Getting beat by a teenager in tennis, and what’s that got to do with Crisis Management?

I’m at that point in my life where one of the greatest joys I have is playing tennis with my teenage grandson. I’ve always looked at competition through sports as a great bonding opportunity for fathers and sons.  My grandson is taking lessons once a week at local club near us.  Over the past couple of years, he’s gotten pretty darn good.  To help him practice between lessons, I serve as his “sparring partner”.  We find time to play a couple of times a week together.

When I was younger (i.e. high school and college) I played some racquetball, but never tennis.  What I know about tennis has come from my being an easy mark for “the kid”.  But with my competitive nature, I’ve learned and practiced along the way to the point where I can actually give him a run for his money – oh that’s right, it’s my money.

Anyway, I just got in from playing tennis this evening with my grandson and while I was out on the court “getting schooled” again, I began thinking about how playing tennis can be similar to what we do in crisis management.

Preparation

Before you can effectively (operative word) play tennis … or manage a crisis … you have to develop knowledge and skills of the game.  The easiest way to do this of course is to be coached by professionals – those that have gone down the path before you.  Unfortunately, some think that because it’s not “rocket science” they can skip this step (anyone can do it) and just start playing.  Taking this approach generally means greater chances of losing vs. winning.  Trust me on this one.  Take the time to learn about crisis management.  Talk to others that have actually responded to and recovered from some type of crisis.

Practice

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned a saying a fellow instructor has used many times in classes we’ve taught.  The saying is “people will do what they’ve practiced, not what they’ve been told.”  How true that is in tennis (or any other sport) and in crisis management.  In order to be good at tennis, you have to practice.  In order to respond appropriately when a crisis incident occurs, we have to practice.  We practice by conducting table top exercises, drills, and full-scale exercises to name just a few.  Look for opportunities to exercise (practice) your plan.

Size-up and take action

In tennis, we are constantly sizing up our opponent and how he or she is playing.  We are always looking for an opportunity to score another point.  It’s called gamesmanship.  In crisis management we also perform size-up to understand what the current situation is and what are capabilities there are “to score another point”.  Our size-up will help us to determine our game plan.  At that point, we need to take action.  All the planning and preparation in the world doesn’t do any good if we don’t step on to the court.

Command and Control

In both tennis and crisis management, if you aren’t in control, you will be controlled.  I hate to admit that tonight the kid controlled the “old man” two out of three sets.  In tennis, as well as in crisis management, a positive mindset is one of the most important skills you can possess.  In tennis, you don’t want your opponent to see your frustration or fear.  In crisis management, we don’t want our teams to see our frustration or fear either.  The best crisis management leaders reflect a sense of calm and order even when everything else appears to be dysfunctional around them.

Lessons learned

The only way to win is to improve skills that may not be your strongest and enhance those that you may be pretty good at.  If I realize my serves are weak, I need to spend time practicing serves before our next “big” match.  In crisis management, we need to perform a lessons learned activity (i.e. debriefing or hot-wash) session.  Our goal is to learn from the experience what worked well and what needs improvement.  Then, take those lessons learned and use them to improve.

Well, it’s time to take a couple of ibuprofen.  Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  I’ll be posting again on August 1 and I hope you’ll come back.  In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought about this blog or any others I’ve written.  If there’s a particular topic you’d like to have me write about, please let me know.  I welcome your feedback.

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PIO Training in my own backyard

Welcome to a somewhat Special Edition of my blog.  When I posted my previous blog I forgot to mention that this week my role is being reversed in that this week I get to be a “student” in a class being offered by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (MO-SEMA).  Today, and for the next two days, I’m a student in the “Basic Public Information Officer Training” course.

The “Basic Public Information Officer Training” course is intended for the new or less experienced Public Information Officer (PIO), or for those whose emergency management responsibilities include public information and/or interaction with the media. In the private sector (corporate) world, this function would be similar to External Affairs, Corporate Communications, Public Affairs, or something similar.  Its emphasis is on the basic skills and knowledge needed for emergency management public information activities. Topics include the role of the PIO in emergency management, conducting awareness campaigns, news release writing, public speaking, and media interviews. Additionally, this course is one of the FEMA Advanced Professional Series elective courses. (APS).

