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Now is the time to update your business continuity plans (Part 2): Preparing for a wave 2

By Eric Michrowski

In my prior blog (NOW IS THE TIME TO UPDATE YOUR BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLANS: IT’S CRITICAL TO THINK ABOUT RISK LAYERING), I talked about the importance of thinking through Risk Layering and updating Business Continuity Plans. As the first phase of the response to COVID-19 is starting to be behind us, it’s becoming essential for leaders to focus briefly on their Business Continuity Plans. The second thing that is essential once you have stabilized your operations, is to start capturing learnings from your initial response. That way you don’t forget what has worked and what challenges occurred. This will help you be better prepared for a next business interruption.

This is more critical than ever given that most expect some gradual relaxing of social distancing requirements in the near future which will allow businesses to gradually resume operations. However, it is generally accepted that a second wave of COVID-19 might hit later this year, just like was experience with the Spanish flu almost a century ago. This means that a second shutdown could occur although such a shutdown might look different. It’s impossible to know what tomorrow will bring. But it’s best to be prepared and using what we have learned over the past weeks to respond better.

Even if such a second wave doesn’t occur, it’s worthwhile to drive organizational learning and prepare for the next business interruption that might occur.

In my experience, the best way to complete such an organizational learning activity is to conduct an After Action Review (AAR). AARs come from the US Army and are frequently conducted in battle to better prepare for the next mission. If you want to know more about After Action Reviews, I encourage you to read a great HBR article from August 2005: “Learning in the Thick of It”.

The main benefit of an AAR is to understand how decisions were made and the unintended consequences or missed opportunities. I first got exposed to AARs in the airline industry where they rapidly understood the value of learning from near misses or operational challenges to build a more resilient organization.

To conduct such a review, it’s ideal to tap into a neutral facilitator that can help create a safe learning environment. Such sessions can easily be completed remotely using digital whiteboarding environments. However, given the urgency, this could be skipped in favor of a leader – but preferably not the most senior leader in the group. The goal would be to create a safe environment with high psychological safety where you encourage participation and reward and emphasize the value of candid feedback.
You would:

  1. Create norms for the session – such as no criticism, no negative repercussions, high openness and honesty.
  2. Focus on why things happened through skillful questioning. The goal is to get into storytelling mode from different vantage points. The richer the stories, the better. Avoid factual or rational commentary in favor of telling your stories.
  3. You would begin by trying to understand what the goal was. Whether that goal happened. And compare intended results with what was actually accomplished.
  4. From there you would move into a review of what worked. What didn’t work and try to understand why things didn’t work without assigning blame.
  5. Capture key learnings that you would like to do differently next time. There is as much to be learned from good decisions as there is from more challenging ones.

Always focus on open ended questions such as:

  • What would you have preferred to see happen?
  • In your opinion, was that the ideal choice? 
  • How could we have prevented this unintended risk?

Don’t be too harsh on yourself and your team. This Black Swan event could never have been predicted. The goal is simply to see what we should try to do next time and make sure that these learnings are used to update your Business Continuity Plan. Most leaders did many great things through this crisis.

I’m not proposing that organizations embark in a large Business Continuity Planning exercise at this stage. However, I do think that it is essential for leaders to pause and spend at least an hour with their leadership team to think through what worked well and what could be improved for a future business interruption, record those learnings and build actions to mitigate impacts should a next event or wave happen.

As I’ve previously mentioned, at a later date, a more detailed review of Business Continuity Plans will be essential. But at this stage, only a cursory review of learnings is essential.

We are always available to help you brainstorm approaches and actions.

At Propulo, our focus has always been on safety culture and operational excellence.

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Now is the time to update your business continuity plans: It's critical to think about risk layering