Why Crisis Preparedness Planning Should Be An Essential Practice

A company of any industry must understand that they are always risk from potential attacks. Be it from the media, the government or even the customers, the environment a company survives in is extremely risky. It hence becomes crucial for all companies to come up with a crisis communication plan before hand.

There are only a few times when a potential threat can be predicted before it affects the company. In most cases, the company only becomes aware of the problem once the crisis has already struck. For a company to act swiftly and effectively to reduce damage, it is important for a crisis communication plan to already be in place. Here are a few steps which all crisis communication services advice a company to begin with:

Identify Risks

The first thing that any company must do is identify the risks at hand. This involves any situation which can potentially affect the company in a negative manner. No plan can be made without identifying the risks at hand. It is only after doing so that a detailed plan can be formulated which allows the company to address the risk and not lose profits.

Decide A Planning Team

Once all the risks have been identified, it is time for the company to create their own planning team. For a plan to be successful the company must create a team with both their own experienced employees as well as hiring crisis communication support & services. The reason why both are required is the fact that the employees have detailed understandings of the inner working of the companies while the consultants have experience in terms of crisis communication. Together they will be able to create an effective plan.

Create A Plan

Working together the plan that is created for the company should focus on protecting their core assets. When creating a crisis communication plan, the team must also create a guideline for how the employees of the company must interact with external stakeholders. One wrong word can severely harm the company and hence all employees must be briefed on how they should interact. Heads of the company should also be trained as official spokesman who will be the ones interacting with the media directly.

Prepare And Train Individuals

One of the core elements of a plan devised by crisis communication services and the employees are spokesman. Every company must have a few official senior employees of the company trained specifically on how to talk to the press. From vocals to body language they must be trained to help the company survive the crisis.

Succession Planning: Getting Your Ducks in a Row

Succession and Continuity Planning for Your Business

Today’s the first day of fall, and seasonal changes often bring with them the reminder that planning for the future is something we often neglect to do until it becomes absolutely essential.

To every thing there is a season, and your business is not an exception to the rule. At some point the current leaders will give way to new leaders, and whether you’re trying to keep a family business in the family or you’re preparing a buy-sell strategy, you’ll need to contemplate preservation, valuation, and a blueprint for the future of your business.

The Importance of a Plan

If you don’t already have a plan in place to ensure business continuity, you should draft one. Not only will this plan benefit the next generation of leadership, but it will provide a clearer look into how your business is functioning now, and just how prepared you are for growth and change.

When new presidential candidates are about to be elected, many constituents fear that the current office holder will leave behind a mess for the next incumbent. The same can happen when businesses change hands.

You don’t want to leave your company in its current state for someone to inherit or step into. They may not be used to doing without the things you’ve learned to ignore or work around and, anytime someone is adjusting to a new environment, system, and set of responsibilities, the margin for error and likelihood of mismanagement increase greatly.

Andrew J. Sherman writes that only 35 percent of family businesses survive past the first generation of ownership, followed by only 20 percent who make it to the third generation. Source: Entrepreneurship.org “Understanding the Fundamentals of Succession and Transition Planning.” Preparation can increase your odds of a nearly seamless transition, so your plans should be well-structured, well-documented, and reviewed by all key team members.

The Succession Planning Process

In order to prepare, you’ll have to plan each step of the process and lock arms with the people you’ve identified as the next generation of leadership. The following steps will provide the framework for the succession planning process:

  1. Identify key leaders who will be succeeded by new leaders
  2. Determine the job functions and skills of those current leaders
  3. Select the most appropriate team members to participate in succession planning
  4. Discuss differences between their current roles and probable leadership roles
  5. Develop plans for your next wave of leadership and help them perform preparatory activities
  6. Interview and select your new leadership team and establish an orientation timeline

Getting Your Ducks in a Row: How Succession Planning Relates to Your Important Documentation

There are many important facets to making sure essential business elements are in place so that the successors aren’t left scrambling to establish parameters and processes pertaining to your company’s vital documentation. The following business-critical steps should all be addressed now, whether transition is imminent or a distant possibility:

1) Review important documents and records. A legal audit of your business documentation is a good way to go. The following documentation should be subject to review:

a. Administrative documents: project plans, management reports, RFPs, SLAs, vendor and maintenance contracts, emails, etc.

b. Plan documents: planning documents for business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency management, incident response, contingency, etc.

c. Business continuity reports: business impact analysis reports, risk assessment documents, internal and external audit reports, supply chain reports, etc.

d. Team documents: emergency response team rosters, list of personnel with authorized access to certain sites or systems, and other team management and assignment documents

e. Specialized documents: awareness materials, training program materials, network and data center diagrams, alternate office location details, work area recovery site details, etc. Depending on your industry, specialized documentation might include materials that are subject to safekeeping and retention requirements, especially in regulated industries like healthcare, pharmaceutical, finance, legal, and education.

f. HR documents: personnel files (active and inactive employee files), candidate documentation, benefits and payroll information, complaints and action records, etc.

g. AR/AP documents: invoices, POs, balance sheets, cash flow analysis, loan and credit docs, financing information, expenses, payables and receivables, transaction records, utility bills, etc.

h. Historic documents: business formation files, articles of incorporation, control documents, reorganization and restructuring information, blueprints and other early stage planning documents, etc.

2) Be sure that you have secure, redundant storage and ease of retrieval:

a. Primary storage

b. Backup storage

c. Desktop systems

d. Laptops and mobile devices

e. Collaboration systems, such as SharePoint

f. Cloud storage

g. Remote data centers

3) Access and control of document management systems should be permission-based to authorized users. You wouldn’t want any files to get corrupted or go missing.

