Pandemic. Polar Vortex. Wildfires. Hurricanes. Tornados. Earthquakes. Protests. These are just a few of the disasters community associations in America have had to contend with in recent years. If a community association you manage were to encounter any one of the above, would you be prepared?
Preparedness is an important part of your business. From budgeting to seasonal awareness to time management, there are a lot of different aspects of preparation involved in keeping your business running. One of the most important, especially in the last decade or so, is planning for emergencies and crises to ensure your business can continue with as little interruption as possible.
Business continuity planning creates a foundation of ongoing support for your business in the event of service disruption. These plans try to account for all manner of disasters, from things like moderately predictable natural disasters (hurricane season in Florida, for example) to highly unpredictable infrastructural emergencies like long-term utility or vendor service outages.
But a successful plan should do more than help your team ride out the crisis; it should also help mitigate as much of the disruption as possible, for both your staff and your customers.
Generally, a business continuity plan is a series of steps that help keep business running amidst a service interruption. This can account for something as short-term as a brief power outage in your neighborhood, to something as massive as oh, let’s say, a pandemic.
A core tenet of successful business continuity planning is the recovery component. Every major emergency you encounter will likely come with a loss of some kind. That can be something as innocuous as a day or so of lost work due to a lengthy power outage, or something as monumental as a tree crashing through the roof on the community center. No matter the size of the impact, it is important that you include steps that need to be taken, by both your staff and your homeowners, to recover from any losses suffered.
Before you dive into building out your management company’s business continuity plan, you should keep a few key characteristics in mind:
The easiest way to start creating your business continuity plan is to bring all of your key personnel into a room for a day, half-day or even 2-hour workshop. It’s important that you bring others in and not try to do this alone. There are all kinds of things you don’t focus on every day, or are simply unaware of because someone else is taking care of it. You need the additional minds to pull you outside of your area of expertise for a more holistic view of the business.
Get a whiteboard, or a pad of giant post-it notes you can stick on the walls and a stack of markers. Start by having each person list out all of the points of failure in their area of the business (if X fails, we would be screwed). Some items will be obvious, and you can list those beforehand if the meeting time is short. For example, every business needs access to critical data, communication channels, and client systems to remain running. What you are looking to identify are the critical processes, people or systems that are unique to keeping your business running.
Then, play the “What If” game. What if we lost power, how would it affect the things on the list? What if we were forced to evacuate? Make sure you document each scenario as you and your team discuss it.
After this meeting, the hardest part is over – you’ve now identified the points of failure, and how business could be affected by various disaster scenarios.
Next, it’s time to do the research into the solutions that will help you get around each scenario. If the concern is losing power, look into possible solutions like battery backups, generators, or off-site servers. If the issue is a key staffer, consider what it would take to cross-train other employees so they have a backup.
Some of the solutions you come up with will require action be taken in advance of the disaster, such as cross-training key personnel or purchasing a generator. Others may be too expensive to take action on until or unless the scenario actually happens, but by doing the research now, you are prepared when you need it.
When starting off your planning process, you’ll probably already have a few disaster types in mind to start prepping for: natural disasters, utility outages, and global health crises are probably at the top of your list given the last couple of years. Those are incredibly important to consider, but they’re only a fraction of the situations you’ll want to have planned out.
Remember that those kinds of scenarios are all very high impact. And some of them are even related; natural disasters and utility outages almost always go hand-in-hand, and their plans will likely share a lot of steps.
But what about something without a physical impact, like a data security breach? Ransomware hacks have spiked in recent years, and your community data suddenly being encrypted and held hostage deserves a plan of action.
It’s important to remember that business continuity isn’t just staring down the barrel of a devastating scenario; it’s also ensuring that your business continues as usual in the face of day-to-day snags. Here are a few situations to bring up during your planning meeting:
Peter Drucker said, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” In other words, if you don’t follow through on your plans, they will be worthless when you actually have an emergency.
The planning process isn’t just your planning meeting. There should be continuous upkeep and testing to make sure the plans in place are effective, and a meeting or series of meetings after a real emergency scenario to assess what went right or wrong.
As we mentioned above, your planning stage should include a lot of brainstorming amongst a variety of shareholders, and your plan should be measured against the five key characteristics we mentioned earlier: Actionable, Achievable, Adaptable, Available, and Agreeable.
You should consider appointing a staff member or team of staff members who can determine when your business continuity plan needs to be put into effect–basically, who gets to sound the alarm. Another great step in preparation is running trainings or test scenarios/simulations every 3 – 6 months. This can be something small like sending out test communications to your staff and homeowners, or something with a little more impact like taking a week to have most or all of the staff work remote and document the problems they might encounter.
Don’t forget to check in on your data backups, too. They’re designed to be very “set it and forget it” but it doesn’t hurt to take a peek every so often just to be sure it’s all up and running.
As much as we all hope that disaster never strikes, it’s a fact of life that inevitably, it will. The most important thing you can do when it happens is follow through with the plan you’ve assembled. In the midst of a crisis it can be easy to lose focus and give in to panic. It’s human, and completely valid, but it can be costly to your business and your homeowners if you let it get the best of you. Closely following the steps you’ve planned out is the best way to ensure success.
As much as we all hope that disaster never strikes, it’s a fact of life.
The aftermath of an emergency is a critical part of planning for business continuity. You’ve just endured a difficult situation and hopefully the plan you had in place helped guide you through it successfully. Take the time to assess how your plan held up in the heat of things in a post-disaster meeting with the original shareholders involved in building the plan, as well as any of the key players on your staff who were responsible for carrying the actions out.
You’ll want to discuss at least the following topics:
Of course, sometimes there isn’t a clear ‘after’ in a crisis scenario–like, for example, a year-long pandemic. While situations like that are hopefully rare, there will likely be lengthy emergencies in your future, like multi-day power outages or evacuation orders. In those cases, it can be helpful to plan for some kind of analysis of the parts of the plan that have already been taken. It helps you and your staff stay aligned and keeps everyone focused on the tasks coming up.
Something else to consider is holding check-ins with your staff and your homeowners during these long-running scenarios. It’s one thing to know how the tasks were handled or the impact your plan had on your community, but making sure they’re handling the situation on a personal level is a really important human element for your plan.
If you don’t have a business continuity plan right now, don’t panic. It’s okay. Like we’ve said, you probably already have a lot of the basics thought out, even if you haven’t put pen to paper. Take five minutes to quickly jot down whatever you’ve already thought out, whether that’s actionable tasks to carry out, or things you need to look into before setting up a full plan. Then, set up that first meeting with your staff and really get the ball rolling. You’ll have a fully developed plan in no time!