Business continuity planning: HRDs reveal top lessons for 2021

An effective plan is key to surviving disruption

Business continuity planning: HRDs reveal top lessons for 2021

The past year has proven that organisations need two things to survive disruption: an effective business continuity plan (BCP) and a strong culture of adaptability. Since disruption has been top of mind for leaders in recent years, many have focused on enabling an adaptable and agile workforce to ‘go with the times’.

However, it took a global pandemic for some companies to take their BCPs seriously. Based on a survey of Asia-based member-companies of The Economist’s corporate network, 76% said that the pandemic had left a negative impact on their businesses. Another 80% had readied or were working on a contingency plan, according to the February 2020 study.

Another study in April by a non-profit organisation found that four in five firms in Singapore had implemented BCPs, with at least half citing a direct impact on their businesses. Interestingly, the Singapore FinTech Association found that larger organisations had coped better with the crisis, compared with smaller firms with less than 20 employees.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: HR's role in business continuity plans

What was your greatest lesson from the pandemic?

During a virtual roundtable session organised by Kincentric, two HR leaders shared that managing the company’s BCP was their biggest takeaway from the crisis. Leaders noted that while they’ve always had a contingency plan in place for business operations, they’ve never thought much of it and considered any drills another routine part of their work.

“As part of essential services, NETS ran a BCP all the time,” said Tery Chua, HCM group VP, principal of NETS Academy. “[But] we really didn’t see the real importance of it until COVID really hit us. Because of contingency [plans], part of our workforce had to shift to another site.”

The workforce at NETS, an electronic payment service provider, now follow through on their BCP “religiously”, said Chua, who's thankful for its existence as it’s allowed the team to switch systems “almost immediately with totally zero downtime” during the pandemic.

READ MORE: HRDs reveal their greatest lessons from 2020

Naveen Chhabra, VP and regional HR head for SEA and China at Olam International was another leader who highlighted BCPs in his list of takeaways from 2020.

Being in the global food and agri-business industry, Olam likely saw major disruptions across its supply chain. Singapore has been the company’s corporate headquarters for more than two decades. They also have a food processing facility and innovation centre in the city-state. And while they regularly practiced things like safety dry runs and fire drills, COVID-19 has taught his team that “we need to be doing similar runs when it comes to the BCP”.

“We cannot wait for another [crisis] to occur for us to realise the importance of [BCP],” Chhabra said. “We have been following the fire safety drills. But one of the biggest learnings for us has been that we need to be ready with our BCP plans and drills. This could imply that in the future, we could be running pilot BCP drills, even if the situation is normal, which [will help] towards our preparedness for any future events.”

READ MORE: Post-pandemic panic? Leaders reveal top concerns

How to create an effective BCP?

The panel discussion attended by HRD and our conversations with leaders over the past year have shown that HR now plays a very big role in the crisis or emergency response team. This is due to the pandemic’s status as a people-centred crisis. Organisations now look upon CHROs for critical insights into the workforce and what it’d take to ensure that employees can continue to do their work through disruptive times.

So how can leaders ensure a successful BCP? Some vital steps include:

  1. Identifying the BCP’s objectives: This will help guide the purpose of every policy and initiative during a crisis.
  2. Assessing risk: The team must be able to identify all relevant risks to the workforce and organisation and consider all possible threats in a scenario. Leaders should then come up with measures to overcome the risk.
  3. Continually adapt the BCP: A BCP is only effective if it manages to meet the changing needs of the business – and the pandemic has shown that things can change as quickly as within a day.
  4. Communication: As with any policy changes, leaders should be transparent and update employees regularly. After all, they’re the ones who will be carrying out the BCP initiatives.

While the first three steps ensure a solid BCP for the organisation, HR leaders have pointed out that it’s the final point around communication that can make or break the entire plan.

Leaders said that it’s important “to go beyond policy to support employees” through any crisis. Closing the gap between leaders and employees with transparency, open communication, and flexibility will enable the workforce to remain nimble and ready to soldier through any crisis.

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