The last few days have been spent shoveling, plowing, scraping, sanding, and generally trying to undo the damage and inconvenience that a blizzard can cause. It likely is not top of mind for most of us to even try to think of what lessons we can take from this debilitating situation. However, there are very key lessons to be internalized from a weather event that extends far beyond simply remembering where the aspirin and Ben-Gay is kept for treating sore muscles.
This storm has allowed us to consider things that we don’t ordinarily view as key priorities in the normal course of events. While the potential lessons are numerous, this storm has certainly emphasized:
- Communication chains
- Disaster recovery
- Contingency planning
As soon as the storm was clearly descending upon our area, it became increasingly obvious that people needed a way to reach out to each other to communicate. Information had to be shared. Some of it essential (was everyone safe? Was everyone accounted for? Are structures, electricity, water and heat operational?, etc.).
Next, there has to be a defined strategy of who is responsible for communicating, on what time frames is the communication to occur , how will the communication occur, and who is to be communicated with? Are Managers to call subordinates? Will websites or intranets be carrying the messages? Are there established times when communications be available? And on and on.
While no one can accurately predict a storm that has now been measured as one of the largest ever in our history precisely to the day weeks or months ahead of time; it can be anticipated that storms or other business interrupting events will occur. Not expecting it to happen within the next week, month, or even year may be a “bet” that a business will win time after time. However, thinking that it won’t EVER happen is a bet that eventually will lead to a loss (and unfortunately, a substantial loss is likely).
So, given the nature of storms (or other natural or man made disasters); the business is well served to have a plan in place to cover the “once in a lifetime events” – but always happen once in a lifetime. Some of the essentials that should be considered:
- Are there data backups of essential computer applications, files, databases, etc.
- Are paper files stored offsite or have they been scanned into a computer application (and are they stored off-site in another location)
- Can employees work from home if businesses are inaccessible? Is there a secondary location that can be accessed if needed to conduct business?
It is foolhardy for any business to think that the business plan they put in place, the strategy they intend to implement, or the tactics they currently employ to accomplish tasks will be able to be conducted exactly as envisioned. Too many things change. Unforeseen circumstances intervene. However, a smart business owner will create various options to address probable or likely outcomes. A good business owner will consider many details that may never need to be addressed; but have been planned for, “just in case.”
- What should be done if key employees leave the organization (succession planning implications, organizational structure concerns, etc.)?
- How would we respond if a competitor were to introduce a new product or service that significantly undercuts our market advantage?
- What would we do if there were changes to the legal requirements governing our industry?
- How would we react to marketplace changes in demand?
While few of us are feeling thankful for the storm that just came through and dropped three feet of snow on us. There are lessons we can take from this storm’s reminder that – we had better be prepared at all times for our worlds to change in the amount of time it takes for a blizzard to bury us. Are you prepared?