There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether business continuity as a profession needs to take a more strategic role in organizations. Luke Bird FBCI CRISC gives his view of the current situation and the development that is needed within the profession.
Is business continuity really becoming more strategic? This is something that has really been bugging me recently. As a professional, I don’t feel particularly strategic. If anything, I’d describe myself as a ‘perpetual doer’. I have never really once considered strategy in my day job/s (maybe when writing out the context of the organization section of a management system and aligning to strategic goals). I feel that my strategic mindset is probably one of my weakest skills.
I believe business continuity is not as strategic as it thinks.
Skills to pay the bills but is that enough?
For those who can still get their hands on it (I found it on some random file sharing site here), the Business Continuity Institute questioned 20 professionals in their 20s as part of its 20th anniversary. They asked us about the future of business continuity. It was 2014 and I said...
“Ultimately, I would expect that by 2020 our profession will have on offer a wider selection of cost-effective training opportunities that add tangible value to our junior professionals but also combine a healthy hybrid of academic and vocational learning. We need to influence the development of vocational learning in the coming years so that newly qualified individuals are better equipped to begin their career than simply being able to recount the BC lifecycle and a handful of case studies...More work needs to be done to widen the focus of learning from theory to practical skills if this anticipated growth is realised.”
At the time I could recite the professional exam materials and the Good Practice Guidelines and this served me well in my junior roles – doing ‘stuff’. At the time I wasn’t alluding to developing my strategic skills either, I was talking about delivery-focused skills. I perceived anything else other than the process as chasing butterflies and not getting stuff done. However, as I’ve progressed in my career, I feel like the point I made in 2014 is just as true now. I need to learn and develop my strategic thinking and business strategy skills.
What are strategic skills?
A Forbes article from 2019 caught my attention when I was looking for a good definition. The key paragraph from that is as follows:
“Defined as the process that determines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others, strategic thinking is basically the ability to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Developing a strategic approach is not always easy as it is as much a mindset as a set of techniques. However, it does result in the main difference between an average and an exceptional achiever.”
I underline the last part of that quote because I believe that is the game changer. I have spent the last few years being conscious that my strategic thinking needs development. In my career, the people I see getting to the top table (with or without resilience) are strong strategic thinkers. I think it is vital to develop this skill as a continuity and resilience professional.
The Business Continuity Institute’s Core Competency Framework rightly points to strategic activities as part of its advanced rating system when performing a self-assessment. It also advises that any framework should always be aligned to the strategic objectives of the organization. I have also known this for years and I typically try to align any wording and the priority of services into policy wording and the wider approach. However, this doesn’t really develop my strategic skillset, does it?
The Harvard Business School talks about strategic thinking as:
“…skills that are among the most highly sought-after management competencies. Why? Because employees capable of thinking critically, logically, and strategically can have a tremendous impact on a business’s trajectory.”
Their article goes on to explain that strategic skills are a combination of analytical, communication, problem solving, and planning skills. I would argue that you could apply those skills to any effective continuity planner. I definitely didn’t have these skills at the beginning of my career but I can certainly align myself to a few of them now. Although, that being said, just by way of writing this article, I can now see the key areas I need to address.
The Harvard Business Review back in 2013 also identifies that the ability to anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, align, and learn are essential skills of the ‘adaptive strategic thinker’. Again, I feel closer to these now than in my more junior professional years so maybe it’s a maturity/growth thing?
Idea! – I’m spotting a trend as I write this. Should we be offering the junior professional community specifically more training course material, targeted mentoring, and/or literature in this space?
Optimism during our moment in the sun or not the full story?
I heard that the BCI had recently published a new report on the future of business continuity. There was a good turnout of over 450 professionals who participated, with 50 percent of them working exclusively in business continuity. There is a lot of content and comments available in the report, by the way, so well worth a look.
One of the things that I had heard prior to reading the report was that business continuity professionals are becoming more strategic, which I was excited to read more about based on my own development goals. Although, I have to admit when comparing it to my view of things I didn’t entirely agree.
The main point I took from the report is that the business continuity professional is arguably benefiting from the recent impact of COVID on their organizations. The report suggests more buy-in across disparate departments, more information-sharing, and more senior sponsorship and representation at board level. Doesn’t this happen every time something bad happens, though?
Of course, a report that comes out of a business continuity professional organization is going to say that; and that it’s a good news story.
In many organizations, we are likely to be enjoying our moment in the sun. However, that’s not just because of COVID though, is it? A wave of operational resilience requirements in financial services is looming and this particular sector is really paying attention at all levels. They can’t get enough of it!
Not everyone would agree with this report either. I have heard and seen the opposite take effect post-COVID lockdowns, as organizations try to take on the remote working evolution in an operational capacity and not as a business continuity incident. I alluded to business continuity professionals not being as widely used as expected at the beginning of COVID in one of my LinkedIn Blogs and you can jump on numerous pieces of content from multi-award winning risk and resilience consultant James Green who appears to agree as well. James, at DRJ Fall 2020, said he witnessed many resilience professionals actually losing their jobs during COVID. You can hear him follow up on this in this interview. If this is the case, then business continuity doesn’t appear to be a very strategic role to me.
“How can one play an integral part in recovering a business if one has never made a dollar in their life. You have no commercial or strategic experience in running a business. Why should you write the plan?”
I paraphrase but I was asked this many years ago by one of my mentors, which I think was a trick question in some ways just to get me thinking.
Business continuity professionals provide a framework and a seasoned look at the quality of plans based on their own experience of live incident management or tabletop exercises, best practices etc. as well as seeing more plans than anyone else in their organization! However, it’s arguably not within the gift of the continuity and resilience professional to write out how a business would actually recover - we just facilitate what others in the organization know/should know.
Would we not benefit from learning to become more strategic by diving deeper into the world of business strategy development? So many organizations are now much more dynamic. They may need to pivot their strategy in so many different ways and at short notice. Surely the aim of the game is to get as close to business strategy as possible? This includes understanding what the strategy is and how it was arrived at; where in the current strategy an organization is; and exactly how continuity and resilience could feature and provide return on investment.
The BCI report mentioned above already suggests that business continuity is becoming more strategic. I think the reality is that it is different for everyone. Much like James Green’s ‘Is Continuity at a Crossroads’ presentation for DRJ, I believe there is currently a valuable opportunity whilst we are still ‘hot’ to map out a pathway for developing our strategic thinking.
Would the professional community benefit from learning and experiencing business strategy development? I think so.
Luke Bird FBCI CRISC is a global award-winning continuity and resilience professional with 12 years’ experience of risk management in public sector and financial services. He is currently focusing on technology. Read Luke’s blog at https://resiliencerewire.co.uk/