As one of the goals for the New Year, companies should take stock of how resilient they are, and take steps to improve their ability to prevent disasters, and to recover should one occur.

You've been clocked“As part of their business continuity management, companies assess the risks they face, prioritise them and then put mitigation plans in place. That’s prudent and best practice, and something every board should insist is being done on an ongoing basis,” says Michael Davies, CEO of ContinuitySA. “In addition, I think that we all understand that the risk climate is becoming increasingly more complex, and the chances of a totally unexpected ‘Black Swan’ event are becoming more likely, that we think companies also need to see business continuity as a way to build a business that’s resilient by nature, intrinsically prepared to bounce back from anything. Companies should also become more proactive in avoiding disruptions associated with disasters rather than reacting to them when they occur.”

In fact, Davies argues, this type of approach can help executives and their boards enhance their oversight of the company, and discharge their obligation to ensure the company’s long-term sustainability.

The formal business continuity plan and management processes should provide the starting point for setting about building a more resilient organisation, says Davies.

“Once you have done your best to pinpoint all the risks and put mitigation plans in place, then it’s time to put measures in place to help ensure you are prepared for the unexpected,” he notes. “Based on ContinuitySA’s own assessment of the risk environment and our experience with clients, we think the following seven initiatives will enhance organisational resilience.”

Understand the wider context in which your business operates, and build links into the surrounding community. This concept ties back into King III, which links sustainability to serving the needs of a wide group of stakeholders. “Being a good corporate citizen and genuinely putting people before money immediately makes your company more resilient. You hear about trouble early on through stakeholder connections, and this provides you with an element of ‘trust capital’ to quickly respond and reduce the impact of the issue at hand,” Davies points out.

One wonders if the crisis at Marikana could not have been averted, wholly or partially, if the mining companies had adopted such a viewpoint.

Be aware of your dependencies—and reduce them if it is practical to do so. Many businesses fail to acknowledge their key dependencies, and thus underestimate the risks they represent. It may not be possible to eliminate them for all sorts of reasons, but knowing what they are is vital.

One key dependency that’s often insufficiently recognised is “technology accountability”. Many businesses across Africa are reliant on head offices in other countries to provide technology services and connectivity, and to store data. This means an outage at the head office can have far-reaching implications; isolated countries need be accountable and to know what they can and should do to recover the operations in these circumstances.

Another is supply chain dependency. Today’s complex supply chains create multiple dependencies that resonate (and are often amplified) up and down the supply chain. Simplifying the supply chain might be something that makes operational sense at a practical level, but also enhances organisational resilience enormously. Companies should also satisfy themselves that suppliers and business partners have adequate business continuity management in place.

Put proper succession planning and retention initiatives in place. To be resilient in times of crisis, organisations are critically dependent on the leadership and other key skills they have at their disposal. Organisational resilience is dependent on a company’s ability to retain these skills, and ensure that it has succession strategies in place. The crisis that an organisation faces could be sparked by the unexpected death of its CEO, for example. While the business continuity plan would be helpful in dealing with the crisis, true resilience would be guaranteed if an understudy had already been identified and was being groomed.

Have the right crisis decision-making structures in place. The company’s normal decision-making structures and processes are typically too slow to cope with a crisis. Davies says companies should make sure they have an agreed methodology for making swift decisions when required, and that it is specified in the company’s crisis management plan and has been well rehearsed ahead of time.

Get customer-focused. It sounds obvious, but many companies are good at their own processes and not at responding to customer needs and comments. In the Digital Age, in which social media provide a very public and instant platform for comment, being truly customer-focused is becoming vital to resilience. At the very least, put mechanisms in place to monitor and, crucially, respond on social media platforms timeously.

Fight against complacency. This is an ongoing battle, but complacency is fatal to resilience. Classic mistakes are to miss cyclical events such as preparing for your industry’s regular strike season. Another is to underestimate the pace or scope of change. Competition today is not only fiercer, it’s starting to change business models. Increased M&A activity, such as we are currently seeing, may be an indicator of this type of step change.

Don’t ignore maintenance. Infrastructure that is working well and does not fail is essential to a resilient organisation. This covers buildings, plant and office equipment, vehicles and ICT.

“Resilience is multi-faceted, but these guidelines will help companies maintain a state of preparedness, and confer an ability to respond quickly,” Davies says. “If your organisation is resilient, then the executive team and board have done their jobs.”

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