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Exercising and resilience: fit for purpose?

Over the next few weeks the shortlisted articles and papers in Continuity Central’s Business Continuity Paper of the Year competition will be published, with the winner announced after that. This is the first shortlisted paper, written by Ken Simpson, FBCI.

Are you looking to build a high-performing team? Where each member understands their role, and how they fit with other team members’ roles? A team that can execute on the prepared game plan - while at the same time has the capability to improvise as the situation warrants?

That description might be something your business continuity, incident response and/or crisis management teams aspire to - or it may be just as appropriate a goal for your ‘business as usual (BAU)’ functional teams. In any case it applies to teams that seek to compete in elite level sports and perhaps we can learn something about how to prepare teams from the methods used in the sporting domain.

The nature of training and preparation changes as players and teams move from the participation and social levels of sport into elite competitions. Basic drills, sloppy execution and general fitness regimes are replaced with targeted training programs - building high-level skills, disciplined execution and embedding team concepts.

Similarly, as we seek to advance our professional practices beyond the legacy domains of business continuity and into the wider domain of resilience, then we need to change the way we think about and develop our teams. We need to ensure that our training and development programmes move beyond a basic exercise. We need approaches that are fit for our new purpose as an elite management response team.

Resilience, like performance in elite sports, is built in practice sessions and on the training field. It requires that we have established an appropriate training regime and embedded a culture that recognises the benefits gained from disciplined training and practice.

Research by Kay and Goldspink shows that executives understand this requirement, and rate simulations and scenario exercises as the primary contributor to preparedness (1). Yet we routinely hear business continuity practitioners lament a lack of executive engagement in their exercises.

In part this may be because the executives understand an old adage relating to how we must practice:

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect (2).”

Just the occasional practice session, with a focus on short-term response and recovery, is not enough to build resilience. Practice on its own merely re-enforces habits. Some of the habits we may practice could be bad habits. Some habits may be good in our BAU world, but make us vulnerable in a disaster or disruption.

The Kay and Goldspink research highlights that there are a range of cultural features that need to be meshed with the traditional preparedness ideas in order to build resilience. Communication, training and alignment with strategic direction are rated by the CEOs as of much more significant to building resilience than a business continuity plan (tested or not) and a compliance-oriented programme.

This paper is not intended to provide guidance on how to design and run a better business continuity or disaster recovery exercise (3). The purpose here is to encourage people to think beyond the exercise, to explore a wider array of development activities designed to prepare colleagues, teams and the organization in general to become more resilient. To think beyond the plan and the desire to exercise the plan.

In addressing this issue I also want to introduce you to three novel practices/skills/concepts that we could embrace to help broaden our thinking and the range of techniques available to our future discipline:

  • Collaboration, with a wide range of other disciplines.
    • Resilience is not going to be developed by the work of any one area alone. We need to both work collaboratively with other disciplines and also be open to learning from them.
    • This is about developing collaborative practices and making connections across the organizational silos.
    • Specifically in this paper I am going to explore learning from the techniques used in team sports.
  • Curation of ideas.
    • Becoming a curator is collecting, organizing and presenting.
    • Taking care of ideas and presenting them in the context of resilience.
  • Coaching, which reflects the position we generally find ourselves in.
    • We don’t have command and control authority.
    • We need to work with others to develop their understanding of resilience.
    • Again borrowing from the sporting perspective.

For many years I was heavily involved in basketball. I was not that great a player, which I am sure my current team mates will attest to! However I was fortunate enough to be able to coach at a range of levels including in our National League. You don’t start at the top levels, like most things in life you have to work your way up the levels of maturity.

As a player at the social levels you just want to turn up to games and play. When you start to coach you begin to appreciate the value of training and practice sessions - and you learn about the need to make these sessions specific, efficient and conducted in a fashion that engages the level of maturity of your players. As the team progresses to more serious levels of competition and performance they spend more time on the practice court than they do in competition. Training is no longer just pick up games and the fun stuff anymore; it becomes hard work.

