Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

How to Do Better Than BP at Preparing Your Business for the Unexpected

by Susan Pomeroy

contingency planning failure - deepwater horizon

Everyone’s writing about BP these days. The platform failure is such a huge screw-up on so many levels that there’s something we can all learn from it.

There are obvious lessons of grace and character which BP has failed: recognize the problem(s), take responsibility, apologize, swiftly do everything necessary and possible to restore—even improve upon—the status quo ante, and finally, demonstrate that you’ve learned from the experience.

And then there are the practical issues. Contingency planning, strategic thinking. The oil industry’s contingency plans were a joke, copied verbatim from responses to the Exxon Valdez spill over 20 years ago, replete with references to outdated procedures and dead consultants. What’s worse is that every oil company’s disaster “plan” was a carbon copy of all the others.

Apparently, no one anticipated the potential for disaster. The appalling thing is, it appears as though no one tried. As Errol Morris quoted a research paper recently in the NY Times (“The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is“):

“When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.  Instead… they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

In other words, sometimes people are too incompetent to know they’re incompetent. BP apparently thought it was doing just fine. The other companies drilling in the gulf, or the arctic, obviously did (do) too.

How Competent Are You?

So, let’s get down to it. How competent are you? How many of us have contingency plans for our business?

These would be:

(a) plans for how to avert interruptions to our own livelihoods in case of disaster, and

(b) plans for restoring our clients’ business—at least the portion of it that depends upon us—in the event of catastrophe.

No, we can’t really imagine the hurricane, the earthquake, the tidal wave. Or the truly “unthinkable” things, like famine, pestilence, war. So here are some web site what-ifs to get you started.

What if your computer hard drive is destroyed. Have you backed up your own and your clients’ work?

What if your computer AND your home/office are destroyed by natural disaster. Do you have secure online or offsite backups of everything you’ll need to get going again?

What if your password file was also on your computer. Do you have another up-to-date copy in a secure place?

What if your web host suffers a disaster. Do you have a backup copy of all the web files you need to restore your site? Does your designer? Are you sure?

What if your site is hacked, and client information is compromised. Do you have backups of the contact info you need to to communicate with every client about the problem?

What if you are suddenly ill or injured, or even trapped in an airport for a week due to some unforeseen event. Is there someone (ideally, someone who is not also your primary partner or caretaker) who can step in to finish any work in progress, to handle billings, to communicate with clients—to keep up the impression of competence and continuity—or at least let people know what’s going on—until you’re back on your feet?

When this person steps in, is the information necessary to run your business—at least to handle essentials—available and intelligible?

  • bank info
  • accts receivable
  • expenses and outgoing payments
  • current clients and projects
  • online tools and passwords

After sitting at my computer one October afternoon, frantically backing up the only copy of my almost-finished dissertation onto floppy disks as the Oakland Hills fire burned closer and closer to my apartment, I learned my lesson about backing up essential files, including clients’ sites.

But I confess. Before writing this article, I hadn’t thought about all of these issues. Passwords? Client contact info duplicated somewhere safe? Nope.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. But as someone once said, “Expect the best, and prepare for the worst.” I sure don’t want to cause even one iota of the pain BP has caused by being thoughtless, careless, or unprepared.

Do you?

We’ve got our work cut out for us.


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