There's Nothing Cheesy About Business Continuity

The idea of business continuity really hit home for me a few years back after speaking with a women who was house sitting for us. She worked in retail and the business where she worked had recently experienced damage due to a water pipe breaking in the apartments above. In fact, several businesses were forced to close while their insurance companies began the slow process of repairing the substantial damage that was cause by the water.

A different situation

Repairing the physical structure of the building was the easy part for the business owners compared to retaining their staff. Many of them were out of business for several months and their staff were forced to look for work elsewhere. When I asked our house-sitter how she was coping with the lack of steady employment she said her and her co-workers were in a different situation because of the foresight her boss had when building the business.

It was this approach to business continuity that allowed her employees to keep getting paid even when the store wasn't bringing in any revenue.

I'm unsure of the details at this point, however the base of it is that her employer had an insurance policy set up to pay her employees for 12 months in case the business had to be shut down due to a host of reasons, flooding being one of them. It was this approach to business continuity that allowed her employees to keep getting paid even when the store wasn't bringing in any revenue. In fact, the employees continued working on projects that would benefit the business when they were able start back up - a new website, new merchandise, an improved store layout, several new supplies, and a social media presence.

It's not hard to see how a business that retains their experienced staff and has spent the last 12 months improving the business will be a few steps ahead of their competitors who have to start over with the training of new staff and essentially re-growing their customer base.

A commitment to resilience

I doubt that this little housewares store would consider themselves a high reliability organization (HRO) however their mindset aligns with one of the five characteristic ways an HRO thinks (and behaves) by having a systematic way of ensuring a commitment to resilience - keeping the business going when disaster strikes.

A commitment to resilience will not only help the business predict errors but also return to normal operations as soon as possible when disaster strikes.

A business continuity plan occurs when a business creates a systems to prevent and recover from potential threats to a company. In this case, the lose of long time employees was a very real threat if the business was force to close down for an extended period of time. Having a structure orientation process may help their competitors in recovering from the loss of their employees, but what this business did was to prevent that threat from being realized in the first place. The other piece of a quality business continuity plan is to enable ongoing operations during the recovery from a disaster. By having their employees find ways to improve the business while the building was undergoing repairs, this business checked all the boxes.

It ain't easy being cheezy

I live in Newfoundland, an island off the east coast of Canada, and people love Hawkins Cheezies here, in fact I've grown to like the snack since moving here in 2002. Last week a local news station posted the headline "Hawkins Cheezie Plant Shuts Down Due to Fire" across the front page of their website. I'm fairly certain no one was rushing out to buy up the last bags of cheezies but I did hear some people mention it in the lunch room.

What struck me when reading the story online was that it was written as a good news item that the snack would still be available despite the production plant being shut down because there was a stock pile of cheezies in their warehouse but in 2016 there was a fire in the warehouse. The business continuity plan - and my access to cheezies - depended on a stockpile in a warehouse that had already been destroyed once. The article even called the two fires (one on the production facility and one in the warehouse) bad luck for the company.

Luck is not a plan

As an HRO luck is not a factor. In fact, not only do HRO's have a commitment to resiliency, but they also have a preoccupation with failure. After the first fire, an HRO would protect my supply of cheezies but having a preoccupation with fire: what if another fire occurred? how can we stop that from happening? if it does happen how will be keep producing?

The strict definition of an HRO would require operation in a complex environment where catastrophes can be expected due to the risk involved - cheeszy production may not meet this definition exactly but the principles applied by an HRO can still be good for business if implemented.

Has your business identified the potential threats that could stop operations?

Is there a plan in place to prevent these threats from occurring?

Does the plan include a way to keep the doors open if the threat does materialize?