Business Continuity Plan in 72 hours: leadership, personal growth and resilience during COVID-19

By Jonathan Chu | MBA Class of 2021 | Student Experience

Business Continuity Plan in 72 hours: leadership, personal growth and resilience during COVID-19

MBA meeting, 12 March 2020, 1:00 PM. The atmosphere was heated as discussions turned to the surge in COVID-19 infections in Malaysia and what preventive measures the school should take.

All of a sudden, Charlie Fine (Dean and President of ASB) turned to the Co-Presidents of the student government and said, “I think the students need to come up with a BCP for ASBR.”

For a building that had only been in operation for two months, ASB Residensi (ASBR) was occupied by students and occasionally some staff. There were hardly any SOPs, let alone a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) for such a crisis.

The team wrestled with the need for a BCP. Shouldn’t it be the school’s responsibility instead of the students’?

“When we got this request from Charlie, I was skeptical. Why should we [the students] be developing this when it should be the school’s role to start?” Mohd Faizal Mohamed Sulaiman, Co-President of the Class of 2020, asked.

Then it dawned on us – with 30-40 of our friends stuck at ASBR, it would be more effective for the students to put the BCP together ourselves. This would ensure that our classmates not only understood and had ownership over the SOPs, but they would also know what to do in the event a lockdown happened and nobody from ASB was available to support us.

 

Navigating Uncertainty

“We knew how important it was to get this BCP right. It was a lot of pressure. If something goes wrong and people are infected, and they have to stay in ASBR, what are the stakes? It was a huge weight!” Ilham Bazi, Co-President of the Class of 2021, explained.

So how do you get a bunch of bright, young MBA students who have never seen, let alone completed, a BCP to create one? The ride was certainly bumpy.

“I don’t think any of us had any real-life experience in designing a BCP. We were all just trying to nail it as we went along. [The journey] felt like a roller coaster ride with maniacal ups and downs. We started from nothing, in 24 hours we had something, and in 48 hours, it was ready for presentation. That just blew my mind,” Yizhen Fung, a student from the Class of 2020, shared.

Yizhen was invited to be part of the BCP Leadership team as the Head of Internal Communications, and it was imperative that she got firsthand updates as we went along.

Luiza Massari, the Clubs Officer of the Class of 2021 and a member of the BCP Leadership Team, added, “I didn’t even know what a BCP was. I had to google it! I remember we thought ASB was overreacting. They imagined a situation where we had no food. Now I see that it is important to determine how to manage ASBR. It is a major success that we have had no infections [so far].”

Yizhen added. “Everything was going so fast, and everyone was on the same ride as you were, so you had to buckle down. The first 72 hours were fast and furious. Some of us got little sleep. A lot of new information was coming in on an hourly basis. When there was a new development, you had to be willing to go back to the drawing board and do away with the initial processes. Nothing was ever certain.”

Business Continuity Plan in 72 hours: leadership, personal growth and resilience during COVID-19

Despite the stress, and with zero intra-community infections as the measure of success, the team managed to move swiftly “from the moment of conception [of the BCP] to drafting and testing the scenarios with multiple stakeholders to stress-testing the processes to ensure everything holds,” Yizhen noted.

The team had to collectively generate an exhaustive number of scenarios, as well as a set of protocols that were thorough and ensured the wellbeing of the community.

“In the beginning, we were just sticking to the basics. But if we had done that, we wouldn’t be in good shape. We went so many steps further and followed Rhoda’s (Chief Operating Officer of ASB) and the community’s lead in imagining all sorts of creative scenarios,” Luiza explained.

 

Leadership in Crisis

“In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

How often do MBA students get to show leadership in a crisis? For Faizal, the journey was a chance to prove himself.

“We talked about how to be agile and lean, but the whole experience, at least for the first 72 hours, puts you to the test to see if you can put agile into practice… People said, ‘I’ll do this because I have some experience, let me just be part of this.’ There was no need to message anyone directly to get their participation. We started with three or four of us, and then it was a big team.”

The BCP was also an opportunity for other students to step up to the plate.

“Despite spending about 20 months at ASB, I was pleasantly surprised to see people who are naturally reserved stepping up,” Faizal said.

Ilham added, “Everyone was a leader. It helped a lot with the team dynamics in the BCP journey. It is not a feeling that you need to do something or report something. You knew you wanted to do it, and you wanted to help. It was a different type of leadership.”

Business Continuity Plan in 72 hours: leadership, personal growth and resilience during COVID-19

The BCP team also had Rhoda to thank for leading them through this unknown process.

Luiza explained, “I believe in leadership by example. When we saw Rhoda working a lot and being worried about the situation, this pushed me harder to help her, and all of us as well. The other students also tried to help solve the problem. Rhoda didn’t need to do this, but she was pushing hard to make this happen. That is leadership. That is how you lead by example.”

