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Business continuity awareness raising: beating the ‘forgetting curve’

Most organizations run a periodic business continuity awareness session and most attendees forget the content within hours of leaving the session. In fact, many may have even ‘turned off’ during the session. Steve Dance looks at why this is and what organizations can do to improve in this area.

Business continuity awareness sessions may allow organizations to put a tick in the compliance box but they often don’t create any lasting impression in the minds of attendees; and then, when an incident occurs, very few people seem to know what do. The solution to this is often considered to be more training, more testing, but as the late Henry Ford once said, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. 

Putting colleagues through ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentations or e-learning courses with multi-choice questions just does not work in terms of creating lasting retention. When developing training and awareness content that is retained by attendees there are two major factors to consider:

Relevance
Is the content you are delivering relevant to the audience? Does it tell them what they need to know? When subject matter specialists develop and deliver training content, it’s easy to fall into the trap of evangelising what they do. It may be interesting to you, but does it really resonate with someone from sales or HR? Does it tell them what THEY need to know? Relevance is also enhanced when the content is specific to the organization. Bland, generic content won’t connect and will result in a lack of engagement. Including company specific references to places, people and risks creates pertinence for attendees.

The forgetting curve
The real enemy of all awareness programmes is the ‘forgetting curve’ – which means that if we don’t frequently and consciously apply new knowledge that we have acquired, we forget it. This very human trait is the root cause for the limited success of many awareness programmes (and it’s not just confined to business continuity programmes).  

The challenge with sustaining business continuity awareness is that very few people get involved with it on a day-to-day basis - but nevertheless need to be at a level of preparedness so that they are aware of actions to be taken in the event of a major operational incident or disruption. Scheduled classroom or e-learning sessions, though necessary, are not sufficient to keep awareness at the required levels. Ongoing support is the only way to prevent the forgetting curve trending towards zero. In fact, business continuity awareness needs to be considered as a process, not an event. This process needs to consist of both formal training sessions supported by a series of micro-learning interactions which keep levels of awareness at the desired levels by reversing the forgetting curve.

Here are some golden rules for delivering an awareness programme that actually influences behaviour:

  • To paraphrase the old saying ‘walk a mile in some else’s shoes’ – sit a while in someone else’s chair. The vast majority of people in your organization don’t need a presentation on the principles of business continuity – they need to know what to do in the event of a major incident. Business continuity coordinators may need different levels of training, particularly in terms the business continuity process in your organization.
  • Make your content as specific as you can to your organization. Show photographs of people in key roles, make sure content complies with your house style and if you want to use case studies, use case studies from your industry vertical.
  • Make up a logo that visualises a business continuity message. This creates a ‘touchstone’ that reminds your colleagues of the subject and facilitates retrieval of information. In the marketing world, logos form an important part of branding – they help to convey a message of what the brand stands for. Done well, this picture really can be worth a thousand words.
  • Make a schedule of micro-learning exercises so that the key learning concepts are re-enforced over time. These can include test messages from your incident notifications system (which helps to familiarise people with the incident notification process) and circulation of quick refence guides. 
  • Finally, using a little imagination can have a huge effect. Awareness raising does not always have to be delivered via traditional internal communications channels, instead, for example, you could use ambient advertising techniques to good effect. Ambient techniques deliver messages outside of normal media channels such by using everyday objects such as coffee cups, water bottles, mouse mats and various other desk accessories.  When messages are encountered in an out of context situation they can have a greater impact on awareness than traditional promotional channels.

A well prepared and responsive workforce can be your greatest asset during a major incident – and a well-crafted awareness programme can help you achieve this goal.

The author

Steve Dance is the Managing Partner of RiskCentric.


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