Business continuity and sustainability: why top management is key

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Damages to the environment can lead to frequent and severe business disruptions. Similarly, ill-controlled business practices can have a negative impact on natural resources and pollution levels. In this respect, business continuity management (BCM) and sustainability are two well-known practices that can support organizations. Sustainability helps meet the challenges of the present without compromising future generations, while BCM provides a system to navigate the current uncertainty and guide businesses through market changes. Clearly, both BCM and sustainability aim for the same goal, that is to ensure that current and future processes continue to function.

The International Organisation for Standardisation has set a number of standards for both disciplines, such as ISO 26000 (Social Responsibility) and the ISO 22301 (Business Continuity Management), indicating how to correctly implement best practices. Furthermore, previous research has shown how both disciplines contribute to the bottom line, since environmental responsibility is associated with larger market share gains and total gross profits, while BCM can improve financial performance through enhanced response capabilities.

However, another study revealed that even though 90% of executives find sustainability significant, only 60% of companies embed it in their strategy. Similarly, 83% of organizations have under-resourced BCM divisions. These gaps may be caused by low support from top management for both practices, since engaging senior management is often reported to be one of the top barriers in creating sustainable policies. On the same note, resilience professionals revealed that despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, getting the executive buy-in has become more challenging.

It is interesting to see how in some cases top management buy-in alone can make a great difference. A survey conducted across different multinational corporations states that commitment from top management is found to be the only significant factor in shaping perceived support for corporate sustainability. Participants highlighted that middle management are more likely to exhibit sustainability behaviors if they perceive corporate commitment from the C-suite. This helps them feel more positively about their organization and more entrusting towards their top management. BCM follows a similar trend, since it is recommended in all the main international guidelines on the subject that key figures among middle management are involved, such as process owners, to make sure the organization can establish a sound BCM culture.

Hence, top management should be involved both in sustainability strategies and BCM by setting and clarifying objectives and expectations. Visible management participation to initiatives shows the importance of these activities and encourages constructive behavior at all levels. A study articulates the contribution of top management based on four main points, which should facilitate the diffusion of best practices, whether it is for BCM or sustainability. These are the following:

  1. The ability to acknowledge contradiction
  2. The ability to value interconnections between different strategic domains
  3. The capability to engage in and manage task conflict to avoid groupthink
  4. The ability to intrinsically motivate middle managers.

This can be an interesting and useful benchmark for top management to understand how to maximize their efforts and measure the effectiveness of their actions. On a final note, it is worth mentioning that so far the literature both in industry and academia has highlighted the importance of executives but more needs to be done to understand how to obtain their buy-in and get the best out of their support.