Resilience planning for business continuity: Lessons from Russia-Ukraine war

How resilience and agility planning ensured employee safety and zero business loss

Muthu Kumaran
Updated: Jul 5, 2024 11:28:16 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Under the Recognize’s portfolio of companies, a niche product engineering firm found itself dealing with a serious risk to its business and its people as 2021 drew to a close. Some staff were based out of Ukraine, and the management team faced a series of adverse events. Since the business was growing at a rapid pace, it was easy to ignore the events and focus on core business. Understandably, many players in the technology services ecosystem within Ukraine were doing just that. However, the Recognize team in New York saw it differently and took the events and the risks to the business and its people very seriously from an early stage.

What follows is a series of lessons we learnt while leading the company’s resilience plan, working with the management and functional leaders, and putting in a robust plan that involved hours and hours of meetings, working through minute details of activities to ensure the company was prepared for the war.

Believe that it will happen, and prepare for the worst-case scenario

Most business continuity plans are reasonably good, but they lack one aspect. They assume the worst case is unlikely to happen. An event with the most severe impact and a very low probability of occurrence is acknowledged but rarely respected and planned for. This leads to certain loose threads that become gaping holes when the most severe level of the peril materialises.

Of course, we hoped for the best but were prepared for the worst. We ensured that we played out all scenarios and pre-planned mitigants against risks for each one. This resulted in a solid resilience plan with less ambiguity, and no small detail was ignored.

Listen more to people you disagree with

When we went through the planning exercise, there were many contrasting views. Some individuals dismissed the thought of any disruption at all. Some others who were worried about potential war-related disruptions had very specific thoughts on which perils would materialise while insisting that expansive or severe disruption was out of the picture.

Also Read- The economic consequences of the war

Engaging with a wide set of individuals can help in at least two ways. First, you will get to know the mindset of the teams on the ground and the real pulse of the company; second, you will get a broader perspective of underlying hurdles and issues that might otherwise go unnoticed in resilience planning. For example, when we went through scenario planning related to evacuating our employees and their families, we didn’t initially plan for an elderly individual with limited or no mobility or family pets.

The employees are the real decision-makers

Irrespective of how strong the resilience plan is, the mindset of individuals plays a big role. If the teams are not convinced, they will simply ignore the plan. You need buy-in from individuals to take the resilience plan from strategy to actual crisis-mode execution. Do not ignore individual mindsets and personal preferences. It’s important to stay connected, engage with the teams, and ensure that you win credibility with each of them.

You may be the lone shepherd

While building a resilience plan, be prepared to swim against the current. There may not be other companies or players in the ecosystem who share the same views of potential risks. You may find yourself alone, spending considerable time and effort building your resilience plan. At times, your own team may resist based on inaction by other firms or on the basis that resilience planning reduces bandwidth better devoted (in their minds) to competing in the market. Fairy tales may have a few lessons for businesses, too. Three Little Pigs is a good reckoner.

Know that you have very little control during the event

You can build a resilience plan like how professional coaching staff make a game plan before a big game. As in sports, detailed planning helps, but once the game starts, the players must remain emotionally resilient and prepared to respond to events, most of which will not have been foreseen. For individuals to be able to make quick and efficient decisions in the face of ambiguity, companies need to inculcate a culture of agility and have strong training programs in place.

Also Read- Private enterprises value continuity and stability: Megha Chawla

For us, the most crucial decision at the time was to make it a management priority to take care of the portfolio company’s people as well as the business. It was a truly remarkable time for the company as the ‘resilience and agility’ values that the management team had committed to well before the war started (and indeed, well before there were any signs of a broader war) made a telling difference to the company’s most significant asset – its people. The company’s call to act and to act early made a huge difference to its employees and their families. Not only did most of the employees move to safer places, but it also helped them move early enough to ensure they and their families’ lives were saved and that they didn’t go through unimaginable stress and hardships trying to navigate the treacherous roads moving to safer places across the country. The result was that the company and its people stayed resilient and relevant to their clients.

In the last two years, the company has grown leaps and bounds in revenue and headcount. While on both those parameters, the company could have gone entirely south when the war broke out in 2022, we not only stayed resilient and survived the war, but have also thrived and flourished.

Muthu Kumaran is the operating partner at Recognize.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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