While Charles continues his recovery, RiskSmart Tips would like to thank several colleagues for volunteering to contribute their professional views, particularly in the areas of avoiding, planning for, and managing a crisis.  This month’s tip has been authored by Bart Gragg, founder of Blue Collar University®.

Several years ago Charles introduced me to the bestselling book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Dr. Atul Gawande.  Gawande tells the story of Boeing aircraft’s department whose sole purpose is to develop checklists.  What they most often write at the top of emergency checklists is “Fly the Plane.”

That is business continuity in its simplest form.  It is making sure that the company delivers on its promises.  It is making sure someone flies the plane while others perform the critical tasks required to recover from a disaster.  Take the famous case of “Sully” Sullenberger, the airline captain that made a water landing in the Hudson River.  All of the 155 people on board survived.  Why?  Sully’s experience helped him fly the plane while his co-pilot cycled through the engine restart checklist twice and the rest of the crew prepared for the unorthodox landing.

If something happens in your business or department, who’s going to fly the plane?  Will the others know what to do?  Who is going to be the successor to the business owner, to a department manager or executive?  Do they have a business continuity plan or checklist to help them through the crisis?

Businesses that tend to survive a crisis have three things in common: the pre-selection of a successor, the grooming of that person, and a culture of open communication.  The others may at best meet only one of the criteria – the selection of the successor.  They will ultimately struggle.

I recently had the opportunity to choose between two separate companies to work for.  Both companies had chosen their successors.  The difference was that the first company was non-communicative.  They would ask for meetings and fail to show up.  They would set times for phone calls and not be on those calls, never let anyone know they wouldn’t make the call, and didn’t apologize for their actions.  When interviewing the president and his selected successor separately, it was obvious they had not even spoken with each other about routine operational decisions, and they each had greatly differing ideas about the future of the company.

The company I did choose to work for has chosen a successor.  Both parties talk frequently about not just daily operations, but how they both see the future.  They hold similar values.  They have the same ideas about how people are to be treated, and they are both very much open to discussing different ways to expand the business while remaining true to their core philosophy and core strengths.  Externally, you can see how well communication is embedded in their company.  Even when they don’t know the answer to a tough question they communicate anyway.  They say, “We don’t know the answer.  We will find the answer and get back with you as soon as we do.”  And they keep their word.

Can you see how those habits and philosophies make a difference in daily and long-term business continuity?  For one thing, both employees and clients will see the second company as consistent and trustworthy.  And who wouldn’t want that?

  • Does your business have a continuity plan for a major or minor crisis?
  • Do you know who your successor might be?  Are they being groomed?
  • How is your culture of communication?  Does everyone feel safe enough to come to you with bad news?

What are you risking by not having all three of those pieces in place?

If a critical event happens in your business, who is going to fly the plane?

Bart Gragg

Blue Collar University®