A Business Continuity Plan Is Key in a Crisis

A Business Continuity Plan Is Key in a Crisis

When I was in my late 20s, a friend recommended me for a directorship at an organization she was involved with. The board was looking for a director with strong finance and accounting experience. I enjoyed serving and decided to become more involved with other organizations.

I have board experience in highly regulated industries, where a critical area of focus is risk management. Prior to COVID-19, business continuity planning was top of mind, especially for the food distribution organization I chaired.

The board asked for an updated business continuity plan (BCP), and a former FEMA director was brought in to help facilitate. The process included our organization’s executive leadership team and key stakeholder groups such as county government and other first responder groups, as we would typically partner with them in the event of a crisis. Seeking those diverse perspectives allowed the plan to come together in a way where each group understood how to work with one another should the scenarios in our plan arise — although a pandemic was not on our radar.

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With the onset of COVID-19, the food distribution agency was still able to quickly deploy a plan. Assigned leaders with clearly defined roles allowed for an immediate impact. The BCP gave comfort to the board, as we knew management had a well-thought-out approach. The in-depth planning process created a muscle memory that enabled a focused and calm response at all levels of the organization as details emerged. This resulted in the organization remaining open, fulfilling its mission at a larger scale and being among the best prepared in the county.

This experience provided a forum for deep discussion around the risks to the organization such as natural disasters, losing access to key suppliers or changes to federal guidelines and ways to mitigate, transfer, accept or eliminate those risks. Solutions included adding suppliers from diverse regions, securing storage in alternative locations and implementing government policy work. An important aspect of future discussions, based on what we are learning from COVID-19, would be to combine the risk management discussions with conversations about how an organization innovates to address these risks. The pandemic forced the question, “If we can’t fulfill our mission or role, what do we become?”

Meaningful and thought-provoking conversations in the boardroom resulted from this open-ended question. These discussions around the BCP coupled with ways to innovate processes can uncover new ways of doing business that may not have been previously contemplated. These types of questions can serve organizations well as we continue to navigate volatile and uncertain environments.

Lauren Harrell is a Qualified Financial Expert who has served on a dozen advisory and nonprofit boards. She currently is on the advisory board of WSFS Bank, a $12 billion publicly traded bank, and JEVS Human Services, one of the largest health and human services agencies in the Greater Philadelphia region. She is the former chair of the Chester County Food Bank.