Stop consenting to infrastructure failure and business disruption

With Britain’s organisations facing more snow-based business continuity problems, Chris Needham-Bennett says it’s time to show some snow intolerance.

Some of you will appreciate that a diligent forensic psychiatrist in the ‘Great Snow’ felt it important to attend work. Indeed you might imagine his clients in highly secure units simply cannot be trusted to effectively run their own medication. So he attached the snow chains to the wheels of his big Merc and drove at a sensible 20mph to the hospital. Coming to a green light on a crossroads he observed a white van sliding through the red towards his path. Whereupon he stopped sharply (remember the snow chains) in enough time to see another white van behind him rapidly getting bigger and bigger in his rear view mirror.

It might not have worked as he had anticipated, but at least he tried! To misquote the last lines of Hamlet, ‘the rest is an insurance claim…’

Retaining the theme of psychiatry for a moment, most of us are familiar with the genuine and unfortunate condition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The same psychiatrist we referred to earlier has coined a new phenomenon to explain what appears to be national paranoia; it is ‘pre traumatic stress disorder’.

We seem to have national pre traumatic stress disorder on the matter of snow. In the most recent episode, forecasters got it right. The councils got it right. So, this time, it looks like we may have to blame the weather. Quite a lot of blame too: the daily GDP of the UK is about £4.5bn, it is estimated that 20-30 percent of the workforce didn’t manage to get to work, ergo, a snow hit of about £1bn a day off the GDP.

Funnily enough, though, the following statistic is food for thought; in one affected town last week only 62 percent of employees made it to work – but 87 percent of self-employed people did.

But, we can all work from home now so it shouldn’t be a problem. Should it? This is the time when reality hits: working from home often doesn’t work that well because:

* Critical applications I require are not supported on my remote access system;
* But, I don’t even know that yet because I have not the first idea what do to with this LCD screen featuring random numbers that I have worn round my neck for 3 years;
* Luckily, even if I did it wouldn’t matter, because we are trying to support 1,000 users on the bandwidth for 100, and have never tested it anyway;
* So, problems: and time to call the IT helpdesk, who haven’t made it in today because their kids are having a snow day from school and no one else can look after them.
* Which reminds me, so are mine. And one of them is playing with my eyeball which I am finding distracting.

But amazingly some people did make it in to the office! They left home with a cheery “I’m just going out, I may be some time” and managed by some miracle to either:
(a) Control a motor vehicle with a degree of competence that should be a pre-requisite for a licence;
(b) Consult a travel website before heading out a little earlier than most days.

Then, the miracle came upon us that the main road had been gritted, there were a lot fewer cars than usual and it took a bit less time than normal to get into work after all. What heroes they would have been, had the office been open. But we found out at about 10am that they had decided to close the office for the day.

Time to ‘up expectations’

At Needhams, we have certain clients for whom we run something called a ‘Resilience Enhanced Equity Programme’. This assures status-independent optimisation of productivity and control, which means that the consequences of an incident have been not simply pre-planned but pre-orchestrated; and, therefore, the expectations of stakeholders are continuously managed in line with a consistent strategic mission. Which in the context of snow disruption means:

– Pressure the suppliers – if you cannot receive service from a supplier because they can’t move the support team, because the trucks are stranded because the depot is snowed in, because they didn’t buy grit, because they didn’t think it would be this bad, because it never normally is; then do the following. Sue them under the variation clause of the SLA, then fire them and contract their competitors.

– Pressure your colleagues – Yes, we can get in to work – but will we ever get home again? Who knows? Snow is a bit like parachuting. It may or may not open but it probably will. Buy a ticket and enjoy the ride; nothing lasts forever especially snow.

– Pressure the schools – why do schools shut for snow? According to one local council ‘Because the children can’t get in’. According to other studies the amount of 4X4s, driven by mothers in Chelsea alone, rivals the Territorial Army: you might want to have a closer look at the logic on that one. It is, of course, because of the refuge of the dreary: health and safety. For some reason it becomes more dangerous to be inside when there is snow outside, or indeed for my child to be playing supervised by a competent and qualified childcare professional, rather than me.

I could go on, but it all leads to one conclusion. This nonsense has got out of control and it is precisely because people are tolerating it. As soon as one graces laziness, disorganization or poor planning with tolerance, it proliferates. If the grit doesn’t turn up, then the roads don’t get cleared, the drivers can’t get to work, so the trains don’t run, so the commuter is stuck so he or she is working from home; and often having a day off. Someone, somewhere in the chain has messed up, and every time you accept ‘que sera sera’ you are effectively authorising infrastructure failure and business disruption by your own consent.

The end game is simple: win custom by assuring your clients that you will deliver after a disruption; and get better suppliers who can provide you with these assurances. Tell your regulator that you “don’t seem to be having any problems with the weather – you are surprised that ‘x’ competitor is”. Stop agreeing with people when they are worried about travel; it only encourages them. Don’t let people work from home unless they can competently do so. Complain to the council about school closures. We must rise up as one voice and stop this winter madness from perpetuating.

Real change requires commitment from us all. The time to call for action is now. Although, it would be great if you could wait until we have won The Ashes before doing anything too drastic. After all we are British…

Authored by Chris Needham-Bennett, published in Continuity Central