Wednesday, 22 August 2012

I must choose my words with care...

Ian Charters FBCI
English is a fascinating language with many more words in common usage than other European languages and many have multiple meanings where only the context can give a clue as to which meaning was intended.  Consider the newspaper headline “Bus on fire - passengers alight” ; do we know the outcome of that story?

When writing Standards it is vital to avoid this ambiguity, so the guidance to standards writers is to explain concepts using the commonly accepted meaning of words and to avoid technical terms (leaving the accompanying Guidance document to relate the concepts to the industry terms).  However, this can still lead to ambiguity when communicating outside the business continuity realm, so it is imperative to achieve clarity of meaning in discussions with your colleagues.

So when the standard requires an audit of ‘key suppliers’ and this is being discussed with a procurement department, it is likely that they will be thinking of those with the highest spend or volume; whereas you may be more concerned about a small supplier of a unique product whose disruption would quickly stop production.  You need to agree the criteria of ‘key’ when it relates to, for example, products, staff or applications.

How many worst case scenarios do you consider?  If you use the word ‘worst’, then the answer can only be one!  When something is described as a ‘risk’ does mean an unevaluated threat, an event that is perceived to be likely, a factor in an outcome, the outcome itself?  I have heard the word used to describe all of those.

It is a huge relief to me that the word ‘critical’ does not appear in the body of the new standard as it has caused more confusion than any other.  Business continuity practitioners use it to mean ‘urgent’ but this is not one of its dictionary meanings.  Instead it is understood by staff and managers to mean ‘important’ or ‘essential’; who then exaggerate their roles to prevent them be labelled as ‘non-critical’ which they interpret as ‘dispensable’.  The choice of ‘prioritized’ to describe activities makes it clear that every part of an organisation is important, but some activities are a higher priority in a disruption.

When we communicate business continuity requirements or concepts to our colleagues we should ensure that we understand what we are trying to say and choose our words carefully to ensure that we are not creating confusion when we need clarity to built an effective BCM programme (or should that be ‘BC programme’?).

Ian Charters FBCI

Continuity Systems Ltd.
Member of ISO TC223

Ian Charters will be delivering one of the sessions, which make up Stream A of the
BCM World Conference and Exhibition 2012 and focusses on how
BCM can be embedded into an organisation.  Ian is a BCI licensed Training Partner.

Stream A is the perfect choice for delegates, who are looking for some expert guidance on how to solve practical issues on the implementation of BCM in their organisation. This stream uses hypothetical scenarios to take attendees through the BCM Lifecycle and is highly interactive.

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