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Stay Resilient: 8 Business Continuity Blunders to Avoid

Business Continuity is more than just ‘ticking boxes’ and balancing books.

Looking out for business continuity blunders

In today’s volatile global landscape, the significance of robust business continuity planning is paramount. Recent occurrences have sharply highlighted the necessity for preparedness. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted operations across the globe, demonstrating the profound impact health crises can have on every facet of business. Supply chain complications persist in industries from manufacturing to retail, illustrating that logistical disruptions can have extensive effects on global markets. Additionally, geopolitical tensions in regions such as the Middle East have revealed the potential for abrupt impacts on energy prices, market stability, and international business operations. These examples underscore the critical need for organisations to develop comprehensive, resilient business continuity plans capable of withstanding a variety of crises.


Example: Sudanese Companies Amid War and Piracy

Sudan has been facing significant challenges due to the ongoing war and piracy in the Red Sea, which exacerbate the already dire situation. Businesses in Sudan have faced significant challenges in maintaining operational continuity amidst political instability, economic hardships, and infrastructural deficiencies.


Many Sudanese businesses have struggled with:

Displacement of People: A huge number of Sudanese have left their homes, causing labour shortages.

Destruction of Infrastructure: Essential services like electricity, water, healthcare, industries, and agriculture have been severely impacted.

Economic Collapse: The local currency continues to deteriorate, and the banking sector is unstable.

Terrorism Threats: Uncontrolled armed forces risk spreading terrorism to neighbouring countries.


Several key factors have contributed to the vulnerability of these businesses including a compliance-first mindset that results in plans that meet standards but lack practical applicability during crises. Consequently, businesses create extensive documentation that fails to address real-world disruptions. Additionally, many businesses overlook the importance of training and supporting their workforce. During crises like political unrest, this neglect causes confusion and ineffective responses, as unprepared employees cannot execute plans effectively. Without regular simulations and drills, even well-crafted continuity plans remain theoretical. Many Sudanese businesses fail to prioritise these exercises, leading to poor coordination and recovery during events like natural disasters. Moreover, the rapidly changing political and economic landscape requires frequent updates to continuity plans. However, many businesses do not review and revise their plans regularly, leaving them vulnerable to new threats.


The cumulative effect of these issues has led to severe disruptions in various sectors of Sudan. During recent civil unrest, retailers struggled with supply chains, banks faced operational downtimes, and service providers could not deliver essential services. Companies that focused solely on compliance found their plans impractical, those neglecting training faced internal chaos, and outdated plans left businesses unprepared for new risks.


Through close collaboration, the authors of this article have combined their own personal experiences to reflect and provide a critical perspective on how organisations can successfully develop the resilience needed to navigate disruptive environments.



In the business realm, continuity planning is essential to ensure operations are resilient to disruptions and can recover swiftly. However, even the most well-intentioned plans can succumb to common pitfalls undermining their effectiveness. Through our close collaboration, we identified eight critical errors frequently made by organisations in their business continuity strategies.


Avoid these 8 business continuity blunders

Proactively addressing these pitfalls can help your organisation not just survive unexpected challenges but also prosper through them. Let’s unpack these eight potential problems one by one:


1. Compliance-First Mindset

Adopting a compliance-first mindset in business continuity planning is a profound misstep that can undermine the core objectives of true organisational resilience. Many companies, driven by the desire to meet legal and regulatory benchmarks, fall into the trap of treating continuity planning as a mere box-ticking exercise. While it's essential to meet these standards, focusing solely on compliance often results in plans that, although they pass audits, lack practical effectiveness in real-world scenarios.


This compliance-centric approach can lead to a superficial layer of security that might not hold up under the stress of an actual crisis. Effective business continuity planning should go beyond just fulfilling external requirements and instead focus on building robust systems that genuinely protect and sustain the business's core operations. This involves a comprehensive analysis of potential risks and the development of strategic responses that ensure the organisation can continue to function and thrive, regardless of the challenges faced.


2. Neglecting Human Factors

Business continuity planning transcends mere logistical and technological preparations; it fundamentally revolves around people. A common oversight in many plans is the insufficient consideration given to human factors, which are critical to successfully executing any business continuity strategy. Key elements such as staff availability, effective communication, and mental health support during crises often receive less attention than they critically require, potentially compromising the entire plan.


Staff Availability: Ensuring that adequate personnel are available and ready to respond in a crisis is essential. Many organisations fail to account for scenarios where key staff members might be unavailable due to the same emergency affecting the business, such as regional natural disasters or pandemics, which can impact employees' ability to work, whether remotely or on-site. Plans should include strategies for cross-training employees, establishing backup roles, and perhaps even retaining a contingent workforce that can be mobilised when needed.


