Have we over-complicated Business Continuity?

For many businesses, the last 6 months have been a battle for survival.  On a theoretical level this would appear to be exactly what Business Continuity Planning should be all about – how does your business survive when a crisis hits?  However, COVID has been such a large, all-consuming crisis that anecdotal evidence is that in many cases the plans that did exist, didn’t cater for this scale of impact.  As a result, Governments have had to step in with Furlough payments, delayed tax payments, additional grant funding for specific sectors etc.  So, my question is, when you are working through detailed Business Continuity planning and worrying over whether an activity or process needs to be recovered in 1 day or 2, or whether that process or activity requires 2 people or 3, are we missing the point of resilience planning?

In May, X-Forces Enterprise ran a virtual session looking at business continuity (https://www.x-forces.com/working-together-sharing-solutions-and-getting-through-covid-19/).  Rather than bamboozle attendees with terms and abbreviations, the session was focussed around the 3Cs – Cash, Clients and Capabilities.  In simple terms, to survive a business needs cash.  Where do I get cash from – clients.  What do clients give me cash for – my capabilities that I provide to them.  Therefore, for a business to survive at any time requires just one simple question…is there a market for my capabilities that I can sell to clients to earn cash?  If there is, the follow-on question is what resources do I need to deliver those capabilities at a profit and how long can my business last if I don’t deliver or the clients don’t buy?

That’s it.  So simple to explain and understandable to anyone.  Suddenly the requirement for detailed spreadsheets is reduced because I am no longer worried about topics like Business Development, Training or Recruitment, I simply need to carry on doing the things that generate the most cash until such time as the crisis is resolved, then I can pick up the pieces of the rest of the business.  Remember, no cash, no business.  Sure, if you have navigated the first 48 hours and you have the capacity to do more, that’s a bonus, for example do I need to reduce contractor’s hours or move from running the factory on three shifts a day to two, but the priority is to protect cash.

Given this simple premise, perhaps one of the things that COVID has rammed home to us all is the significance of the previous Business Continuity term of “critical activity” ie that thing that if you no longer do, you go bust.  Replacing it with the term “priority activity” waters this down into management speak and undermines the requirement for specialists to deliver resilience.  So, my ask is, as we face a second wave and further limitations on movement and business, have you really focussed on the critical and built sufficient defences that you know how to protect them above all else?  Of interest, the military use a term “Main Effort” which is defined as “that which must be achieved above all else”.  Could this be adopted as a business continuity term, for example, what is the Business Continuity Main Effort?

Whilst working through what is absolutely critical and how do we protect it, we will obviously identify actions that reduce the likelihood of the event occurring in the first place eg by removing Single Points of Failure, but I believe that the full value of Business Continuity Planning is only really apparent in a major crisis.  Given that a crisis by its nature is defined by scale, complexity and uncertainty, the best plans are not the ones stacked full of data, because the data you spend days capturing may no longer be valid in the face of the crisis.  The best plans, in my opinion, ensure an invincible way of gathering the organisations leadership team around a meeting room (real or virtual) to follow a pre-developed agenda and confirm that the business priorities identified and agreed during planning are still valid (ie how do we keep generating sufficient cash) and how to implement the pre-planned actions.  Everything else can be documented under “things to consider” but when faced with the risk of the business failing, we need clear priorities that buy time.  Do you know what your Business Continuity Main Effort is?

Further Reading:

If this has been of interest they you may also like Matthew’s previous blog about preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 available here. However, if you are looking for help developing a BCP itself then our free template available here may provide a starting point.



Matthew is the Founder of Inverroy Crisis Management Ltd and combines 25 years of experience as an officer in the UK Armed Forces with a decade in business delivering organisational resilience solutions to clients from Mexico to Malaysia and Aberdeen to Australia.

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