Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Is Business Continuity Emotionally Intelligent?

Dr Noreen Tehrani
Businesses do not have the best track record in terms of survival.  Firstly, they are a relatively recent invention with the first commercial organisations being introduced around 500 years ago.  Secondly, they are not particularly robust compared to the average human being.  The average life expectancy for a multinational corporation is 40 and 50 years (Bloomberg Businessweek, 2012) whilst the life expectancy of someone living in the UK is over 75 years (and rising).  It would seem that anyone working in business continuity has their work cut out if they are to make any inroads to what appears to be a hopeless case of premature organisational senility.

Currently, much of the emphasis in business continuity is on keeping the systems running, ensuring the flow of materials, resources and information, protecting assets and meeting sales.  Whilst this is undoubtedly important to the day to day functioning of business it cannot be the whole story.  Like people, organisations need to function within a social and cultural setting and have to respond sensitively to that environment if they are to gain the trust and support of their workforce and the wider community.  Corporate social responsibility is not only a nice thing to do but when it is actively involved in engaging with environmental and social issues can increase business sustainability which in terms of business longevity is essential (Moss-Kanter, 2011).

However, even a socially aware organisation may find that even this is insufficient to keep them off the business life support system.  A review of recent business disasters shows that what goes wrong is not due to a simple flaw in a system or process, but rather a lack of understanding of human needs, motivations and failings – a lack of business emotional intelligence.  A recent review of corporate failures (Hopkin, 2011) suggests that there is a need to increase vigilance in managing risks, however, many of the risks are due to a lack of honesty and openness, rewards being given for bad behaviours or failure, the acceptance of unethical practices and directors being out of touch or disinterested in what is happening in the organisation.  

So what, you may be wondering, does a trauma psychologist know about business continuity?  Why does she not stick to tea, sympathy and counselling for distressed workers and let us get on with dealing with the serious business of keeping the phones ringing and the computers on-line.  Well perhaps I might know a little more than you might think.  What I have observed during my long career working in a wide range of organisation is that just like people, organisations can become traumatised by demanding circumstances and events such as aggressive customers or clients, the loss of a popular leader or predatory take over’s.  When people suffer from a traumatic event there are three common symptoms, Avoidance: avoid any reminders of the traumatic event, Arousal: become jumpy, hyper-alert and irritable when they are re-exposed to triggers and Re-experience: have dreams, nightmares and recurrent thoughts about the trauma. 

In organisations there are similar responses with management behaving in such a way that there is: Avoidance: where management stops listening, there are topics and issues which while known to everyone are never discussed (the elephant in the room).  Arousal: Decision making become highly reactive, with decisions being made without consideration or concern for the impact.  High arousal creates an environment where management actions being punitive and lacking in tolerance of other points of view.  Re-experience: or organisational amnesia where lessons from the past are not learnt, there is a constant return to systems that do not work but yet the organisation is unable to move on and fearful of an uncertain future.

Emotionally intelligent business continuity professionals need to recognise that their role may require them to identify and understand the emotional wellbeing of employees and organisations.  Business continuity professionals need to understand that the real risk is not that traders will miss-sell financial products, gamble with their client’s funds, fail to undertake a safety check or upset the unions, but rather that the organisation and its workers are too exhausted, burnt-out or traumatised to notice that the moral compass has been lost, they have forgotten to listen or be friends with their colleagues or to care about doing a good job.  Identifying the risks is a start but the real work is finding solutions to the people issues which are creating these risks. 

If you found this piece interesting then why not sign up for the next BCI Virtual Workshop 
Human Aspects of your BCM Capability
June 12th, 14th, 19th and 21st at 16:00 GMT + 1 (BST)

Or look me up on my website where you can find out more about my Faculty of Applied Trauma Psychology.

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