Mental Health Support: Crises exert tremendous stress on individuals, and managing this human element is as critical as managing any operational or technical issue. Mental health support mechanisms such as access to counselling services, stress management workshops, and a supportive corporate culture should be integral parts of a business continuity plan. Supporting employees’ mental health not only aids their personal well-being but also enhances their ability to function effectively under pressure, thereby contributing to the resilience of the organisation.


By integrating these human factors into business continuity planning, organisations can ensure that their workforce is prepared, protected, and capable of executing their roles effectively in the face of disruption. This holistic approach acknowledges that the strength of a business's response to crises lies not just in its systems and processes but, critically, in its people.


3. Lack of Testing and Training

Even the best business continuity plans can fail without regular testing and training. Effective continuity strategies require practical application. Simulations and drills transform theory into actionable plans that can be executed confidently under pressure.


Conducting Regular Simulations and Drills

Regular drills are crucial for testing the effectiveness of continuity plans. These realistic exercises help identify gaps, allowing for continuous improvement. They should mimic potential scenarios, from natural disasters to cybersecurity breaches, to familiarise the team with necessary procedures.


Training All Employees

Training must involve every level of the organisation. Employees should understand their roles and responsibilities, learn to respond to various emergencies, communicate under stress, and use critical tools during a crisis. Regular sessions ensure that new employees are prepared and that updates to the plans are communicated effectively.


Engaging Different Departments

Testing and training should involve all departments, each of which may face unique risks. This ensures the continuity plan is comprehensive and that all staff are coordinated and knowledgeable, regardless of their role.


Feedback and Improvement

Gathering feedback after each drill is vital. Analysing this feedback identifies challenges and areas for improvement, helping to refine the plan and keep it effective.


Building a Culture of Preparedness

Regular testing and training foster a culture of preparedness, reinforcing the importance of readiness and resilience. This cultural shift ensures everyone takes ownership of their role in safeguarding the organisation.


In summary, without regular testing and training, even the best continuity plans can be ineffective. By integrating simulations, engaging all employees, and fostering a culture of preparedness, organisations can turn theoretical plans into practical, effective processes for handling disruptions.


4. Failure to Regularly Update the Plan

The business environment is dynamic, with new challenges and opportunities emerging constantly. This fluidity requires that business continuity plans are not static documents but evolving frameworks that adapt to changing circumstances. A failure to regularly update these plans can result in reliance on outdated strategies that may be ineffective when a crisis actually strikes, thereby exposing the organisation to unnecessary risks.


By engaging stakeholders in regular reviews and ensuring that updates are systematically incorporated into the plan, organisations can maintain a robust, current, and effective continuity strategy that evolves in step with the changing business landscape.


Recognizing Changes in the Business Environment

The first step towards effective updates, is the continuous monitoring of both the internal and external business environment. This includes staying informed about industry developments, technological advancements, regulatory changes, and emerging threats such as cyber-attacks or geopolitical instabilities. For example, the rapid rise in remote working has introduced new opportunities and vulnerabilities that business continuity plans must now address.


Incorporating New Risks and Technologies

As new risks emerge and new technologies develop, they should be integrated into the business continuity planning. This could mean updating IT disaster recovery plans to include newer cloud technologies or revising supply chain strategies in response to newly identified vulnerabilities. Each plan aspect should be evaluated to ensure that it still offers the best protection based on current capabilities and potential threats.


Engaging Stakeholders in Regular Reviews

Regularly reviewing and updating the continuity plan should involve stakeholders from across the organisation. This inclusive approach ensures that the plan reflects the current understanding and needs of different departments, from IT to human resources to operations. It also helps to foster a culture of resilience, where business continuity is understood and valued at all levels of the organisation.


Scheduled Updates and Drills

To ensure continuity plans remain relevant, organisations should establish a regular schedule for reviewing and updating their plans. This might be on an annual basis, or more frequently if the business operates in a particularly volatile industry. Additionally, regular drills and simulations should be conducted to test the plan against hypothetical scenarios, allowing any weaknesses to be identified and addressed. These exercises not only improve the plan but also enhance the organisation’s readiness and the staff's familiarity with the procedures.


Feedback Loops and Learning

Feedback mechanisms should be built into the review process, allowing lessons learned from drills, actual incidents, and business changes to be systematically incorporated into the plan. This continuous improvement loop helps to ensure that the business continuity plan evolves in step with the organisation and remains robust and effective, regardless of the challenges it faces.