Training is periodised, using different intensity and focus at the appropriate time of the competition calendar, in order to deliver the best possible performance at the most important phase of the competition cycle. Skills and competence are built and refined using a range of drills. Some examples would include:

  • Drills to embed and re-enforce correct execution of fundamental skills.
  • Drills to breakdown and teach the offensive and defensive systems.
    • Making the learning easier by breaking the five player structure down into smaller numbers of interaction.
    • ‘2 on 2’ or ‘3 on 3’ aspects of the structured system, eventually building to the full ‘5 on 5’ game simulations.
  • Progressive overload to build some confidence in our ability to execute, and to make the defensive aspect of the drill more intensive.
    • These might include variations such as ‘3 on 2’ or ‘5 on 4’ drills and situations.

Similarly we need to devise break-down drills to refine the skills that enable resilience. In elite sports this aspect is a team effort - the coaching staff includes specialists in fitness training and sports science; and specialist positional coaches for that sport. The various disciplines work collaboratively to develop the team.

Resilience is a departure from many of the legacy practices of business continuity. The business continuity manager does not need to be the lead, nor the compliance officer, for these activities. Going forward these need to become collaborative practices. The most appropriate discipline should take the lead, with all others contributing and sharing their techniques and skills. Even taking the opportunity to learn from each other and improve their own practices.

"In the end, it’s about the teaching, and what I always loved about coaching was the practices. Not the games, not the tournaments, not the alumni stuff. But teaching the players during practice was what coaching was all about to me."
John Wooden (4)

One area of teaching during practice is to embed the offensive and defensive systems into the team’s play. This starts with the coach who develops the playbook, the structured plan of how the team will work to beat their opponents. Generally this will include a series of structured ‘set piece’ offensive and defensive systems. These will be drilled and become second nature to the players via repetition. They will learn their role, and the role of others via drills and game simulations.

Some coaches become lost in the technical elegance of their system, and tend to believe their system can handle any and all hazards that the opposition put in their path. They teach blind following of the system, and training for these teams is often limited to walk-throughs and run-throughs of the system. Rarely are these approaches sustainable.

Developing organizations to be resilient means they have the ability to respond to anticipated events, those that are included in their plan or playbook, but also have the capability to improvise and adapt to events that had not been anticipated.

No system is perfect. Your ‘set pieces’ can fail and you can never anticipate everything the opponent may do to try to disrupt your system.

Elite teams have to be resilient; they need some base structure to work with and they need to learn to improvise. Both are essential. Learning to adapt starts at early stages of development. At this stage the adaptations may take the form of variations to the core system that incorporate pressure releases and variants that counter specific defensive adjustments.

With maturity and experience, the rigour of the structured system (move here; wait for this to happen; move there) is replaced with a system based more on rules and heuristics. ‘Read and react’ becomes the sporting version of a ‘sense and respond’ adaptive organization (5).

Both the business and sporting teams need to spend many hours on the practice courts developing the situational awareness required to make good reads and to learn what response works in different situations.

The challenge is how we go about developing teams and leaders who can function is this ‘sense and respond’ mode.

Paul Gonzales suggests that the key difference is to move from a model based on direction, to a model of development (6). Again this is taking a lesson from sport and applying it to the world of organizations.

Gonzales argues that being labelled a ‘boss’ means you will behave differently than if your job is described as ‘coach’. He illustrates his case by describing the success of a specific coach and quarterback combination in American Football. The pair have won 77 percent of the games they played together over 13 years. Gonzales argues that if you go into work and make the right call eight out of ten times, then you would expect to be promoted and well rewarded. Even more important if your team can make the right call 80 percent of times in a crisis or response operation!

The key was not bossing the player, but developing him. Brady, the quarterback, was a 6th round pick in the draft - not the most outstanding player of his year. Coach Belichick taught him how to win; how to make the best decisions on the field.

The coach provided a playbook, a plan, then guided and developed the player to understand what he should take from the playbook and what calls to make in any situation.

“By definition, a boss directs his employee, whereas coaches develop their players. But isn’t the point of managementor, better stated, shouldn’t the point of management beto teach and encourage others how to reach their maximum potential?(7)”

Consider how this idea could be applied to the traditional role of business continuity manager. Rarely is the business continuity practitioner in a position of having positional authority over those delegated to undertake business continuity work. Being a boss is really not a direct option. Unfortunately too many try to apply boss techniques by use of policy and process mandated by and compliance regimes.

This is not the path of development; simply another form of direction.

The alternative is to view the role as one of a coach. In this context the role of a resilience coach is part trainer, part consultant: both an adviser and a change agent.