Our class this week is taking place at our MO-SEMA headquarters which is co-located at the Ike Skelton National Guard Training Center in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Jefferson City is our state capital and is located roughly in the center of the state.  We are actually having class in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  This EOC is the last state EOC that was built to the former “Cold War” standards.  Briefly, it’s built underground and has its own air filtration and water purification systems.  As they say, if an atom bomb were detonated in Jefferson City, EOC occupants would be safe sheltering in place.

Today in class we discussed characteristics of an effective PIO including knowledgeable, credible, being a good communicator (both orally and in written form), strategic, and proactive.  Understanding that the PIO function is a vital component of the Command Staff within the Incident Command System (ICS) we can better appreciate why these characteristics are an important makeup of the PIO.

We also spent time talking about the communications tools that PIO’s use to perform their jobs before, during, and after an incident or disaster.  Examples of those tools include news releases, fact sheets, advisories, public service announcements (PSA), and brochures, fliers, and handouts.  And of course, social media certainly plays into the mix and strategy of a PIO.  I’m glad I have some experience with social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, webinars, and BLOGGING!

What PIO class would be complete without addressing News Interviews?  We spent time discussing how important it is to understand 1) why you are communicating, 2) who you are trying to reach, and 3) what you are going to say and how you will say it.  Preparation is key!  One handout that we were given that I think will prove quite valuable is “Risk and Crisis Communication:  77 Questions Commonly Asked by Journalists During a Crisis”.  It’s a list developed by V.T. Covello in his book “Keeping Your Head In a Crisis:  Responding To Communication Challenges Posted by Bio-Terrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases”.  We also learned effective ways in which to create talking points to be used during an interview.

We ended up the day talking about on-camera interviews and writing news releases.  Yup, since we ended the day with this, our homework assignment was to write a news release based on a scenario we were given.

Being someone who enjoys public speaking, I think there is a synergy with this course.  The information we are getting is relevant and very interesting.  The three instructors we have teaching the class are very knowledgeable and effective.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from today.  I hope you’ll come back tomorrow and I’ll share more about the class as well as a visit to the Missouri National Guard Museum here on the same campus.  Until then, stay safe!

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You’re Not Listening To Me!

Victor the RCA dog

Think back to a few significant conversations you’ve had in the past.  Think specifically of the one’s that just didn’t seem to go the way you intended them to.  Perhaps you thought the person listening to you had a look like the dog Victor in the old RCA advertisement (what? you didn’t know that was his name?).  You know, where they look confused and their head cocks a bit to the side.  Now, do you think there’s a chance others have felt that way when they were speaking with you?

Some time ago I used the power of LinkedIn groups to pose the question “… what are three IT DR (disaster recovery) “technology” issues a non-technology BCP (business continuity planning) professional should learn or know about?”.  The purpose of the question was to develop a list of “technology” issues, relative to disaster recovery/business continuity, that could then be used to frame a presentation for my local professional group, the MidAmerica Contingency Planning Forum.  By the way, if you have a profile established on LinkedIn please consider joining our MCPF group page.

To my posed question, I received some terrific suggestions dealing with issues such as storage, infrastructure, and governance.  But one of the most intriguing was “to be a good listener”.  Those that provided similar comments explained that there are technology experts within the organization.  Let the experts deal with technology specifics.  As a business continuity professional, our job is to understand the business continuity process, facilitate discussions with these experts, and in the end our plans will be appropriate and realistic.  Hmmm, facilitate discussions … being a good listener, where have I heard that before?

Good leaders listen

It’s been widely recognized that good leaders tend to be good listeners.  Good leaders listen to what others have to say.  As a matter of fact, good leaders encourage open and honest discussion (feedback) with others.  They aren’t fearful of what they might hear; just the opposite.  They see it as an opportunity to improve.

I recently read that the University of Missouri found that over 80 percent of our waking hours are spent communicating, and 45 percent of that time, we are listening. Most people aren’t very good listeners. They espouse bad or passive listening habits such as false listening, allowing their environments to distract them, or defensively coming up with arguments against the message instead of actually processing it.

Listening is a skill that everyone should regularly work on and become better at.  If we were better listeners, how much better would our professional and personal relationships be?  How would our decision-making process improve?   Wow, maybe we’ve stumbled onto something here!

Being in a leadership role requires an individual to be an effective communicator.   They need to speak well, write well, and LISTEN well.  Whether you are business continuity professional facilitating the development of an organizational plan, maybe a company CEO, the Chief of a public safety department, or the leader of your family, having effective communication skills is vital.

