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Kathleen Wybourn

Management

The Art of Business Continuity

The more scientific your preparations are, the more artful your actions can be during an emergency

Published: Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 12:01

Business continuity is a relatively simple idea. Plan ahead so you can keep your business successful during times of difficulty. Key management transitions, loss of a major customer, the impact of a lawsuit, perhaps a fire or an earthquake. But what if that “difficulty” is a global public health pandemic? An infectious disease that stops the world economic system in its tracks? That triggers something akin to Marshall law, isolates workers in their homes, and forces the shutdown of most businesses, including yours?

How do you keep your business viable if there is no business?

Welcome to Covid-19.

On one handit’s a shocking game changer. A completely unexpected attack on public health and on all forms of economic activity. In this regard, Covid-19 is unlike anything we’ve ever faced. At one point in time all but four states had shut down everything but essential business. Social distancing is the new normal. By mid-April, more than 30 million Americans had filed for unemployment. This respiratory disease that has spread all around the world is a challenge so epic no business continuity plan could have effectively anticipated it.

On the other hand… it’s a reminder of what really matters, and how a “risk” of any kind can erupt into a crisis without notice. Which is exactly what business continuity management is all about. So, in this context, Covid-19 is but one example (granted, a severe one) of why we do business continuity planning. And an inspiration, let’s call it, to actually employ the principles of business continuity instead of just talking about them in some academic sense.

What we’re learning from our own experience as a global certification company, and from our customers across myriad industries we serve, is that as much as risk management and continuity planning are sciences, it’s the art of business continuity that separates resilient organizations from brittle ones.

But make no mistake: You cannot skip the hard stuff. This is not about winging it. In fact, the more scientific your preparations are, the more artful your actions can be during an emergency. To quote former U.S. Navy SEAL and renowned motivational speaker Jocko Willink, “Discipline equals freedom.”

“You cannot fake it; you cannot leverage ignorance once a crisis begins,” says Tom Gosselin, global director of sustainability and supply chain resilience for DNV GL Business Assurance. “You need to be deeply grounded in the fundamentals of risk assessment. You must know every facet and vulnerability of your supply chains, understand the threats to your operations internally and externally, and know the types of actions you’ll take to maneuver around damage to your normal business procedures.”

The next logical step, however, goes far beyond logic.

“It’s all about creativity,” says Gosselin. “In a serious crisis, things are unfolding too quickly and in ways you may or may not have anticipated. Business leaders who can think dynamically and connect dots that didn’t even exist before the crisis... that’s where contextual resilience happens.”

This is what tech entrepreneurs call “discontinuous innovation,” the ability to go beyond the known checklist of rules and probabilities. To not only react but also to reinvent.

“Resilience, or continuity, occurs in the boundary between the known and the unknown,” says Gosselin. “When something novel happens—such as the Covid-19 expression of coronavirus—prepared organizations can step into the unknown with confidence. Not expecting that everything you do will be perfect, but that it will be principled and likely to keep you moving forward.”

In business continuity, the end game is avoiding the very idea of an end. Be prepared. Be creative. Be resilient.

To learn more, join Kathleen Wybourn, director of food and beverage, supply chain and assurance services at DNV GL Business Assurance North America; and Tom Gosselin, global director of sustainability and supply chain resilience at DNV GL Business Assurance, on Tues., May 12, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. Pacific/12:30 p.m. Eastern, for the webinar, “Business Continuity: Challenging perceptions in challenging times,” hosted by Quality Digest editor in chief, Dirk Dusharme. Click here to register.

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About The Author

Kathleen Wybourn’s picture

Kathleen Wybourn

Kathleen Wybourn is the director of food and beverage, supply chain and assurance services at DNV GL Business Assurance, North America. She began her career at the NutraSweet Division of GD Searle/Monsanto, holding various managerial positions, including analytical and microbiology labs, quality control, quality assurance, supplier audits, and operations. From food manufacturing, Kathleen moved to food safety auditing as the director of operations at GMA, heading the GMA SAFE program. Wybourn has served on several GFSI Technical Working Groups, written articles on food safety certification, and participated in university studies on the same topic.