Yizhen chimed in as well. “I am not what Faizal or Jon might perceive as a typical, natural leader. I don’t step up to these things on my own. The BCP was an opportunity for me to try and see what I could do. It was a high-pressure moment. I haven’t quite done anything like this in my life. If there was anything I learned, it was the importance of having a vision of how things can be better for all of us, sharing that vision with the team, and helping the team execute. These were the three things I needed to do, as my unit needed this.”

In fact, the final product showed the amount of professionalism of each team.

“When I saw the different teams’ portions of the BCP, I was impressed. In only 24 hours, the level of detail and expertise in those documents – that was very surprising,” Ilham beamed.

 

Action Learning at Its Best

Many of us came to ASB for its Action Learning program. When the BCP Leadership Team got together to reflect, we realized this was by far not only one of the most challenging Action Learning projects, but it was the one that most pushed us to grow our Smart and Sharp skills.

Leadership

“From Charlie we were asking for certainty. We wondered, ‘Can’t you just decide?’ But the school wanted to allow students to discuss it. In hindsight, that was great. Empathy-based leadership was something that I learned,” Faizal shared.

Rhoda demonstrated that in times of crisis, leaders are challenged to communicate their intentions before all else. When people understand the intention, they will move.

“In times like this, establishing and articulating the intention may make it seem like you’re going slow. But you’re in fact going fast,” Rhoda shared as she reflected upon her experience.

Failing Forward

“This task of putting the BCP together gave us a headache after our meeting with Charlie. We had to just start the Word document. Once we started, it flowed. Then it went so fast. Even if the task is huge and complex, just start. Don’t overcomplicate anything in the beginning,” Ilham shared.

Faizal chimed in. “This is where ‘failing forward’ comes in. We use that phrase a lot at ASB. We were going through that process, and it was difficult for me to adapt. I am so used to structure and processes. But in this case, we had to just go with it. Test the prototype quickly and improve from there.”

Building Teams

In a crisis like this, we had no time to monitor everything. We had to delegate, then let go and trust. Unlike in companies where managers are challenged to be specific with their directions, here the scope was broad.

“If you give people a chance, they will surprise you about what they are capable of doing, how far they are willing to go, and the amount of ideas they have,” Jonathan Chu, Co-President of the Class of 2021, reflected.

“Enthusiasm is infectious. I noticed that we were encouraging ourselves. When some of us got a bit overwhelmed with the work, we managed to delegate it to others who had some capacity. Those who had a lot more capacity volunteered for more work. It was this kind of enthusiasm that kept the entire team going. This was such a large team. It’s tough to keep a large team motivated. We were 30-odd people, and yet we managed to move together as a class,” Yizhen said.

 

Classes of 2020 & 2021: Thank You for an Amazing Experience

“It makes me proud to be surrounded by these people, the RIGHT people. They showed real leadership when it was needed. You can be paid to do a job, but the real test comes during times of crisis. You can be appointed or picked to do a job. But real leadership is taking that responsibility even if you don’t have the title,” Faizal said.

“I was floored when I had the chance to work with everyone in the team, even my seniors in the Class of 2020! Here I was thinking that I may never have the chance to work with my seniors. This experience demonstrated to me what 20 months could do for you, and this was good company,” Jonathan added.

“I remember in the beginning it was like a task, something that had to be done. Now, thinking about it, I feel that pride. Wow, we did a BCP. That is what’s left with you. It is what you will keep, the pride of doing something like this, and that is amazing,” Ilham shared.

To all the 30 ASBR ‘Inmates’ who contributed tirelessly to this BCP project, thank you. This will forever go down in history, when 30-odd students banded together and came up with ASBR’s Business Continuity Plan. Within 72 hours, we created something out of nothing, and you are all to be celebrated.

 

Class of 2020 Students and their Significant Others (SO) who contributed to the BCP:

Amrutha Harish
Sara Konbor
Sebastian Vasquez
Yizhen Fung
Mohd Faizal Mohamed Sulaiman
Sharifah Nor Baizura Wan Muhammad
Jishnu Gandhi
Rajiv Chawla
Allenie Caccam
Esther Han
Duncan Marwick
Muhd Izzat Suliman
Akram Yusof
Eizaz Azhar

 

Class of 2021 Students and their Significant Others (SO) who contributed to the BCP:

Ilham Bazi
Luiza Massari
Jonathan Chu
Amjed Ali
Rex Ericsoon
Diana Ayala Gomez
Hyunwoo Kim
Chloe Yoon
Jamie Tam
Benjamin Suren Kee
Dilip Suresh
Leonardo Cunha
Amir Seddik