Treating the Causes of Bad Business Continuity Training Programs

Faults & Fixes SeriesFaults & Fixes: Bad Training

As business continuity professionals, we tend to gravitate to the activities where we think we can deliver the most value. This often takes the form of the business impact analysis, helping management come up with strategies that minimize risk, and documenting these strategies into plans. Ensuring that a business continuity program employs effective training approaches and engages business process owners, unfortunately, often plays “second fiddle” to other activities. One only needs to browse any of the top business continuity and disaster recovery related publications to see this disparity. Searching for “business impact analysis” or “business continuity plan” yields substantially more results than “business continuity training.” Yet without effective training, all that hard work will likely either fail or not perform to desired standards during a real disruptive incident.

We have an obligation to make sure that the employees we engage as part of the business continuity process are aware of their roles and responsibilities. Yet, too often, we as practitioners feel that an annual viewing of a PowerPoint presentation is sufficient to ensure that a “plan owner” can effectively manage a disruption in their area and execute strategies. While presentations and computer-based learning has its place in any training program, there is a lot of room for improvement in how we understand training requirements, engage audiences, and deliver effective training content.

This perspective examines four typical symptoms of “bad training programs” and their common root causes, and then provides suggestions on how organizations can develop training programs that communicate required content, differentiate to the appropriate audience, and better engage stakeholders.

SYMPTOM: EMPLOYEES AREN’T AWARE OF THE BUSINESS CONTINUITY PROGRAM

Root Cause: Training programs either do not exist or the training program is treated as an afterthought to other continuity-related activities

Business continuity initiatives often begin as one-off projects, and then, as the organization matures, the intent is to have the project outcomes integrated into ongoing operations to create a long-standing program. However, since training programs are often not well established during the early phases of implementation, business continuity practitioners often become frustrated because business continuity initiatives are not internalized by their key stakeholders, resulting in an inability to advance the program or meet certain performance expectations. One of the biggest culprits in inhibiting this transition is the lack of, or general ineffectiveness of, a training program. It is easy as practitioners to focus on the BIA, strategy development, and planning, but for a program to effectively take root and perform, we need to be better about identifying all of our stakeholders from the beginning, developing a targeted approach to reach them, and modifying this approach as the program matures. Training approaches need to be considered from the onset of the project or program with a clear vision on how employees will be trained as business continuity initiatives are implemented. When done effectively, stakeholders will be well aware of business continuity concepts, as well as their roles and responsibilities, immediately.

SYMPTOM: EVEN AFTER EMPLOYEES RECEIVE TRAINING, THEY ARE UNSURE OF THEIR ROLES AND HOW THE PROGRAM APPLIES TO THEM

Root Cause: Training is either irrelevant or not differentiated to the appropriate audiences

While creating and delivering a stock presentation that outlines business continuity concepts and the program structure to all stakeholders in a similar manner may be the easy way to get information out, it is likely not the most effective way to provide education on roles and responsibilities.

If stakeholders are unable to see how the presented information is relevant to them or how it will help them during a disruptive incident, it is difficult to ensure that they walk away from the training session with a clear idea of what they need to do to both understand the program and their responsibilities.

The key here is to be sure to differentiate materials to your various audiences, based on specific learning objectives. For example:

  • Managers will likely need different guidance than general employees;
  • Senior managers and executives will have substantially different responsibilities (especially if they are serving on crisis management teams); and
  • IT may have special considerations if your program is also responsible for overseeing technology recovery activities.

In these cases, the materials should be customized based on the role and the specific information the audience needs to learn.

You should also consider combining general awareness trainings with specific activities when it makes sense. For example, if you are going to be requiring a department manager to help develop a continuity plan, don’t require him/her to attend a training session on general program awareness and then come to a workshop on plan development a few days later.

Bottom-line: Use workshops or other in-person sessions to talk about the program, build interest, and communicate what needs to be communicated while minimizing time requirements from stakeholders.

SYMPTOM: EMPLOYEES COMPLAIN THAT THEY HAVE BETTER THINGS TO BE DOING THAN ATTEND BUSINESS CONTINUITY TRAINING

Root Cause: Training materials are either boring or do not use a delivery medium that engages the audience.

At some point, every business continuity practitioner has to field the question: “Why do I have to do this training?” This question is then typically followed by the dreaded comment: “I have better things to do.” While having an effective training program won’t completely alleviate employees making these types of comments, an effective program helps to reduce their frequency.

An effective way to bridge the “boredom gap” is to make sure that the delivery medium is relevant to the audience and the organization’s culture. In some organizations, a simple presentation may be adequate, but, if this falls short, you need to branch out and try different methods. There are a lot of examples readily available via the internet and discussion boards, but some of the more common methods include hosting informational lunch events, ensuring training materials include stories and vignettes (everyone loves talking about disasters they have been through), turning your presentation into a quiz-style event (with potential rewards), and arranging tours of alternate workspaces and conducting training there. While this article doesn’t focus on exercising (but this one does), don’t forget that a well-planned exercise can be one of the most effective and engaging training activities. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but whatever you do should meet the requirement of engaging the audience, delivering relevant content, and ensuring training methods align to organization’s culture.

To further explore the value of business continuity training programs, solutions to control development and delivery costs, and a variety of available methods to effectively deliver content to key business continuity stakeholders, read: Designing a Business Continuity Training Program to Maximize Value and Minimize Cost.

SYMPTOM: NO ONE ATTENDS TRAINING SESSIONS OR COMPLETES REQUIRED BUSINESS CONTINUITY TRAINING

Root Cause: There is insufficient management support to ensure that employees participate in continuity-related training activities

A lack of management support can create a host of detrimental effects and keep your business continuity program from becoming an integral part of the organization. Unfortunately, no matter how well designed your training materials may be, they are useless if no one shows up to the training session or if there is no accountability for training activities. There is no simple solution for solving management engagement issues, but if you see this symptom in your organization, you should engage your program sponsor or executive sponsor to work out a plan of action. If your organization has a steering committee and you are the one responsible for compiling metrics and reporting to the committee or senior leaders, bring up the issue at your next meeting – making sure that you clearly explain the potential impacts to the organization, as well as develop a list of potential solutions. For example:

  • Is there the potential to lose a certification?
  • Could this lead to a failed audit that could be reported to the board of directors?
  • Could the organization be in violation of contractual or regulatory guidance by not having a well-run business continuity program in place (of which training plays a central role)?

Further, attempt to quantify how a lack of training can lead to greater downtime due to inefficiencies during the response and recovery effort.  From here, you can propose ideas from your solutions list, which may include recommending that trainings be made mandatory or requesting that senior leaders engage mid-level managers to reinforce the importance of the program. Sometimes it’s difficult to ask for help, but if you identify this symptom, you will likely need help to resolve it.

FINAL NOTE
Training is an important element of any business continuity program. As business continuity professionals we have an obligation to ensure that we are “getting the word out” about our program and building appropriate competencies. In order for plans and strategies to be successful, others in our organizations must know about them and be comfortable executing them. For more information from Avalution Consulting on establishing training programs and the value they can add to your organization, please view our white paper on the subject.

Business continuity and IT disaster recovery planning is all that we do. If you’re looking for help with building or improving your business continuity program, we can help.

Please contact us today to get started. We look forward to hearing from you!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

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Michael Bratton
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting


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