4) Scan important hard-copy documents such as system contracts, SLAs, warranties, and maintenance agreements into PDF format. Ensure that the originals are stored in secure, environmentally safe, and fireproof locations. Notify the new leadership of this information, and store primary copies on-site for ease of access (after making sure they’ve been backed up to a secure, off-site location).

5) Review or create a document management policy, which should specify the files and documents that must be stored, how and where they should be stored, how and when they are updated and when backups must occur, and when they can be disposed of (if ever). The policy should also identify rules for document retrieval, version control rules, document approvals, document distribution, archival time frames, and rules for secure destruction.

6) Document management controls should be part of BCMS (business control management system) audit activities, at least annually, and should be regularly updated.

7) Disaster recovery procedures, mock scenarios, and team document retrieval exercises should all be part of making sure your systems are airtight for the next generation.

8) Make a priority list of critical documents (enlist the help of multiple department heads), emergency contact lists, and other information that might need to be quickly accessed in a crisis situation. Knowing that you’re able to effectively manage response and recovery efforts will go a long way toward making sure your business is ready to change hands.

9) Have an emergency toolkit which contains hard copies of relevant documents as well as digital versions on thumb drives or other convenient external storage devices.

10) Record and date your efforts and the outcome of your mock exercises, adapting the plans if weak areas are identified. This information will be critical to the next generation of leadership and will help them plan the seamless continuity of what you’ve started, ensuring that your security efforts don’t go to waste.

*Source: Paul Kirvan, Secretary of US Chapter of Business Continuity Institute. TechTarget Search Disaster Recovery article, Optimizing Document Management Systems for Business Continuity.

Be sure to also take a look at ARMA’s Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles, and look for a trusted records management partner if you don’t already have one. Their expertise will span multiple industries and provide invaluable advice to let you know if your business is ready for a transition of ownership.

Affordable Business Continuity Planning (BCP) for Small Businesses

A Business Continuity Plan (BCP) is defined as a roadmap to enable a business to continue operations under adverse conditions, such as an unforeseen disaster or other interruption (bad weather, flooding, power outages, labor strikes, or any other identified risk to the business). Business continuity planning is a process of identifying the potential risks to your business and then evaluating how to prepare for these so that if they do happen, your business can continue to be viable. This is not the same thing as IT disaster recovery. IT disaster recovery involves making sure your IT systems can continue to function and your data is still available in the event that your primary systems go down; if a fire wipes out your server room for example or a massive blackout disables your primary network routers. Typically your IT service provider will provide you with options for backup hosting at other sites as part of Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP).

DRP is part of BCP, but BCP goes beyond just IT systems and looks at the entire business structure; in the event of a disaster where will your people work from? If downed trees and power lines cut off major roadways needed for distributing your product what will you do? If a swine flu outbreak keeps 3/4 of your staff at home can your business still function? This is what BCP looks at; being prepared for the unplanned interruptions. Making advanced preparations just in case of disaster is good business, but it does involve some cost, so the level of preparation needs to be evaluated against the potential risk. This is what an effective BCP plan will evaluate. The plan will look at each critical operation and identify the level of risk and the options for maintaining business in the event of a disaster. Based on this evaluation (typically know as a Business Impact Analysis or BIA), an effective and realistic BCP can be created which will effectively help the business to survive and operate during an unforeseen interruption or disaster. The critical elements of the plan must include not just the IT systems but also personnel/employees, communications, production, distribution and (very important) communications with customers, vendors, media, local authorities and governmental regulators. If you do not pay your taxes or your bank loans because your records are under water, you may not be in business after the water level goes down.

Big businesses have readily adopted this strategy and brought in consulting firms and purchased enterprise software to set up and manage BCPs. This has created the biggest opportunity for disaster-planning consultants since Y2K. The down side is that the price tag for having a firm set up and manage a BCP can go into the $100,000’s. For small businesses, this is too cost prohibitive but BCP is still critical and this should not deter small businesses from seriously thinking about what they would do in the event of a disaster.

Rather than paying out big$$$ for a team of consultants or licensing enterprise software, small businesses can benefit from following the same logical thinking that the consultants use. BCP firms typically come into a client with a standard set of templates (a basic generic roadmap for the BCP) which identifies all the potential risks and key operations in a business (paying vendors, manufacturing, customer service, regulatory filings, etc). The consultants then interview key individuals in each area and ask them how important each operation they perform is (how long can the business survive with out it?). Then they ask these same people what the options are to keep this operation going if a disaster happens (can you outsource it? To whom? Can you buy extra supplies and keep them somewhere else?). Then with this information, the consultants modify the standard templates as needed to suit the situation. The final modified templates are presented as a customized BCP plan to the business management, who ultimately makes the decisions on what they will support in terms of what steps will be put into place and how much money will be spent. The bulk of the specific actionable information in the BCP comes from the business, not the consultants. The BCP templates provide a guide to prompt the appropriate discussions and ask the right questions. So armed with a basic BCP template, a small business owner can perform this same procedure and come up with an effective BCP on their own or with the help of conscientious person (not necessarily a BCP consultant). Although the process of setting up and managing a BCP seems very complicated and/or prohibitively expensive for small businesses, it does not need to be. There are materials and resources available that would greatly help out the small businesses to be prepared for the unforeseen without the need to spend large sums of money.