As people appreciate your attentive listening to them, your listening skills help you gain credibility which in turn helps ensure desired action.   Just like you practice your speaking skills before giving a presentation, or editing and revising written communications before sending them, you also need to practice your listening skills.  Practice your skills often and ask for feedback from others to measure how well you are listening.  Here’s some helpful ways to practice becoming a better listener.

Paraphrase

As you work to improve your listening skills an easy and commonly used technique is to paraphrase what the speaker is saying and then repeating it back to them. To do this, you must REALLY pay attention to the conversation.  By paraphrasing what the speaker said, you show the speaker that you are hearing them and understanding what they are saying.

Don’t Interrupt

Another technique to practice is to allow the speaker a chance to be heard without interruption.  Perhaps you remember being engaged in a recent discussion with someone and you thought you knew where they were going and ended up interrupting them with your thoughts, or to finish what they were saying.  Practice patience when you feel the urge coming on.  Refocus your attention and allow the speaker the opportunity to complete what they are saying.

Ask Questions

Effective communicators know the importance of asking questions.  By asking appropriate questions, we are better able to understand a person’s motives in the conversation.  And to really get to the root of things, a good listener may need to ask several questions to truly understand the issue(s) or problem(s).

Other sources

Here’s some additional resources you might want to read to help you become a better listener.  Good luck!

Now Pay Attention  Here’s Why You Need Good Listening Skills

Active Listening  Hear what people are really saying

How to Really Listen to Others

TIP:  Just found this guidance thanks to Communispond …

Who pays for a business lunch? According to etiquette experts, the rules are:

  • Whoever benefits most from the meeting pays. In most cases, this means the salesperson.
  •  In the case of both parties benefitting mutually, the person who invited the other pays.

Oh, by the way, people who know about this stuff say breakfast meetings should last an hour and get down to business right away. Lunch and dinner should be longer and slower. Hold off business until after the appetizers or salad is served.

My Trip To the Disaster Recovery Journal Conference

Although we’re now halfway through the month of September I still feel the need to mention September is National Preparedness month across our great country and encourage you to become better prepared for emergencies and disasters.   I think with the earlier focus on 9/11 ceremonies, it’s easy to lose track of the rest of the month.  But, I hope wherever you live, you have the opportunity to take part in some sort of preparedness event or activity.

Listen, I also took a big step forward this month and began using Twitter – LOL.  While I don’t “tweet” often, I do try to tweet something several times a week.  If you are interested, begin following me.  Man, that sounds kind of creepy doesn’t it?

This month was also when the Disaster Recovery Journal’s Fall World Conference took place in San Diego, California.  This was the 45th  conference hosted by the Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ) .  Richard  Arnold, his son Bob, Patti Fitzgerald, and the rest of the DRJ team hit another home run putting on the industry’s premier conference.  I had the great fortune to be asked to speak at the conference this year.  The title of my presentation was “NIMS?  ICS?  BCP?  OMG!”  In this blog, I want to share my conference experiences with you.

Bomb Scare In Kansas City

We started out in an interesting way.  I was flying on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and had a one-stop flight from St. Louis to Kansas City to San Diego.  On the first leg of my trip from St. Louis to Kansas City we were held up in St. Louis due to a bomb scare in Kansas City, where my connecting flight was flying from.  Airport security had the terminal shut down.  Later that afternoon, they reopened the airport terminal up again, but all subsequent flights – including mine – were delayed.  See the story in the Kansas City Star online .

Hey, is that Goldberg?

But, they say there’s always a silver lining and in this case on our flight from Kansas City to San Diego we had WWF wrestling star Goldberg traveling with us.  Now remember … here we are traveling by plane following a bomb scare on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I’m sure I speak for the other passengers on the flight that day when I say we felt much safer knowing we were traveling with Goldberg.  The only person that could have made us feel safer is Chuck Norris!   In the end, we arrived safely in San Diego.

And on with the show.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the 45th DRJ Conference.  According to our “Master of Ceremonies” Barry Pruitt, the conference drew a little over 850 attendees and by the time you add in exhibitors and DRJ staff, the conference had just about 1200 business continuity experts from around the world.  And, after you attend one, you’ll know why the DRJ conference has the solid reputation it does.

The venue again for this conference was the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel.  What a great facility.

The Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel

Thought Provoking General Session Speakers (through Tuesday)

The conference got started Monday morning with a humorous presentation by  Joe Malarkey – motivational speaker, whose message included the importance of maintaining a sense of humor even under difficult situations.  Other terrific speakers included:

Curtis Smerud who talked about “resiliency”

Dr. Robert Chandler – presented his recent research findings about stress effects on decision-making

Pat Corcoran – reviewed the “Findings from the 2011 IBM Global Business Resilience and Risk Study”.  You can find a copy of their report on the IBM website 

Sinji Hosotsbu – talked about the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster

Attendees enjoying the General Session speakers

In addition to the General Sessions, there was a diverse offering of workshops as well.
The workshop I presented “NIMS?  ICS?  BCP?  OMG!” took place Tuesday afternoon.  I was pleasantly surprised that about half of the 120 attendees had started to implement NIMS and ICS into their BCP’s (Business Continuity Programs).  My presentation included a primer on both NIMS (National Incident Management System) and ICS (Incident Command System).  With that foundation laid I addressed how incorporating those philosophies and tactics into existing BCPs can really add strength and great value in both efficiency and effectiveness.  More specifically, it helps us connect to our “gatekeepers”.  Sorry … you’ll need to see the presentation, which I’ve posted onto my LinkedIn profile, or contact me directly for more info.
The Exhibit Area

As with past DRJ conferences, the exhibit area included many of the industry’s key vendors and suppliers – all very willing to talk about current trends and offerings.

Entrance into the Exhibit area

Networking Opportunities

Of course you can’t have a successful conference without opportunities to network with your peers, and the two opportunities for evening networking were terrific.  On Monday, Send Word Now hosted a Mardi Gras styled event and then on Tuesday xMatters hosted a reception based around a high-end club theme.  Both events were well-attended and a lot of fun.

Take-ways

So, after two and a half days at the conference, I came home with the following thoughts:

  1. Our industry continues to thrive even during these tough difficult times
  2. There’s too many standards (PS-Prep including BSI 25999, ASIS International SPC.1-2009, and NFPA 1600) in our industry.  Why do we need so many?  When you think of the definition of “standard”
    shouldn’t we have just one?
  3. Concerning technology, people are very interested in what the “cloud” is and how it can help with disaster recovery and business continuity.
  4. Social media – what is it and how can we use it effectively?
  5. While technology failures make up a significant amount of our “disasters”, weather-related events (risks/threats/triggers) are just as impactful.  Emergency preparedness remains a vital tactic if a company is going to be successful.
  6. Human issues (training (including exercises), leadership, decision-making) are important topics that professionals still have strong interests in and want to learn more about.

Well, I hope that if you ever get the chance to attend a conference like this, you take advantage of the opportunity.  You’ll find that you come back rejuvenated, excited, and with a head full of great ideas to make things better.

Until next month, I wish you all the best.  Stay safe!

TIP: Perhaps this article will help mitigate a social media disaster in your life “Facebook Privacy: Uncovering 5 Important Settings” from
CIO magazine .

I just think "Birds of a Feather" plants are really interesting and beautiful.

    

A Business Continuity Interview With Randy Till

As I’m putting this blog together, I’m wrapping up instructing an Incident Command System (ICS) 300 “Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents” course at Webster University (www.webster.edu ).  The majority of students in the class are members of the university’s emergency response team.  The class has been terrific with full engagement by all.  And what a beautiful facility!

Unfortunately, beginning with FY2012, the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP; www.cdp.dhs.gov ) will no longer be supporting indirect (local) ICS training.  I’m guessing this is a result of the economic challenges everyone is facing.  I hope this is short-lived and CDP’s support will return in FY2013.  If your organization wants to know more about how implementing ICS can strengthen your business continuity efforts, or if you want to schedule ICS training for your organization, please get in touch with me.  I can solve your ICS training needs before the November 2011 deadline.  And now, on with the show …

For this installment of my blog, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with one of business continuity’s true professional’s, Mr. Randy Till.  Randy is the founder of Till Continuity Group  www.tillcontinuity.com .  Through his practice, Randy has been helping clients build fully integrated Business Continuity Management solutions that encompass all planning areas and aspects of their business.  Randy is also a featured speaker and workshop facilitator at many of the leading industry conferences.

TB:  Randy, how is business continuity different today than it was 10 and 20 years ago?

