Why every business should have disaster planning  

By James Burstall, below, founder and CEO of Argonon, one of the UK’s largest international and independent TV production groups

We all knew that Covid-19 wasn’t going to be the last major shock we faced and unfortunately we have been proven all too right. Since March 2020 we have had to deal with recession, war, and political and social unrest. Looming on the horizon are disruptive technology, new pathogens and climate change, to name but a few.

In our increasingly uncertain world, one thing we can be sure of is that the next big crisis is only a matter of time. This means the time for preparing your business is right now. The good news is that you don’t have to face the next shock unprepared.

For over a decade at Argonon, we have relied on a crisis management system we call The Flexible Method. Using it led to our group outperforming the market average during the Covid crisis. It shows what you can do to future-proof your company against the next crisis using a set of practical tools distilled from hard-won experience.

The first thing I encourage you to do to prepare is dust off or build your disaster recovery plan (DRP). It should prevent or reduce the likelihood of a disaster by identifying threats and taking the necessary preventative actions and ensure you are prepared to deal with an emergency effectively.

It will be used to support your recovery following a major incident, defined as one which is outside normal operational and management controls and which is likely to compromise your company’s operational capabilities, or require evacuation/partial evacuation of the premises.

Unexpected but crippling incidents can take many forms such as a bomb threat, power loss or extreme weather.

Your DRP should be as detailed as possible. And you must keep it updated. It should aim to include all eventualities.

Ask, what’s the worst that can happen? Then develop a procedure for each scenario.

Think the unthinkable.

To make your plan as relevant and useful as possible it is best to expect the unexpected. Brainstorm this with your team, and then gameplay in real time. Dress rehearsing how your business would respond to these scenarios live will highlight what you are doing right. And crucially, what you have missed or are doing wrong.

The pace of change has never been faster, so your DRP could be out of date sooner than you think.

Fresh eyes are always helpful for keeping you on your toes, so when new team members join the business, factor in a review. Your new employees may spot crucial overlooked gaps.

Open this out across the business and ask all your departments to review the plan and add their thoughts to it.

Be transparent and open, involve the whole team.

Make sure all employees are aware of the plan and encourage innovative thinking so they can react appropriately when every minute counts.

When the next crisis hits, having the best IT systems you can afford will make your company more resilient and keep your business up and running.

The scale of your organisation will determine how much tech you need or can afford but I recommend you listen to your IT-savvy advisors and friends and invest as much as you can.

I would strongly encourage you to store your data safely and not all in one place, so you have everything in duplicate.

  • As you prepare your business for crises of the future, create yourself a checklist:
  • Do you have a succession plan for your leaders in case one or more of them is suddenly not able to work? Train staff to step in and step up.
  • Is your insurance up to scratch?
  • What will you do if all mobile phones go down?
  • How would you communicate without the internet?

Remember that your customers won’t hang around waiting while you recover – they’ll go elsewhere. Conversely, seeing you have been smart enough to cope with the initial disaster will deepen their trust in you. Your advance planning will be your safety net when the next crisis hits.

Although disasters seem to strike out of the blue, with hindsight they are often predictable. Maybe it’s that hopeful human optimism again, but we seem to have a tendency to think it won’t happen to me. So, heed the signs and if your instinct says act, then start early. Your team will be reluctant to break from their busy routines but take some time to prepare so you are ready to act decisively. And don’t fall into the mistake of ‘planning for the last war’ – stay flexible in what you do and how you do it. Being brittle will make your organisation more fragile.

As you will already have experienced: when disaster strikes, you are going to need your systems in place, your team onside and every ounce of strength you can muster.

And you must act fast. The crisis will not wait for you.

Are you ready?

The Flexible Method: Prepare to Prosper in the Next Global Crisis by James Burstall, available from Amazon and good book stores.