Business Continuity Process Meeting Success Tips

This information is from my new book, The Ultimate Business Continuity Success Guide: How to Build Real-World Resilience and Unleash Exciting New Value Streams. Happily it is now Amazon’s #1 searched business continuity book. I hope you enjoy the chapter. and the book.

Business Continuity Process Meeting Success Tips

One-on-one business process owner (department manager) meetings are directly related to the success of your resilience program. Lots of learning and relationship building can take place in these meetings. I encourage you to prepare properly to achieve the maximum value.

The cool thing is if you do them right you will make lots of friends you can call on at any time. I am proud that I have an ‘open door’ to speak with my process owners practically any time I want. And it is a two-way street; if they need to speak or meet with me I will re-arrange my schedule to accommodate them.

Prior to scheduling the one-on-one meetings learn your organizations norms and culture. Ideally upper-management will have already hosted the meet-and-greet power lunch we talked about earlier to properly introduce you to the team in a relaxed setting. The lunch is a great setting to ‘break-the-ice’ and to start getting a feel for how people interact and what their personalities are like. Try to pick up as many queues as possible. Watch, listen and learn.

Soon after the upper management hosted lunch your next action item is to schedule the one-on-one meetings with each process owner. I like to make these low-key relaxed meetings, friendly and not too long. That has worked well for me. It also fits my personality so I think I conduct them well. Your style may be different but just as effective. You must be yourself. As my cool friends say, ‘you have to be real Marty! ‘

Tip –  Be prepared, set goals, have a game plan and have an agenda for the meetings. Know what you want to accomplish.

Tip – I like to think of this meeting as a kick-off meeting. You will provide a brief ‘about them’ knowledge share of the value you can bring them. They may remember some things from the management hosted lunch but here you can go a bit deeper here and maybe show a few (less than 10) info slides and pictures. I have found showing one or two ‘horror story pictures’ of a hurricane ravaged warehouse or a critical office environment in ashes or under water from a flood really hits home!  After that brief but powerful intro, you will ask questions but they must be doing most of the talking.

Tip –  This first round of meetings can be a great opportunity to begin learning what response and recovery capabilities are currently in place. During the meeting ask the process owner how they would currently recover their process. Answers can range from ‘I never thought about that’ to a well thought out plan. Possibly they will describe a disruption when they had to recover at a sister-site or work from home. If that is the case drill down with follow-up questions such as – how did that go? How could it have been better? …

If the opportunity presents itself in the natural flow of the conversation, ask a few other simple Yes/No capability assessment type questions. The purpose is not to turn the conversation into a full dependency analysis. That will take place during the BIA interview/survey. At this stage, it is to level-set a bit. I find it advantageous to squeeze in the following questions to get a sort of informal baseline of where we are starting from:

  • Do you maintain an updated contact list for your team? Is it available when you are home or travelling?
  • Do your managers have company issued laptops?
  • Can managers work from home, if necessary?
  • Can your team work from multiple sites or is it necessary for everyone to be physically in one room?
  • Do you have critical customer facing toll free numbers? Can you currently re-route the calls if necessary? Have you tested re-routing them recently?

You might be pleasantly surprised. Some organizations have a resilient culture. They are practicing emergency response and business continuity principles even if they do not have a formal program and written plans. If so, it is a great start! That will make your job easier.

Whatever the process owner tells you will be valuable. You will understand the baseline level of maturity and how far you must go in building your world-class program. You will also instill confidence in them when you let them know the great news that you are there to partner with them to insure they will be able to continue to work regardless of whatever disruptive event we encounter.

Tip – Prepare for process owner meetings and be ready to collect both qualitative and quantitative data. Both types will be very valuable to you as you move forward. (I also mention this tip in the BIA part of the book).

