Can your business survive Tyson's 'punch in the face'?

“Everyone has a plan—until they get punched in the face,” boxing champion Mike Tyson famously observed.

Here at The Legal Director, we recognise that these sentiments apply to businesses as well as individuals. Time and again, we encounter businesses—and well-run businesses, at that—where unexpected events have thrown management badly off-course.

The loss of a key person or customer, sudden economic downturn, a terrorist incident or cyber-attack, an industrial accident, product scare or IT failure, giving rise to the risk of reputational damage, or the sudden realisation that key executives may—however inadvertently—have left themselves open to suspicions of inappropriate conduct.

For businesses, all these—and more—can be the equivalent of an unexpected punch in the face.

A punch in the face which starkly highlights how illusory was the business’s comfortable presumption of resilience.

Whose responsibility is ‘resilience’?

Why do businesses turn out to be less resilient than they had thought? And why is it that at critical times, supposed resilience-promoting policies are found to be either lacking, or inadequate?

There’s no simple, single, answer.

One problem is that ‘resilience’ is no one’s primary responsibility, or day job: put another way, there’s no ‘chief resilience officer’. Yet another problem is that it’s all too easy to assume that untried and untested policies and procedures will prove adequate when events conspire to put them to the test.

Likewise, many businesses place too much faith on their internal culture. Yes, a strong culture provides powerful support, but it’s not a substitute for incisive action, unambiguous guidance, and clear leadership.

The leadership challenge

And speaking of leadership, it’s far from uncommon for situations that test a business’s resilience to make business leaders themselves feel uncomfortable and out of their depth.

They can feel awkward about not knowing immediately how they should respond to a given situation. At a time when employees are unclear as to what to do, and there’s a sense of panic in the air, it’s easy to feel unclear about how best to proceed.

If this is you, then our advice is simple: don’t feel embarrassed, or feel that you’ve failed. It’s surprising how common such feelings are, and—at least in our experience—it is a rare leader who can respond adroitly to every resilience-testing scenario.

Better by far, we think, to be a leader with an understanding of the limitations of their own knowledge, and able to recognise the risks of making a bad situation worse through inappropriate or misguided actions.

Opportunity cost

So how can businesses improve their resilience? In the face of such a diverse set of threats—some of which may well include former American Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’—what should they do?

An important first step is for businesses—and their leaders—to acknowledge what might be termed the ‘opportunity cost’ of enhanced resilience: the fact that time devoted to improving resilience can’t also be spent on other competing priorities.

Improved resilience calls for planning and preparation. Policies and procedures must be developed, risks evaluated, insurances arranged, and appropriate business continuity and disaster recovery mechanisms put in place.

It’s not exciting stuff. But it is necessary. And carrying it out inevitably serves as a distraction from the business’s core activities of serving customers, achieving sales targets, and developing new products.

The danger: having a key Director or Senior Manager trying to both build resilience and build the business at the same time runs the risk of fully achieving neither objective. The business isn’t as resilient as it ought to be, and neither is it growing as fast as it ought to be, or as profitably.

We can help

Here at The Legal Director, our part-time Client Legal Directors are very accustomed to helping clients to square this circle. Right now, your business might have no ‘chief resilience officer’—but’s a role that our experienced business lawyers are well used to performing.

We can prepare appropriate policies and procedures. We can ensure that business continuity and disaster recovery plans are adequate, and are kept up-to-date. We understand what insurance arrangements are appropriate for a business such as yours, and can prepare and maintain risk registers. We know what your compliance obligations are—and can help to ensure that compliance is more than ticking boxes and publishing policies, but is actually embedded in the business’s culture.

More than all of this, though, we’re on hand to act as a sounding board and source of advice when something out of the ordinary happens—a resilience-testing event that could not be foreseen, and which despite all of your planning could not be completely avoided, even with appropriate policies and procedures.

Such an event may not happen, or may not happen for years—but as Mike Tyson would doubtless agree, they’re not occasions to struggle alone, making things up as you go along.

To find out more, pick up the phone, or email info@thelegaldirector.co.uk

Posted Monday, April 1st, 2019 by Warren Ryland

 

 


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