The coach is there to help translate training into action as part of their daily work. There to continue the training after the formal class is over - to help the teams apply resilience thinking to their specific environment and challenges. The change agent aspect includes both motivating change and making it happen:  helping execute on the vision of resilience while also motivating towards that vision by telling stories and painting pictures that describe what different forms of resilience might look like.
Consider the position of many coaches in professional sports. In many cases they are paid less than many of their players: in extreme cases, a fraction of what the superstar athletes are receiving. Despite this they work at developing players recognising that they are helping them to be higher paid members of the team than the coach.

Sometimes the coach needs to adopt the role of a student: study the freelance response strategies explored by senior executives and learn how to incorporate these into your structured game plans.

Sporting teams are coached to develop competence and to exploit weaknesses identified in their opponents systems and preparation. Organizations consist of multiple teams, that all need to be capable of working together to enable resilience. It is not enough to build capabilities of individuals and our designated response teams; we also need to ensure that we understand our organization’s disabilities.

When scouting an opponent you will make notes about what they do well and what weaknesses you can exploit. Sometimes a strength can actually create a weakness that we may not perceive. There is an old adage in basketball, "always press a pressing team”, (8) the general idea is that because the team had to use up a lot of their practice time working to get their defence right then perhaps they didn’t spend enough time learning how to beat that style of defence.

Clayton Christensen was starting centre for the Oxford University basketball team (during his time as Rhodes Scholar) but more importantly he is currently a Professor at Harvard Business School. Christensen is best known for his work studying innovation. Resilience is an innovative concept and adopting resilience thinking will require an organization that is capable of working and operating in a different manner.

Christensen’s writing also presents the idea of organizational disabilities (9). We are conscious of the need to match the requirements of a job or role with the capabilities of the person, especially when we come to assign roles in our crisis and response teams. But rarely do we question whether the organization has the capability to successfully execute.

Generally we assume that if the people individually have the knowledge and skills needed, then the organization will have the same capability. To build resilience we need to have an organization that is capable of executing on different strategies and delivering in different ways if required. We need to build and prepare an organization that is fit for the purpose of resilience.

Christensen has developed a framework to help assess capabilities and disabilities. The RPV Framework looks at three classes of factors that affect what an organization can and cannot do:

  • its resources
  • its processes
  • its values

Resources are things or assets and can be more readily transferred across boundaries than processes and values. Resources can generally be hired and fired, bought and sold, depreciated or enhanced. This class of factor includes such things as;

  • People
  • Equipment
  • Technology
  • Product designs
  • Distributors, and
  • Customers

Both in BAU operation, and to enable resilience, if an organization has access to the appropriate quantity of high-quality resources then their chance of coping is enhanced. It is still not guaranteed; they need to be able to continue to create value.

Value is created when inputs of resources are transformed into outputs of greater worth; the goods and services that the organization must deliver to remain commercially viable. The capability to transform inputs into outputs resides in the organization’s processes and values.

Processes in this framework span a range of purposes, and visibility. They can be formal, informal or even habitual routines. They are defined, or they evolve. There are also cultural processes: where staff unconsciously follow because they have always worked for them in the past.

Processes are defined, or evolve, to address a specific task. These include manufacturing, product development, procurement, resource allocation, etc.  When executed for the purpose it was designed, it is likely to perform efficiently.

Christensen’s warning is that when the same process is deployed to undertake a different task it is likely to appear slow and inefficient. This is a specific warning when considering resilience as it can impact our agility and ability to improvise:

“a process that defines a capability in executing a certain task concurrently defines disabilities in executing other tasks.(10)”

Processes that work fine in BAU mode may not work so well, or become a disability or liability, when we need to operate in non-routine mode. The main reason is that processes, designed and built as a capability, are generally not meant to change. They are meant to cause the same thing to be done consistently, to ensure consistency of output.

“This means that the very mechanisms through which organizations create value are intrinsically inimical to change. (11)”

In particular Christensen flags that enabling or background processes are major areas to examine for this capability/disability problem. His research indicates that these are often more significant areas of concern than manufacturing and customer service processes. Again another significant aspect for the practice of resilience, where we may often expect these enabling process (like purchasing, HR, payroll) to operate for extended periods in non-routine mode.

Values in the RPV framework are not just about ethics and the ‘soft’ aspects of HR and people management. In this context it relates to the criteria by which decisions about priorities are made. The standards that employees use to make prioritisation decisions such as what customer is more important, what activities are more important to complete, which orders to follow and when it is OK to cut corners on procedures and processes (12).