  • Qualitative data: is data that is non-numerical. It is a messier type of data than quantitative data. It is more subjective and cannot be precisely measured but can provide important information. For example, you may ask, ‘are you confident employees are aware of what to do and not do when the fire alarms sound?’ The response may be ‘I am not too confident at all. I am very concerned about safety’. It can also be observations you make during a conversation. For example, if you ask the process owner about employee morale and he/she rolls his/her eyes and shakes his/her head in a negative manner it is an important indicator there is a need for improvement.
  • Quantitative data: is more precise numerical data. For example, ‘how many sub-processes do you have’; ‘how much is a fine for late payment’; ‘how many regular employees do you have in your process?’ This is data that is easy to build reports and dashboard metrics around.

Tip – Prior to each business process owner meeting learn something about the process owner. Be a sleuth. No, I am not suggesting you troll them on the Internet but just do some light research that will make the meeting more enjoyable. Finding commonality between you and the process owner will help you bond.

Tip – Start the meeting off low-key and maybe bring up something not business related. Smile and be friendly. People do business with people they like. Open with something they enjoy speaking about to break the ice.  You will immediately notice their enthusiasm and the positive direction the meeting will begin to flow in. If you meet in their office there will be all sorts of queues. Perhaps they coach little league. Perhaps they run. Perhaps they have a Dallas Cowboys picture on the wall…

Tip – Be careful, I have seen ‘green’ business continuity professionals come on too strong and blow things up from the start. For example, setting up three hour meetings centered around presentations or lectures consisting of 120 PowerPoint slides using an 8-point font! Ouch! That is certain to cause process owners to squirm in their seats, ‘glaze over’, start looking at their watches and desperately try to find creative excuses to somehow get the heck out of there. Maybe there is an app for that. Put yourself in their shoes; imagine an auditor inviting you to a three-hour meeting – yikes – no thanks!

Tip – Leave your PowerPoint in your office. They will love you for ‘forgetting it’. Just talk to them as you would a friend with passion in your voice. It is much more effective. Hey, if you ever auditioned for a Ted Talk you know they frown on PowerPoint slides (I am aware of this as I was recently invited as a finalist to give a TedX talk at a major University).

Tip – I have also witnessed ‘whet behind the ears’ over-eager business continuity professionals barge into process owner’s offices without proper introduction and behave like efficiency experts looking to reduce expenses by cutting jobs. Whoa, sloooow down bucko. Please, do not be that person. Complaints to upper management the first week from middle management are not the ideal way to launch your program.

Tip – During these meetings you should diminish their fears. Keep it all about them. Remind them of some industry related crisis horror stories where people lost their jobs and how the impacted company went out of business because they did not have a tested business resilience program. In my experience this sort of story is highly effective. It will get people nodding their heads. They will relate. It really hits home or more to the point; it rightfully scares the sh*! out of them. Hey, they have bills to pay. There are lots of statistics validating the high percentage of companies that go out of business when they encounter a disruptive event and do not have a tested plan. I mention a number of them throughout the book.

Tip – During meetings it is important to let the process owners talk. If you are doing most of the talking then there is a problem. Throttle it back. You should actively listen and ask probing open ended rather than Yes/No questions. Build on what they are communicating to you. Ask questions and listen intently. You should be listening more than speaking. Let them talk and with the right open-ended questions they will describe their pain, process criticalities (time sensitivity) and single points of failure.

Tip – If you do these intro meetings in a light, relaxed manner the info will begin flowing naturally, sometimes like an ocean. You will hear some amazing things such as, ‘I can’t remember the last time we had a fire-drill’ or ‘I do not even know what a rally-point is!’ Jot everything down while trying to maintain eye-contact throughout. This is important information you are collecting and you will want to refer to it later.

Tip – Make eye contact! Looking people in the eye and connecting shows sincerity. It opens people up. In recent years, we have gotten so used to looking down at our devices that we often forget the importance of making eye contact. Make eye contact works – it works.

Tip – Do not interrupt them or finish their sentences. The more they talk, the more you get to know their pain points. You do not learn anything when you are talking.