RT:  Twenty years ago, companies were just beginning to develop business continuity planning practices.  The focus was primarily on IT system recovery (DR planning). Since then, business continuity has broadened, taking a more holistic approach that includes managing all the risks associated with continuing critical operations.

Today, the four main BC components—risk management, crisis management, business continuity and disaster recovery—help to manage the entire operational spectrum. We’re seeing successful organizations build more formal BC management programs, and they’re taking advantage of new technologies to achieve greater results.

Major changes over the past few decades include:

  • BCP methodologies and practices have continued to mature, though there is still much room for improvement.  We have seen BCP
    expand to include business area recovery and the integration crisis management planning.
  • Better tools and software, such as notification systems, planning software and SharePoint technology: These have really helped to automate and advance planning techniques and provide more robust solutions.
  • Networking and communication enhancements, most notably through increased bandwidth/speed and the Internet.  Companies can now quickly move and store information in more than one location, and they have more flexibility in accessing stored data. This has made recovery plans better, not to mention making work-at-home a viable recovery strategy.
  • With the migration towards advanced DR strategies and internal recovery solutions, systems are more resilient. High availability, replication, virtualization and cloud computing are all contributing to improve system recovery capabilities.

TB:  For a business continuity professional to really be on top of his/her game, what must they excel at and why?

RT:  The BC professional needs to be a strong communicator. A big part of this role is educating and marketing BC concepts and practices, being the “BC Champion” within an organization.

Just as importantly, BC professionals must have a strong business acumen. They must be able to understand the business well enough to help manage risks and address business needs. To do BC planning effectively, therefore, planners must be able to understand the business and communicate in familiar terms with key business personnel to help the users understand the importance BC planning.

The bottom line is if you can communicate how BC planning will help to improve operations and produce more resilient business services, it’s more likely that BC planning will become part of the company culture and provide the most value.

TB:  What things do you see “trending” today in the field of business continuity?

RT:  I see a closer alignment of business continuity practices with risk management and mitigation processes. Instead of conducting a traditional BC risk assessment process to determine vulnerability and potential impacts—for example, assessing threats, such as hurricanes—BC planning should gain a closer relationship with risk management and mitigation practices.

In reality, crisis management and business continuity plans are nothing more than steps that mitigate perceived risks.  Business people are often well versed in managing business risks. They’re familiar with risk management practices and understand the importance of risk mitigation. But BC planning has often been perceived as an audit requirement or an insurance policy.  As BC planning matures, we’ll see it take a more integral role in managing business risks.

For example, have the business look at the risks that could disrupt or negatively impact the delivery of a particular business service.  Don’t focus on the loss of the building but instead focus on the business risks that could cause a loss of the service.  This requires business personnel to take a close look at risks from a different perspective and hopefully take steps to mitigate the risks, which may include building of BC plans.

TB:  If you had to pick one thing that needs fixing in our profession, what would it be and why?

RT:  We could see a big improvement in the business value of our BC planning processes by focusing on maturation. By this, I mean that we’ll need to move away from focusing on audit findings and regulations as the reason for BC plans. While compliance is certainly important, it should really be a by-product of planning processes. Regulations and standards should be used as a guide that ensures we’re staying on track and meeting the primary goals for the program.

A business continuity management program that builds mature plans will be most concerned with managing risks, protecting company assets and ensuring continuity of operations.  Planning should be done around these goals and in partnership with the business areas. So, we’re looking at how well an organization builds plans that address business needs and their ability to effectively execute the plans when needed.

The great thing about taking this approach is that developing BC plans can double as an excellent business planning process. Done right—and not as just an annual activity for updating plans to meet audit requirements—business continuity planning can optimize the management and operation of the business.  It becomes a normal part of conducting business, a method to mange risks, woven into normal business operations and culture.

I’d like to thank Randy for taking time to sit with me and share his views concerning business continuity.

TIP:  With summertime heat affecting many parts of the country, it’s wise to consider the following …

  • Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside
  • To reduce risk during outdoor work, OSHA recommends scheduling frequent breaks in shaded or air-conditioned
    environments (www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index )
  • When possible, reschedule strenuous activities to the early morning or evening
  • Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke
  • Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing when possible
  • Drink Plenty of water
  • Keep an eye on the young and the elderly
  • Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool shaded location
  • Heat stroke is an emergency – Call 9-1-1 immediately

Visit FEMA’s “Extreme Heat” website www.fema.gov/hazard/heat/index  for more information.