Thursday, August 16, 2012


Black swan?


I have an acquaintance who is a business continuity practitioner for a government office.

Which government office and where that office is located is not important.

The practitioner is charged with business continuity for all government entities.

One of the entities is responsible for environmental matters.

My acquaintenance has no direct control of this entity, but as the business continuity for the general government she has an interest in each entities' survivability, and that includes public image.

If you think government bodies can ignore their image, think again.

  • They need to project a "helpful" image to generate public support.

  • They need to project a "useful" image to continue to receive tax money.

  • They need to project a "well managed" image so secretaries, directors, and mid-level managers can keep their jobs and pensions.

  • Government bodies at all levels are image conscious.

Recently a private company in the practitioner's bailiwick caused an environmental faux pas. It allowed pollution of the neighbors' skies and waters.

Naturally the neighbors took umbrage at the invasion of unwanted poisons.


Private company is alleged to have committed an environmental crime.

The neighbors whose properties were inundated with the company's poisons are up in arms.

Why, the neighbors are asking, did the environmental agency charged with protecting the environment allow the incident to occur. Good question. Valid question.

For practitioners, the questions is: Should my acquaintance have considered this in the government's business continuity - COOP, if you prefer - plan?

Perhaps as importantly, someone should ask: Was "image" even within the business continuity plan's scope - for the overall government and for the individual operations?

Is it a problem for a practitioner at the Chief Executive level if something goes "bump in the night" at one of the many lower-level organizations (i.e., environmental agency)? Shouldn't each agency have its own business continuity planner? (Ah, that it were so; we'd all be gainfully engaged.)

I don't believe in black swans - the unexpected. If enough people are involved in a risk management program - and I generally recommend "all hands" - and given an opportunity to think "outside the box" and offer "off the wall" comments about potential risks and the ways to avoid or mitigate them, then all the black swans fade, if not to white, then at least grey.

If there is one practitioner for the entire government, that practitioner should be given carte blanche to create a program for the entire government.

That does not mean that the practitioner needs to be a lone wolf, the sole practitioner for the government. Perhaps my acquaintance should manage (ideally) practitioners at each government organization to assure consistency of plans and integration into a government-wide program or (alternatively) could mentor and manage non-practitioners who would represent my acquaintance's office at each organization.

But, back to the main questions:

  • Should my acquaintance's program have included the image risk to the environmental agency?

  • Did my acquaintance have a mandate to consider this risk?

  • Should my acquaintance promote an all-organizations-inclusive risk management program?

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