With the recent closure of the Forth Road bridge, commutes from Fife to Edinburgh by car have just dramatically increased by 30 miles each way, causing significant disruption for local residents.
It is fortunate, in some ways, this has happened in the run up to and over the Christmas period. Many businesses slow down a little and hopefully many people will be able to work from home more often during the 4 weeks the bridge is out of action. (although looking at the crack, there are concerns this could be much longer)
However this incident, and other recent examples such as the Talk Talk hack and the floods in Cumbria, really do highlight the need for all businesses to have solid readiness planning. These events, although unlikely, when they occur have significant impacts on customers, employees, businesses and their brand. (… does it feel they are becoming more common too?).
The challenge for planners is that unfortunately focusing on the worst that could happen is not very popular in most companies.
Although standard practise for some (NASA being a good example), in most organisations, being a ‘negative nelly’ is not seen as a compliment. In the drive to cut costs and focus on business growth, these small probability, high impact scenarios are often considered low priority or even overlooked. However even a small amount of scenario planning can make a huge difference.
- Planning allows the business to present a solid, coordinated response to the incident and the public.
- It provides quick guidance for employees, often in what can be a very chaotic environment.
- It allows you to control the response to the situation rather that the situation controlling you.
Although this may not change timelines or accelerate any fix (it is worth having contingency plans for these too), building a readiness plan is a great first step to help you and your customers operationally deal with the situation.
- Focus on the situation you are responding too, rather that individual event itself….. (in this case, bridge closure rather than structural failure). This will reduce the number of plans you need and there will be some common themes.
- Include events with low probabilty but high impact…. It is not necessarily have a second bridge in place in case the first one fails (almost the case here in Scotland), but do have a plan, be able to communicate this and the timelines.
- Also think through other situations that may impact your customers (e.g. Floods). How can you respond to help them, do you have a role to play in their recovery?
- Think about short, medium, long term duration impacts….. What would happen if this was 24 hours, 1 week, 1 month or a year. Your response will need to change as the situation evolves.
- Build a checklist…. Checklists are invaluable in emergency situations. A pre-thought through checklist is invaluable in providing guidance, structure and coordination to the team.
- Pre-think through crisis performance measures…. How do you know if the situation in improving? Can you measure the customer impact?
- Review on a regular basis, and occasionally run simulations…. these are great to familiarise the team with the plan and what to do.
- Trust your team…. you no doubt have a great team that already knows the business well and can react to situations. However some initial planning can really help keep things fresh.
In many cases, for many businesses, having full scale redundancy in place is very expensive and just not realistic. However planning for the situation and having a coordinated response is possible. It helps protect your brand and reduces the cost of recovery….. an investment worth considering over the long term.