How to Get Things Done: Clever Continuity Language

Last week someone told us they’re struggling to get anyone to meet them to do a BIA.  Of course you are, we said, would you take a meeting that sounded that boring?

Language and positioning is something we haven’t devoted that much time to in the past, but we’re going to make an effort to do so in the future.  Because using the right language and positioning can get you everywhere; the wrong language means you’re sitting wondering how on earth to get started.

Even if you have full board backing and a directive across the organisation for people to work with you on business continuity, you probably won’t enjoy the role if that’s the only reason for people participating.  We’re always worried about offending our risk manager and internal audit colleagues, but the perception of these functions – as a formal, mandatory, not-useful-to-my-own-dayjob – often means we put off meeting with them or treat them as a nuisance, right?

“That Business Continuity person Helps Me Do My Day Job”

Many business continuity planners are really good at making sure they are never seen to be in the not-useful-to-my-own-day-job category.  In fact, the ideal is to ensure that staff believe you are useful to their substantial role as well as their business continuity responsibilities.

How?  And how to do this without taking up all your time?

Use our Listen and Link method.

You, as a person responsible for business continuity, are talking to people all around your organisation.  Listen hard enough – by allowing key people to talk freely about issues – and you know a lot more about what’s going on pan-organisation that most other people.  You can use this to yours and other people’s advantage.  Helping to broker solutions for the little things by linking people can put you in the right place to do your own job efficiently.

For example:

  • Peter from IT tells you that one thing that worries him is that two of his staff are vital to restoring the email system if it goes down.  One of them uses a wheelchair and they’ve had trouble with access to the building because when the automatic doors break they aren’t fixed quickly enough.  You happen to know the Facilities Manager, the Health & Safety Manager and the Fire Co-ordinator – all people with a vested interest in this. You ask one of those people to help Peter sort his problem out.  They do and now both Peter in IT and the person you asked know you’re a useful person.  Will they take your call next time?  Yes.
  • Sarah from Security is having a really hard time with a couple of people from Sales.  There are one or two who are agressively rude to the Car Park guards that refuse them access to the car park if they haven’t booked a space.  Sarah doesn’t understand why they don’t book and, though she’s spoken to one of them, she didn’t get very far. You happen to know the Head of Sales and her PA.  You have a quick chat with them, learn that Sales teams often don’t know if they’ll need to bring their cars in until the day it happens, and ask them to work with Sarah on a solution.  Sarah comes back to you a week later to say thanks: she now has a protocol with Sales to solve this that means both of them are happy.  Will they both take your call next time?  Yep.

 Using the Right Language To Entice People in

We know you’re not a Sales person.  But would you want to take a meeting to “complete a BIA” , “review a risk assessment” or “audit a continuity plan”?   Admit it, that wouldn’t be the highlight of your diary day, would it?

Now, we don’t suggest you lie or use language that misleads people.  A Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is a BIA after all. But you do need to get that person to think that taking the meeting is a good idea.

One company spoke with us about the fact they had two key problems.  First, they couldn’t get the board to take the issues around business continuity seriously.  Second, they couldn’t get people to complete BIAs and they linked that to the lack of board commitment.  We offered a new suggestion on their approach:

Getting the boards attention

Instead of putting more proposals for funding to the board, we suggested they do something different.  In this case – because we listened to them and understood a bit about them – we suggested they create a ‘Risk and Disaster Heat Map.’  This would be a visual thing.  A heat map would use colours to show which areas of their organisation could be most at risk during an incident.

In this way they’d achieve several things:

  • The board would be able to digest a heatmap in minutes, and the visual impact would be significant
  • The board would see that there was not a blanket call for funding but that there were some very ‘red’ issues that needed attention: demonstrating the business continuity co-ordinators ability to determine what really needed attention now and what could wait.
  • Presenting the board with a risk map disallows them the opportunity to misunderstand their responsibilities: every board member knows that managing risk is their responsibility.
  • The board will comment on whether they agree or disagree with the heat map: listen hard and you’ll also learn more about their priorities and worries.
Getting initial BIAs done
Now, instead of making a call to ask a senior person to complete a BIA, imagine you ring them and say this:
“Mark, we’ve got a very small but very confidential project going on.   We’re creating a Disaster Heat Map for the board.  It’s going to be very visual and we can’t talk about it much as it’s got to be managed delicately because it’s quite sensitive.  Could I book into your diary to get some information for that from you?  It’s a bit of a routine meeting to be honest, and I’ll come with a form, but your area is important for this and I’d appreciate your time.”
Would you take that meeting?  Of course you would.  A confidential project for something visual going straight to the board.  You’re in, right?
Getting Real
The particular examples above might not be applicable or appropriate to you.   And yes, after a while you will need to revert to using language like “updating the BIA.”  But by then hopefully they view you useful so it’s not going to be such a struggle.
But we hope you’re getting the jist of what we’re suggesting.  Which is basically this:
Listen hard.  
Be genuinely useful to normal business.  
Be trustworthy.
Use language that people appreciate.  
Meet people where they are at.  
Use your initiative.
Say thank you.
Get things done.
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