Updating your business continuity plan and disruption-proofing your business

By ATB FInancial 10 August 2020 6 min read

Albertans are no strangers to crises, from floods to fires to oil-and-gas recessions, and now global pandemics. But how business owners in the province react to catastrophic events can make the difference between just getting by and succeeding with a resilient roadmap ahead.

That’s where the business continuity plan [BCP] comes in. Essentially, this is a document that outlines the most vital processes within your company and lays out a plan for those processes to remain operational in the event of an emergency so that critical business functions don’t come to a sudden stop.

It could be an evolving document, based on how your company has fared in a certain crisis and the level of emergency you’re facing with this new disaster. Every response may have to be tailored to each event, but the core principles often remain the same.

Bryan Rabik, managing director, Alberta North Real Estate at ATB, said in a recent post on the topic: “[Your BCP] should be scaled to reflect the crisis at hand, so a BCP for a branch of a company will look different than one that focuses on the impact of an emergency affecting that firm enterprise-wide.”

To get deeper insight into disruption-proofing your business, we spoke with Sandi MacGregor, Entrepreneur Strategist from the Calgary Entrepreneur Center. MacGregor explores what makes a well prepared and evolving BCP, why it should be accessible to everyone, and the questions you may want to ask yourself to create an action plan that will strengthen your company’s responses to any crisis.


Savvy business leaders don’t rely on a static business continuity plan

Your BCP acts as a go-to anchor in understanding how decisions today will impact the business in the future. It can help you prioritize the right decisions and actions you need to take when a sudden emergency strikes your market. “A BCP lets you continue operations so you don’t have to shut down everything when the unexpected happens,” MacGregor explains.

When you first compile a BCP, you’ll want to detail how to manage the many areas of your business, from staffing to IT protocols to prioritizing essential services that drive the business forward. But it shouldn’t be static and instead evolve as new crises emerge.

“Ensuring it’s always in line with company objectives, the BCP could be updated to include, say, how to stay in touch with staff if work-from-home policies are in place, which we are seeing during the current pandemic,” MacGregor says. “Or you want to constantly evolve the budget for something like buying new equipment if that becomes important during a crisis.”

Your BCP should live in the online cloud, as opposed to becoming rooted in an obscure place on the company site, available to a select few. Make it accessible to everyone, MacGregor advises, so key staff can help update it by offering their input when appropriate.

By making the BCP available to staff, you’re also sending a signal to the company that transparency is a key pillar of running your business, which can go a long way in bolstering positive sentiments about how the company is managed.


Not business as usual so what are you going to do?

When a crisis hits, you have to realize you are now wading into an odd new normal that upends the usual day-to-day processes. So it’s best to lay out in your BCP how your team will pare back your business functions to decide what is essential and what can be shelved.

Look at your pool of talent and decide what you may not need and redeploy their skills to more pressing problems. For example, IT architects or engineers working on new projects may have to be shifted to work on throwing your company a life-preserver in order for staff to access the right software and hardware if they can’t work in the office as they normally do.

Technology can play an important role when you want to stay relevant during a downturn. ATB’s Rabik offers an example of an Albertan company that didn’t take the COVID-19 pandemic lying down: “As their competitors were shutting down, this company had the technology to service their customers. They had the technical ability to continue a process their competitors didn’t have.”

To cite another example out of province, Anderson Group, a Quebec-based agriculture equipment manufacturer, shared with Business Development Canada how “having a strong continuity plan helped save the business after 75 per cent of its factory was destroyed in a fire.”

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Crisis management requires documentation, asking the hard questions

To effectively evolve your BCP from disruption to disruption, you’ll want to document everything, MacGregor says. Albertan businesses that put down on paper (or cloud doc) how they survived and maybe even thrived through a disaster like the floods from several years ago can be better positioned to take on other natural disasters.

“And write down how your business is managing through this pandemic and how you kept everything going,” MacGregor notes. “Maybe you went with different suppliers or used different shipping companies this time, and that can help you down the road with other similar emergencies.”

It may be overwhelming to you when you consider the many priorities you have to assess when updating a BCP. Thankfully, it’s a major topic of discussion among Canada’s business community. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has offered several questions you should ask yourself when you face a crisis, all of which can be answered in your evolving BCP:

  • How and when are you communicating to internal and external stakeholders and managing the flow of information?
  • What is your plan for recovery?
  • How are you planning for significant staff absences?
  • If you were forced to close your doors for two weeks or more, do you have access to a line of credit that will cover ongoing expenses until you can reopen and your cash flow resumes?
  • What steps can you be taking to protect the health and safety of your staff and visitors to your workplace?
  • What mental health services could be provided during a crisis for staff who may vulnerable to such sudden departures from normal working schedules?

Finally, you don’t have to undertake all of this planning alone. You may want to reach out to strategic partners to ask for advice, learn from their experiences, and perhaps request for relief (such as from clients/vendors). Connecting with other industry leaders in your field is another way to get some feedback on how the sector has been impacted as a whole. Finally, consider discussing your BCP’s future with your financial advisors so you have a full picture of what goes into budgeting, cash flow forecasting and available government relief programs.

Above all else, do your best to stay focused in order to help mitigate any anxiety you may have around your business falling apart due to the crisis at hand. Staying calm may be easier said than done, but if you have a thorough business continuity plan that evolves with each disruption you face, your business will be in a better position to take on whatever comes your way.

If you’re looking for a deep dive on everything you need to know around how to grow your business and make it more resilient, our ATB X Accelerator program might be just the place for you. Alternatively, feel free to reach out to one of our entrepreneur strategists to explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!

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