Over the life of an organization the primary focus shifts from one factor to another. In the startup phase most of what is done is attributable to people. In this stage of development key people are the great vulnerability. For many organizations moving to response/recovery mode is akin to a startup operation, which is something of a warning if we rely totally on processes and procedures to achieve this.

Over time the focus will shift to processes and values. As processes are defined and people start to understand the business model, then they learn what is important to inform decision making.

“the location of the most powerful factors that define capabilities and disabilities of organizations migrates over time - from resources toward visible, conscious processes and values, and then towards culture. (13)”

Eventually these ways of working are engrained and decisions are made by assumption rather than conscious decision. This is the mark that the shift to culture has been achieved. We assume, as Gonzalez asserts, that because our job is labelled manager or boss, then we should direct people. Gonzalez cites more extreme cases of the assumed behaviour based on job description in the context of Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment (14).

How will you go about preparing your teams and organizations to be more resilient? Christensen’s work tells us that when capabilities are in people it is relatively simple to change; when capabilities are mainly represented in process and values it is much harder and culture can be extraordinarily difficult to change (15).

First we need to recognise that no single discipline working in isolation can ensure a resilient organization. The fruit step is collaboration. The Kay and Goldspink research, referenced at the start of this paper, recognises the need for cultural shifts and CEOs associate this aspect with the HR discipline. The business continuity practitioner who seeks to widen their remit to encompass resilience will need to refine their skills in collaboration and networking. Convening, especially conversations rather than just meetings, is an emerging leadership practice that we can utilise to facilitate these collaborative approaches. Don’t be in a hurry to impose your definitions of resilience nor perceived solutions. Collaborate, learn about the practices of the other disciplines and use the techniques that are the most appropriate to your context - not based on which body of knowledge they originate from.

Here are three specific questions adapted from Christensen that might form the basis of your first set of conversations;

  • Do we have the resources to succeed?
  • Do the processes by which work gets done in our organization enhance our resilience? Will they become disabilities in non-routine operating modes?
  • Will the values of our organization mean that changes to enhance resilience get high priority, or will they be pushed to the background?

Second build your skills as a curator. You don’t have to be able to generate discussion papers or articles. The Internet and the growth of digital media means there is a massive amount of information and content available to you. A new thought leadership skill is to curate ideas, collect them, organize and present in a context that suits a specific audience. You need to develop your own curatorial process; and tools that work for you to collect, understand and organize material. With these two new practices you can convene conversations around resilience that can explore the ideas you have curated and identify appropriate tools and techniques for your organization.

Leading and developing the team that enables resilience, converting some of these siloed disabilities into innovative capabilities is critical.

Finally refine your skills as a coach. Coaching is not just for sport, it has had a role in executive ranks for several years. Emerging fields of organizational discipline, such as the agile movement, have also recognised the need for the coaching role to sustain lasting change. To enable resilience we need to move from a directing to a development mode. That also means moving from compliance to coaching.

Much of this coaching work is leading changes to mindsets, the mental modes and short-cuts that are represented by the values that inform decision making and cultural-embedded processes. It is more important to influence the thousands of small decisions made on a daily basis than to write a plan that seeks to guide the few big decisions that need to be made following a disruption. It is no use promoting resilience if your people keep making these small decisions based on the old models.

Recruit your team; build your skills and knowledge; practice the basics until you have them down pat. Develop your team and your key role players to make the right decisions - to read and react for resilience.

The exact drills and training methods to use? Well that is up to you; the ‘social’ business continuity practitioner who aspires to grow into an elite resilience coach.

The author

Ken Simpson has 30+ years experience as a manager and leader in both public and private sector organisations. During that time he has led internal Risk, DR and BCM teams, recovery operations following a major incident. He is a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute and holds a range of academic and professional qualification including a BA(Social Sciences), an MBA and Certified Organizational Resilience Professional by ICOR.

Ken has held Executive roles as a CIO, CTO and importantly for this article as a Head Coach in the Women's National Basketball League (Australia).

He is currently an independent management consultant and an active blogger, author and speaker on the subjects of Business Continuity and resilience.

This experience as practitioner, academic, coach and Executive provides unique insights into BCM and ways to improve our practice in the future and create greater relevance to management.Contact Ken at kds@thevrgroup.net

References



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