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A debrief for business continuity debriefing

Risk & Analytics|Corporate Risk Tools and Technology|Financial, Executive and Professional Risks (FINEX)
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Marc Hindman and Sean B. Rider | May 5, 2020

A post-crisis debrief will yield important information that can be used to help ensure the recovery and long-term viability of the enterprise.

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In our ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, experts from across Willis Towers Watson share insight into what you need to know to manage your business and employees and reduce your risk.

When the COVID-19 pandemic eases, most companies will conduct a debrief of their business continuity plans. The problem with a typical debrief, as the name implies, is that it examines organizational preparations and behavior after the event when the focus should be on critical lessons that can be applied while the event is unfolding.

In a separate blog, we discussed how analytics can be developed and deployed as a crisis unfolds to influence remedial actions by the business, as well as to provide the chief financial officer (CFO) with real-time information that puts vital financial metrics around business decisions. This kind of action does not have to be done after the fact.

Having said this, a debrief after the crisis subsides will undoubtedly yield important information that can be used to refine business continuity plans while also pointing to business changes, both in operations and corporate finance, that will help ensure the recovery and long-term viability of the enterprise.

In our work with clients around the world, we routinely assist in developing, monitoring and modifying business continuity plans. But before reviewing some of the more important considerations in a typical debrief, I’d like to note a few common mistakes:

  • Documentation and contemporaneous evidence compiled during the crisis is often scattered throughout the organization or incomplete.
  • Post-event analysis fails to include external stakeholders, notably customers, business partners and investors.
  • Follow-up actions, including timescales, are not assigned owners with clear deliverables and accountability.

The value of documentation

A crisis will affect a company in many different and hard-to-predict ways that vary by location and business function. COVID-19, for example, is having a huge impact on staffing and facility utilization. Sales, with some exceptions, have plummeted at many companies as demand falters. Supply lines have also been disrupted.

The typical company has a different manager or managers in charge of each of these problem areas. They, in turn, will be primarily focused on their areas of responsibility – production, shipping and warehousing, human resources, risk management, treasury. Each manager will have a narrow focus that is understandable during a crisis. However, this fragmented response to COVID-19 may make it difficult to identify and share lessons that could benefit other parts of the company. Gathering and sharing information is vital.

Documentation should be scrupulously maintained during the crisis to record the impact of the crisis, the timing and effectiveness of decision making, impediments in the form of staffing and resources, and so on. The documentation should be maintained at the enterprise level, ideally under the CFO.

The CFO also will be in the best position to take a cross-functional look at the documentation and from it gain a richer understanding of business actions, good or bad, that had an effect on revenue, cash flow and other key indicators of a company’s long-term viability.

Include external stakeholders

While a company’s line managers are the first defense in maintaining business continuity, a debrief needs to consider the effect of their decisions on important business partners (e.g., the supply chain) as well as clients and customers.

A key takeaway here is the value of communications. Even as the crisis is underway, it is important to alert business partners and customers about the impact on your company and its operations as it will affect your service levels and business requirements.

Remember, however, that communications must comport with securities laws and disclosure requirements. Line managers and customer-facing representatives should not share information that may have a material impact on share prices. The CFO will know this instinctively but should ensure that managers throughout the organization understand reporting requirements.

Customer communications is also vital. Buyers will want to know if a crisis poses problems for products and services. Think of the great toilet paper and hand-sanitizer shortages that developed as COVID-19 took hold; this is a lesson that can be applied to virtually any product or service.

While keeping external stakeholders informed employees must be kept fully informed too. During a pandemic, they are likely to have personal and family concerns that go beyond what they would have experienced in a hurricane or other dissimilar crisis. Employee communications during a pandemic is also vastly more complicated with work-at-home policies and furloughs. However, companies are obliged to make the effort to reach employees with honest, effective messaging to keep them engaged.

Clear deliverables with accountability

It is this post-event function that must make decisions about the quality and effectiveness of decision making during the crisis – the coordination among various functions, benefits or lost opportunities – and draw some conclusions about changes that must be made to better ensure organizational resilience and business continuation during the next crisis.

Next steps

Start thinking now about a debrief process that will work best for your company with your knowledge of its culture and operations. It’s not too late to alert beleaguered line managers to the compelling need for documenting their actions and the consequences of their actions on the business.

Unfortunately, the next crisis might not look exactly like what we see with COVID-19 and that’s why business continuity is best handled by professionals.


Each applicable policy of insurance must be reviewed to determine the extent, if any, of coverage for COVID-19. Coverage may vary depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances. For global client programs it is critical to consider all local operations and how policies may or may not include COVID-19 coverage. The information contained herein is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with your own legal and/or other professional advisors. Some of the information in this publication may be compiled by third party sources we consider to be reliable, however we do not guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of such information. We assume no duty in contract, tort, or otherwise in connection with this publication and expressly disclaim, to the fullest extent permitted by law, any liability in connection with this publication. Willis Towers Watson offers insurance-related services through its appropriately licensed entities in each jurisdiction in which it operates. COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving situation and changes are occurring frequently. Willis Towers Watson does not undertake to update the information included herein after the date of publication. Accordingly, readers should be aware that certain content may have changed since the date of this publication. Please reach out to the author or your Willis Towers Watson contact for more information.


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