5. Overlooking Supply Chain and Third-Party Risks

In business continuity, many organisations focus heavily on internal processes but overlook the crucial importance of external dependencies. These external elements, including supply chains and third-party vendors, often represent significant vulnerabilities that can expose businesses to severe risks if not properly managed. Integrating these factors into your continuity planning is not just beneficial—it's essential for ensuring the resilience and sustainability of operations.


Recognizing External Dependencies

The first step in addressing external dependencies is identifying them. This involves mapping out the entire supply chain, identifying key suppliers, and understanding the flow of goods and services that are critical to daily operations. Similarly, it is important to recognize the role of third-party vendors, from IT services to outsourced customer support, and assess how their potential vulnerabilities might impact your business.


Assessing Risks in Supply Chains and Vendor Relationships

Once these dependencies are mapped, conducting risk assessments is crucial to understand potential disruption scenarios and their likely impact. For supply chains, this might involve analysing risks associated with geographic locations, political instability, or financial health of suppliers. For third-party vendors, considerations might include the security of their systems, their own continuity arrangements, and even their economic robustness.


Developing Mitigation Strategies

With a clear understanding of these risks, organisations can then develop targeted strategies to mitigate them. This could include diversifying supplier bases to avoid reliance on a single source, establishing stronger contracts with vendors that include specific continuity clauses, or creating strategic stockpiles of critical inventory. It’s also wise to establish alternative backup vendors and supply routes that can be activated in case primary channels fail.


Integrating External Factors into the Wider Continuity Plan

These mitigation strategies must be seamlessly integrated into the broader business continuity plan. This integration ensures that responses to disruptions are coordinated across all levels of the organisation and not siloed within separate departments. Regular drills and simulations that include scenarios affecting external dependencies can help to test the effectiveness of the plan and identify any gaps or areas for improvement.


Continuous Monitoring and Collaboration

Finally, maintaining strong, ongoing communication with suppliers and third-party vendors is vital. This enables the timely sharing of information regarding potential risks and allows for collaborative planning for possible disruptions. Regularly revisiting and updating these plans in partnership with external entities ensure they remain relevant and robust in a changing environment.


By proactively addressing external dependencies in their continuity plans, organisations can protect themselves against a range of risks that could otherwise cripple their operations. This comprehensive approach not only safeguards the operational aspects but also enhances overall business resilience.


6. Poor Communication Plans

The efficacy of a business continuity plan is intrinsically linked to how well it is implemented, and the cornerstone of successful implementation is effective communication. Without clear and reliable communication channels established prior to a crisis, organisations can quickly descend into chaos and inefficiency when disaster strikes. This makes the development and maintenance of robust communication strategies a pivotal component of any comprehensive business continuity plan.


Establishing Clear Communication Channels

It is essential that communication pathways are not only defined but also tested and known to all relevant parties before a crisis occurs. This involves setting up multiple channels to ensure redundancy; for example, in addition to email, having instant messaging apps, dedicated intranet resources, and even satellite phones for critical situations where conventional networks may fail. Each channel should be suited to specific types of communication during various emergency phases, ensuring that messages are conveyed efficiently and are received by all intended recipients.


Regular Updates and Accessible Information

Continuity plans must include protocols for regularly updating all stakeholders, including employees, management, and external partners. This means having a schedule for regular updates and designating who is responsible for issuing them. Accessibility of information is also critical; information should be easy to access and understand, ensuring that every stakeholder has the knowledge needed to act swiftly and appropriately. This might involve having predefined templates for updates and alerts that can be quickly filled out and distributed without delay.


Predefined Communication Protocols

Having established protocols for communication is crucial. This includes knowing who communicates what information, to whom, and at what times. Protocols should outline the flow of communication during a crisis, including escalation paths and the roles and responsibilities of individuals within the communication chain. This structured approach helps eliminate ambiguity and ensures a coordinated response among all parts of the organisation.


The establishment of clear, reliable, and effective communication systems within a business continuity plan is not merely a procedural necessity but a strategic asset that can significantly enhance the organisation's resilience in managing and recovering from crises. By prioritising and rigorously developing these communication strategies, organisations can ensure that when the need arises, their response will be swift, organised, and effective, thereby minimising the impact of disruptions and safeguarding the continuity of operations.


7. Inadequate Risk Assessment

A robust and effective business continuity plan is fundamentally anchored in a comprehensive risk assessment. Unfortunately, many organisations fall into the trap of performing overly generic risk assessments that fail to capture the specific vulnerabilities unique to their operations or industry. This common oversight can lead to the underestimation of potential threats, particularly those that seem improbable or rare, yet could cause significant disruptions if they were to occur.


