Developing organisation wide response capability

A recent study by Continuity Central showed “the integration of Business Continuity Management (BCM) with other organisational teams” is one of the top change themes for 2018.

Improved focus and coherence, in planning and response, across operational and strategic teams, will help to protect senior leadership and ensure they all work towards the same goal to protect the organisation.

Take the example of a sports team. Post-match interviewees typically thank the coaches and support staff, yet viewers usually judge the individual on their performance regardless of what is happening around them. This is no different to Crisis Management – criticism is usually focussed on those on the frontline but it’s the support in the background that will define success or failure. 

Current challenges 

Many organisations work in silos, making it hard to manage simultaneous and co-ordinated planning and response activities. Unclear strategic priorities in areas such as recovery times, consistent and timely communications, priority departments, stakeholder management etc. make it difficult to plan for and manage an effective response. Where strategies are misaligned from ground level up to Group; competing priorities will hinder the response and a firm’s reputation. 

This is a challenge in itself for single site businesses; but add the layers of complexity to those operating across different offices, regions and countries with different customers, and the whole response to a crisis is more challenging. 

Due to time constraints, competing strategic priorities and a limit on job descriptions, BCM and Crisis Management programmes tend not to equip enough individuals and teams with appropriate tools and varied training techniques to prepare and respond. Too much emphasis is placed on planning, whereas practical, live rehearsals up and down the organisation could be so much more effective.

Five strategic areas for renewed focus

We believe a shift in focus on the areas below will help to ensure your preparation and response capability is more aligned to your strategic goals and meets the challenges set out above. 

Tactical vs strategic response – use Cyber or IT related incidents as an example. Leadership Teams need to work alongside IT security teams, but the messaging is often poorly translated between the two, and the nature of each team’s response varies significantly. Senior executives must be comfortable working with technical staff members and vice versa.

Is your tactical response in the background well defined, and aligned to the overarching strategic response and can these teams work effectively together? 

Operating model redesign – use the NHS as an example. Responding with a complex operating model with people/patients at the centre of everything requires commitment and significant behavioural change. The operating model needs to enable simultaneous and co-ordinated working across different services and teams from the outset of any incident; it needs to consider and mitigate the complications of different divisions, locations, objectives, BAU operational targets, size, culture etc. 

Are your teams set up to prepare and manage a complex response across different functional departments with competing priorities?

Exercising and training throughout the business – many organisations make the mistake of rehearsing single teams in isolation, often to meet internal compliance. To give leadership the confidence they need, multiple local, national or international teams should be targeted with smaller yet more regular exercises to understand the priorities, interrelationships, decision making paths and boundaries of others. This will quickly highlight how your operating model needs to change. 

Do your exercises focus on building capability across multiple functional departments up and down the organisation?

Understand your stakeholders’ needs use the TalkTalk cyber-attack as an example where the communication to customers was deemed to create too much concern for consumers. Both internal and external stakeholders have different needs and in most cases either support you or are against you.  

Do you fully understand your stakeholder groups (such as customers / service users, investors, patients, shareholders, media etc.), and which of their needs must be met as part of the response? 

Technology implementationthe speed of change during a crisis rarely lends itself to traditional paper or computer based action and decision logs. From the outset of an event, and sometimes long in advance in the case of some cyber related incidents (RBS, Facebook, TalkTalk, Target), huge amounts of data and information needs to be understood, assured, translated and used to drive certain decisions.

If you have a wide-reaching organisation, have you considered how technology could work to improve your preparation and response through short or long-term incidents?


We will explore each of these five areas in more detail in future perspectives to provide you with clear examples of how to transform your approach; setting up small project teams to embed new ways of working with a common purpose across the organisation.

In the meantime, please ask yourself and colleagues:

o   Have any recent incidents or near misses (to you or competitors), raised concerns about your organisation’s ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to major incidents?

o   How well could your company anticipate and manage a response across departments?

o   Are response roles clearly understood by teams and individuals?

o   Where divisions have different response priorities and objectives, do they align to an overarching strategy?

o   Is too much time focussed on planning and not enough on training?

o   Does training and exercising give you the confidence you need to respond effectively?

o   Can leadership teams work effectively with operational departments during a response?

Tom Wottoon is a management consultant at Moorhouse - a consulting firm that is focused on delivering sustained transformational change.  Working in small integrated teams with our clients we support them in responding to their most strategic challenges.  In doing so, we are able to leave a legacy of increased capability through a genuine commitment to skills and knowledge transfer. 

If you are facing challenges and have questions on any of the above, please get in touch.

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