Tip – Begin understanding their business process and ‘what keeps them up at night’. Learn which business processes they depend on (upstream) and which processes depend on them (downstream). This information will be critical when you map the upstream and downstream dependencies as part of your BIA. Keep great notes.

Tip – One of my favorite questions is ‘what keeps you up at night’ often people will say ‘going to the bathroom’, which is cool as it indicates they are loosening up and you are beginning to build a relationship.  Make sure you laugh. Ok, give it a try. Please practice how you will laugh at their joke now so it does not sound phony during the real meeting. I will wait…. good but relax …one more time… please laugh………. excellent!

Tip – Keep the meeting to the allotted time. I usually schedule the first meeting for 47 or 49 minutes – not 60. If you really think you need 60, please make it 55. Give them back that 5 minutes to prep or get to their next meeting. Trust me, psychologically it works. Remember, most process owners are really busy so please be respectful of their time. It will pay off with less people blowing off your meetings.

Tip – Reflection works. I have become very good at reflecting the person I am speaking with. It enables them to be more comfortable and open with me. Reflection is about getting on the same wavelength as the person you are speaking with. Psychologically, people enjoy speaking with people like them. Here are some tips on reflection that have become natural to me:

  • Learn to pace your words. If you are speaking with someone that speaks verrrry slowly you should slow down your words. If they speak fast you speak fast
  • Watch their body movements. Reflect some of the gestures they use. Just remember you do not want to blatantly imitate them. So, if they pick their ear or another body part, don’t automatically do that. No, the trick is to subtly get on the same wavelength as the person you are having a discussion with
  • Use words and phrases, they will clearly understand. I was having a meeting with a process owner a couple of years ago, and I kept referring to their ‘process’. They nodded and nodded as there was someone with us at the time. After the meeting the process owner took me aside and asked me what a ‘process’ was They were ashamed to ask the question in front of the other person. So, my bad. In this company they referred to a process as a department. Saying ‘department’ would have been much better in that meeting. Take nothing for granted

Tip – Buy them lunch. Sharing a meal fosters openness and makes everything easier. They will quickly open up to you. Try it. Plan what you will order before-hand. Unless you are a neater eater than I am you might want to refrain from a big bowl of spaghetti and sauce. It is my favorite food but I had it one time with a process owner at lunch and more sauce wound up on my shirt, face and on him than in my mouth. The young man in the picture eating spaghetti is neater than me. For me, maybe a salad might have been more appropriate for this meal.

Tip – Quote a true stat during the meeting such as ‘73% of businesses without a tested plan that encounter a crisis go out of business within three years.’

Tip – Most people have no idea what business resilience or business continuity is. If you start talking about BIA’s, RA’s, sub-processes, blah, blah, blah you will often see people glaze over. These terms are second nature to us but Pig Latin to most business people. You are there to help them keep working. You are there to keep the company in business. You are there to insure the company become stronger. That it bends but does not break. For a true story of the importance of clearly communicating the criticality of business continuity read the chapter, ‘How and Why You Need a Powerful Continuity Elevator Pitch Today’, in this part of the book.

Tip – Don’t worry if the first couple of meetings are not perfect. In fact, set the first couple with processes you have an inkling will be less critical (time sensitive). Possibly begin with marketing and merchandising to get the marbles out of your mouth. Ok, if you are in marketing or merchandising please do not be offended – I always include you as vital to recovery but your process may not be as time-sensitive as others although in the long run no company can survive without marketing and merchandising.

Tip – Over the course of many meetings you will hone your pitch. In sales people buy from people they like. In our profession, it helps if they like us and it makes your job more pleasant. We certainly do not want them to run when they see us – ‘uh oh, here comes the BC guy or gal’,

Tip – Finally, PLEASE, I REPEAT PLEASE, DO NOT assign them ‘homework’ at this point. Always hand them a couple of your business cards and let them know they can call you anytime – including weekends and nights – and mean it! You are there to serve them. The rewards will come back to you.

UltimateBusinessContinuity.com