Generic assessments often use a one-size-fits-all approach that might miss critical nuances, such as industry-specific risks or emerging threats like digital security breaches in an increasingly online world. For example, a technology company might focus on preventing data breaches, while overlooking the risk of supply chain disruptions that can be just as crippling. Conversely, a manufacturing firm might concentrate on equipment failure and ignore cyber threats, leaving their digital infrastructure vulnerable to attacks.


Moreover, risk assessments need to consider both the probability and the impact of each potential threat. This dual focus allows organisations to prioritise resources and develop mitigation strategies that are proportionate to the risk posed. For instance, while the likelihood of a major natural disaster might be low in certain areas, the devastating impact it could have on operations justifies significant preparation and investment in resilience measures.


A tailored strategy for each potential threat involves not only recognizing the type of threat but also understanding how it could affect various parts of the organisation. This might mean conducting separate risk assessments for different departments or operational areas and integrating these into a unified business continuity strategy that addresses all aspects of the organisation's vulnerabilities.


Ultimately, moving beyond inadequate risk assessments requires a dynamic approach that continually evolves as new threats emerge and the business landscape changes. This proactive stance ensures that the business continuity planning remains relevant and effective, safeguarding the organisation against both expected and unexpected challenges.


8. Overemphasis on Financial Metrics

When the focus of business continuity planning is predominantly on financial metrics such as cost reduction or return on investment, there is a risk of developing an imbalanced strategy that does not fully protect the organisation. While maintaining financial health is undeniably crucial, this narrow focus can inadvertently lead to the neglect of equally critical aspects of the business such as employee safety, operational robustness, and supply chain reliability.


A financial-centric approach might streamline costs in the short term but could leave the organisation vulnerable to unforeseen disruptions that could have far-reaching consequences. For example, cutting costs by reducing inventory might improve financial metrics initially, but it can also increase the risk of operational paralysis in the event of supply chain disruptions. Similarly, understaffing to save on payroll might boost immediate financial results, but it could compromise the company's ability to respond effectively during a crisis, thereby affecting long-term sustainability.


A truly comprehensive business continuity plan should balance financial objectives with the need to maintain operational capacity and employee welfare. This means ensuring that there are adequate resources to protect critical infrastructure, support staff during disruptions, and maintain essential supply chains, even if these measures do not immediately enhance financial performance.


Moreover, sustainability in business continuity planning involves viewing financial health through the lens of long-term resilience rather than short-term gains. It requires an understanding that investments in non-financial aspects of the business are crucial for its survival and prosperity in the face of adversity. By embracing a more holistic approach, organisations can ensure they are not just surviving disruptions but are well-positioned to thrive in their aftermath.


Conclusion

Avoiding the eight common pitfalls in business continuity planning is pivotal for enhancing your organisation's ability to manage and withstand disruptions effectively. Remember, effective business continuity is not a static endeavour, represented merely by a set of documents; it is a dynamic, evolving process that requires ongoing vigilance, updates, and adaptability.


Business continuity planning and execution are the work of a cross-functional team —a task force— not an individual function or department.


Engaging the different functions in the planning will impact the level of engagement and the depth of thinking.


At Hesse Consulting Group, we understand that true resilience extends beyond mere compliance and financial metrics. Our approach integrates comprehensive risk assessments, considers crucial human factors, and embraces technological and operational adaptabilities to foster a holistic resilience strategy. We provide tailored solutions that ensure your business continuity plans are not only compliant but also practical, actionable, and robust under any circumstances.


By partnering with us, you benefit from our expertise in continuously evolving your plans to meet the changing demands of the global business landscape. Our dedicated team of experts works closely with your organisation to embed a culture that values thorough planning and continuous improvement. We focus on training your staff, testing your systems, and providing insights that transform theoretical frameworks into functional, everyday practices.


Together, we can create a resilient framework that not only safeguards your operational continuity but also enhances your organisation's overall health and sustainability. Join us in transforming business continuity from a requirement to a strategic advantage.


Taking risks

About the Authors

Abdelgadir Khalil

Abdelgadir Khalil, CEng, MBA, CPMC, is a highly experienced and accomplished Chartered Engineer with over three decades of dedicated service in the field of engineering. Hailing from Sudan and having grown up there, Khalil has many years of experience working in the region. Armed with an MBA and certifications as a Projects Director and Strategist FAIPM, Abdelgadir is a proven strategy and project management expert. His extensive experience and expertise in risk management and change management have been instrumental in delivering successful projects and driving organisational growth.


Markus Hesse

Markus Hesse, MA in Business Coaching and Change Management, combines more than 20 years of personal experience in international leadership with many years of experience as a management consultant. Markus has worked on more than 300 projects in various industries for Fortune 500 and medium-sized companies. His track record includes projects with various Sudanese companies since 2004. Markus is an author for change management at the Euro-FH in Hamburg.



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