and operate key business functions, and establish a process to ensure decisions continue to be made by the right people at the right time, based on up-to-date management information.
Business continuity plans add value
It’s all too easy to put off writing a BCP because more immediate operational issues take priority and you might have been living under the mistaken belief that disasters only happen to other companies. Equally, you might have viewed BCP purely as a cost instead of a value-added activity that could give your business a competitive advantage in a time of crisis.
Top 8 HR considerations for business continuity planning
1. Have clear, accessible communication channels been established to ensure employees know what’s happening?
Your BCP should incorporate a systematic communication process to ensure all employees have a common understanding about the action the business is taking to address the situation and their role in making it happen. If they are left in the dark, they will fill the vacuum with grapevine rumour and are likely to assume the worst.
2. Have employees been cross-trained in critical areas to protect against a loss of specific skills?
This could mean the difference between a total loss of order fulfillment capability and priority sales channels remaining open. An up-to-date succession plan would pay dividends now in this respect because it would identify those individuals with the potential to take on new accountabilities temporarily. They probably will not know the whole job, but their broad knowledge and experience of the business will help them to keep the show on the road.
3. Have you invested in systems and procedures to enable employees to work remotely?
These will build-in business resilience, and boost customer confidence and employee morale. Customers and employees depend on and trust in your company’s ability to weather storms; their confidence will be lost and the business is likely to pay the price if it grinds to an apparently unnecessary halt in the face of a crisis. Once their confidence is lost, it will be an uphill struggle to regain it and is likely to result in customers switching suppliers and high employee turnover.
4. Is your employee contact data correct, including next-of-kin, and is it accessible?
You hope you will never need this information but cannot afford to be without it. Obtaining employees’ next-of-kin contact details should be standard as part of your recruitment administration process. Under the terms of GDPR, you have a legitimate business reason to hold a next-of-kin’s personal data and do not need their express consent to do so.
5. Do your contracts of employment include a flexibility clause to allow for changes e.g. remote working or lay-off?
If they don’t, and you alter terms and conditions of employment without consultation, you could find yourself in breach of contract. Engaging your employees in two-way communication early on is the most effective way of setting out the commercial reasons for your proposal and obtaining their support for making temporary changes to their terms and conditions.
6. Do the selection criteria for making roles redundant factor in the critical skills needed for a scaled down operation?
You should establish a fair and defensible selection process to ensure you retain the right skills both now and for the future. This is a commercial balancing act because it involves weighing up the benefits of an immediate reduction in overhead costs, when cost reduction might be a key priority, with the potential effects of the long-term loss of expertise and business knowledge.
7. Has the BCP been communicated at all levels so all employees know the part they play in making it happen?
An effectively executed BCP will ensure the time lag between the actual event and implementation of the plan is kept to a minimum. This is important to stem quickly any potential financial losses, reputational damage and loss of confidence amongst stakeholders, including customers, suppliers and employees.
8. Is there an Employee Assistance Programme in place for employees to access for confidential help and advice?
It is important to open up a range of different communication channels to support employees through crises. When employees are supported in this way, they will feel valued and it will help to reduce absences and aid retention after an incident.
All companies, regardless of their size, will have learned lessons as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. They might have paid the price for not having a BCP in the first place or gaps in their existing BCP may have been exposed. The stakes are very high, either way, so as soon as the dust begins to settle all business leaders have an accountability to establish a robust BCP in light of their recent experience and test it annually to ensure it remains relevant.
To find out more about how HR can support the BCP for your business, get in touch!