Business continuity planning is essential for every organization, regardless of size or industry. You need a plan for potential disasters or disruptions to normal business operations. An effective business continuity plan (BCP) details the procedures and resources needed to respond and recover when adverse events happen.

One component of your business continuity plan is the business continuity policy: a document that outlines your organization’s overall business continuity strategy, commitment, and approach to building organizational resilience. This article will provide a step-by-step guide to developing a thorough business continuity policy.

What Is a Business Continuity Policy?

A business continuity policy defines your standards and procedures for building organizational resilience and effective risk management. Such policies should be tailored to each company’s unique compliance obligations and threat landscape.

The goal of the policy is to establish the required actions to maintain essential operations during normal and crisis circumstances. To write an effective policy, you must first conduct a business impact analysis to identify critical functions and appropriate recovery time objectives (RTO) — that is, your goal for how quickly you want to resume normal operations. Your team must also perform risk assessments to understand potential threats such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, or pandemics.

When thoughtfully designed, the policy sets reasonable expectations for recovering processes, includes contact information for crisis response teams, and sets metrics for response effectiveness. It also outlines data backup and technology recovery procedures; and defines roles across business continuity management, information security, and emergency management.

How Does a Business Continuity Policy Differ from a Disaster Recovery Plan?

While business continuity policies and disaster recovery plans both aim to strengthen organizational resilience, their scope and focus areas differ.

Disaster recovery plans  narrowly concentrate on restoring IT systems, regaining data access, and resurrecting digital infrastructure after adverse events. These plans focus on technology risk mitigation and are usually devised and managed solely by IT teams.

Business continuity policies take a broader approach to maintaining operations during times of crisis. They outline protocols for identifying and recovering all critical business functions across departments, not just IT assets.

In addition to guiding technology response, BCPs establish organization-wide crisis governance, supply chain risk management, and public relations strategies. They should have cross-functional input from leaders in facilities, operations, communications, finance, legal, and human resources.

What Are the 4 Ps of Business Continuity?

Effective business continuity is built upon the foundation of the 4 Ps:

  • People. This includes employees across business functions as well as extended teams. Continuity plans detail staffing requirements, succession planning, emergency contacts, and communication protocols to support personnel during incidents like ransomware threats.
  • Processes. Identify and map critical operational, manufacturing, distribution, and technology processes via business impact analysis. 
  • Premises. Your continuity plan should safeguard physical plants, facilities, utilities, transportation modes, and supply chain infrastructure.
  • Providers. Be sure to qualify and manage relationships with critical suppliers of goods and services, and beware of concentrated supply risks that could pose problems too. 

Who Is Responsible for Creating a Business Continuity Policy?

The executive leadership team, including the CEO and senior management, should own, endorse, and enforce the business continuity policy. Given the broad, enterprise-wide nature of the policy, collaboration is also essential for department leaders in risk management, information security,  human resources, and Information Technology (IT) when drafting the document.

Involve Your Stakeholders in your BCP Development Process

Your business continuity policy needs to reflect the reality of how your business works. This means that you should solicit input from a wide range of stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, and others); you need their unvarnished advice about “how things really get done” to assure that your business continuity policy will work. 

More specifically, stakeholder participation:

  • Drives better  risk management by identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities.
  • Enhances organizational resilience to withstand and recover from sudden shocks.
  • Supports data-driven leadership decisions using risk analysis and loss projections.
  • Bolsters customer confidence by signaling stability and preparedness.

While limitations exist in widespread disasters, continuity planning will always be superior to an ad-hoc crisis response. The process builds enterprise immune systems that can bounce back stronger.

What Should a Business Continuity Policy Include?

Robust business continuity policies have the following fundamental components:

  1. Risk assessment. The threat, vulnerability, and impact analysis of potential business disruptions is clear.
  2. Prioritized scope. The policy identifies the most critical services, functions, assets, and channels that require priority attention.
  3. Recovery requirements. Minimum staffing, facilities, equipment, and data to resume operations are clear.
  4. Response procedures. The policy has actionable playbooks for triage, assessment, communications, and recovery.
  5. Maintenance cycles. It includes scheduled reviews addressing environmental and organizational changes.

Steps to Writing a Business Continuity Policy

To write a strong business continuity policy, follow these steps.

  1. Business impact analysis. Identify essential functions, resources, and maximum tolerable outage durations.
  2. Recovery protocols. Define tactical steps to restore critical operations, data, systems, and supply chains.
  3. Response governance. Appoint leaders and teams accountable for policy components including IT recovery, communications, alternate site activations, and procurement.
  4. Training. Produce schedules, curriculums, and exercises focused on procedure awareness, readiness testing, and validating recoverability.
  5. Implementation roadmap. Address urgent risks and foundational capabilities first, then optimize maturity over time.
  6. Maintenance cycles. Conduct periodic reviews to update plans according to environmental or operational changes and exercise lessons.
  7. Executive validation. Be sure that leaders endorse the importance of continuity and drive adoption across the enterprise.

How Often Should You Review a Business Continuity Plan?

Considering all the business objectives, threats, technologies, and best practices that can change over time, aim to conduct a table-top exercise of your continuity plans at least once a year. For small but fast-growing companies, or those in sectors with emerging cybersecurity risks, you might even consider quarterly meetings to confirm that the continuity plan still makes sense. 

Your periodic reviews should examine:

  • Business impact analysis and recovery point objectives.
  • Crisis management procedures.
  • Risk register changes that might cause disruption or data loss.
  • Personnel preparedness through plan testing.
  • BCP template content improvements.

Make ZenGRC’s Continuous Monitoring Part of Your Business Continuity Plan

An integral component of an effective policy is continuous monitoring, to identify threats as soon as they start to happen. ZenGRC provides an integrated risk and compliance platform that allows organizations to implement business continuity frameworks with assessments, controls management, and real-time reporting. 

Schedule a demo today to experience automated and collaborative continuity management, ensuring your organization is prepared to meet challenging events.