Bask Iyer, VMware
Office of the CIO

Office of the CIO – 6 Best Practices for Successfully Managing a Crisis

Learning from the Business Continuity Pros: 6 Best Practices for Successfully Managing a Crisis

Bask Iyer

June 22, 2020

While many companies have well-developed business continuity plans for globally disruptive events, it’s unlikely anyone could have fully prepared for the current pandemic crisis. We are experiencing highly unusual global work-from-home mandates. At VMware, our transition to remote work for 30,000+ employees has been smooth and successful thanks in large part to the hard work and advance planning by our team of business continuity professionals (BCP).

 

The People Factor 

I strongly believe that effective crisis management really comes down to having the right talent in place. Their thoughtful and decisive guidance enables you to engage with your employees and garner much-needed support for difficult changes that must be made. I’ve learned a great deal over the last several months from our team of BCP professionals. Through every twist and turn of this pandemic, they’ve brought a deep understanding of best practices for evaluating, documenting, and executing a smart and thoughtful crisis response.

 

6 Best Practices from Business Continuity Planning Pros  

In the spirit of collaboration, I wanted to share my list of the top strategies that we have utilized since the crisis began and have been essential in keeping our employees around the world safer, engaged and productive. While none of them are new ideas, our experience was that simple and sensible ideas that were well implemented made a big difference.

1. Lead from the top  and empower grassroots  execution. 

The combination of executive and employee empowerment engenders a sense of  shared responsibility. While it’s important to create centralized plans, it’s equally important to roll them out locally in order to optimize for different regions and cultures, foster  acceptance and ensure collaboration.

At VMware we have a  Global CMT (Crisis Management Team) that drives the over arching response plan (playbook, policy decisions, etc.) and coordinates with local CMTs who are empowered at our key sites across the globe. From the onset of a disruption, these teams make local decisions, allocate resources, and oversee crisis response and management. They handle critical tasks, like closing sites, enabling remote work, closing the financial quarter or hosting virtual sales kickoff meetings. They move quickly to present pros and cons to management and make recommendations and decisions. Kudos to the teams taking charge, and to our senior leaders for empowering them.

2. Take your time to form the right BCP “A” team.

Given the BCP team’s critical role in keeping employees safe and productive, it is important to build your “A” team. Our long-standing BCP team consists of service-oriented employees from across the company who are trusted and respected partners. The team can move faster, make bold assumptions with confidence, fail, get back up, and try again. Growing talent from within is often an effective option. Business strategy, technology, and program management skill sets can translate directly to crisis management.

3. Communicate consistently and continuously.

Our communication playbooks and templates help speed up responses, from all-hands meetings to weekly emails. Because we don’t start from scratch, our team has time for proactive education, such as creating resiliency training and troubleshooting guides for home networking issues. Our intranet pages are rapidly configurable, enabling us to communicate effectively. We are able to reach our geographically dispersed employee base swiftly on a full range of devices.

4. Stay sharp by focusing on real-world exercises. 

There’s no substitute for experience in a crisis. For example, our BCP team conducts frequent tabletop exercises and drills with various groups throughout the company, including our CEO and the senior executive team. One of the ways we’ve executed BCP in a scalable and sustainable way is through a team partnership with business units (BUs) and functions. We partner with a BCP executive sponsor and a BCP coordinator for each BU in order to drive resiliency activities.  We’re also doubling down on our efforts to bring all the BCP teams up to the same level by using recent events to illustrate the need for a game plan for coping with business disruptions.

5. Make your response personal and local.

Enterprises have big picture plans, but one size does not fit all in this global environment. Plans must accommodate  different locations, people, and situations. Always prioritize employees’ health and safety first. Offer a feedback loop that can help inform and improve responses to disruptions and emergencies no matter the cause.

Many of the IT investments and flexible designs we implemented over the last few years accelerated our response, including our focus on scale and enabling individuals to work from any device, anytime, anywhere.  During this pandemic, equipment needs posed bigger hurdles than we anticipated. Creative thinking shifted our whole company across the globe to work from home in under 72 hours. Since then, we put plans in place to retrieve essential supplies from offices where possible, order online, and even make home deliveries. Our digital workspaces and virtual desktop infrastructure are instrumental to our success.

6. Don’t overlook mental health and community bonds. 

It is very important to acknowledge that people are also dealing with a lot of different stresses in their lives—personally and professionally.  At VMware, we focus on how our teams are doing by constantly checking in with our employees, to gain insights about our collective mental health.

Across VMware, we launched “Wellness Wednesdays”, a series of monthly webinars led by mental health experts, to help VMware employees find balance and channel mindfulness during uncertain times. We also organize many virtual social events, including talent competitions, musical performances, quiz nights, and more. This has led to stronger bonds and a tighter VMware community.

 

Trust Your People and Culture for Enterprise Resiliency 

Every company has values that will inform its response to a crisis. We have VMware’s EPIC2 values: Execution, Passion, Integrity, Customers, and Community. These values are a living and dynamic element of our workplace.

Written plans are critical to success. Equally important are the people creating, executing, and living them, so it’s important to enhance these plans with real-time experiences and feedback. Having the right culture, mindset and people in place has been absolutely essential in our ability to remain resilient as we continue to navigate the crisis.

 

 

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