Executive Luck and the Resilience Parodox

Ten times a year, I help organize an evening get together of the top business continuity professionals in London over a beer. It is called BANG. We always have a controversial speaker from the business continuity industry. This week, crisis management consultant Gareth Jones spoke of how organizations learn (or don’t learn) from incidents. He said something about luck which I felt was very insightful. It explains why business continuity is such a hard sell in large organizations – why it goes through phases of importance – and why organizations so often get caught out with disastrous consequences. It may even explain why the consequences of the credit crunch cascaded so widely.

Business continuity pros help organizations mitigate and deal with incidents, things that happen when an organization’s luck runs out – a power failure, an explosion, a flood, a large systems outage. They put plans into place, they exercise and they educate. Frequently their budgets get cut. They may work for an organization for a couple of years, get frustrated and then go into consultancy for a few years then go back into another organization. Lifers are rare. It is a comparitively young profession, but an old ethos.

Resilience is a board level responsibility. The board has a duty to shareholders to protect as well as grow shareholders’ wealth. To understand organizational risks fully and stay prepared, they need to contemplate some very unpleasant possibilities and consequences. Many are completely incapable of doing so.

To understand why, one needs to consider how an organization’s senior executives got into their positions. It was through a combination of ability and luck – but mostly luck. The unlucky ones – the ones with equal abilities who experienced an organizational failure or a disaster that had serious ramifications – aren’t in those powerful positions any longer. Business continuity managers sell their wares to senior levels. They talk about bad luck to the lucky. What a tough sell that must be! They don’t get heard, they don’t get budgets, they get frustrated and leave, leaving and the unheeding organization vulnerable. The more lucky an organization is, the more likely it is to suffer badly from the consequences of a disaster when its luck runs out.

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