How Businesses Come Back in the Face of Great Disruption

Author: Barbara Palmer       


We published this story in June, and are reposting  in the aftermath of the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. PCMA and the PCMA Education Foundation have established a PCMA Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund to provide assistance to members in the meetings and events industry who have been impacted by the storm.

Bonnie Canal is a managing partner of The Resiliency Institute, a New Orleans–based company that specializes in business continuity — how to keep a business operating in the face of disruptive events. As a New Orleans resident, Canal has witnessed more than her share. From the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the city “just seems,” she said, “to be in the epicenter of these terrible disasters.”

Canal’s background is in IT and business operations, and she’s well versed in the business processes that support disaster recovery. But what she most likes to talk to business owners about is human resiliency. 

“For a business to truly be resilient against a lot of wind, a lot of rain, a lot of water — it really starts and stops not with IT or any of that,” but with people, Canal said. “When you look at which businesses have survived across the United States when they’ve been affected by terrible disasters, you’ll always find somewhere within, there are very resilient people. You always find that. So we start with the culture. In the middle, you find the business functions. And those functions are easily fixed.”

A disaster isn’t necessarily an act of God or an environmental event. “It could be something as small as the loss of a key employee,” Canal said, “which doesn’t necessarily mean a boss or an owner.” Meanwhile, technology is changing at such a rate that humans can’t keep up. “I’m talking about massive changes in the things, in the ways, that we are expected to behave and expected to learn. Now we’re in this global market, and we think: ‘I can’t take a day off. What happens if I take a day off? Not only will somebody come behind me and do my job, maybe for less money, but everything has changed.’”

So it’s no wonder that Canal spends a lot of time talking with clients about burnout, which she describes as the opposite of resilience. The first thing to look at is corporate culture and policies that support employees. “Resilience is not top-down; it’s not something you can push downward,” she said. “Resilience is something that’s grown upward.”

“If you look at some of the most successful companies around the world, it’s not that you get two weeks vacation, it’s that you’re required to take them,” Canal said. “That’s different from ‘you have two weeks vacation.’ And do I encourage maternity leave, or do I have mandated maternity leave for both spouses, for husbands and wives and partners? Is that part of my policy? Do I cross-train people, so that when you walk away, you know whatever you’re taking care of will be handled?”

There may be some business owners who address the wellbeing of their employees out of altruism, Canal said, but at bottom it’s a matter of profitability. “A business needs to be successful for the business’ sake,” she said. “The people within the business, though, need to be successful so the business can be successful.”

“If you look at technology companies, why are they so far ahead of the curve?” she said. “People may talk about the fact that, at Google, employees can get duck à l’orange or they have great campuses, but their thoughts have always been about the per-son who works there: ‘We have daycare. There are gyms here; there are nurses here. Bring your dog to work.’ They are addressing the whole person, so even though employees are working their butts off, you’re not going to have a high burnout rate.”

In business, “humans still dictate what happens, and that’s really what this is about,” Canal said. “To me, it starts and stops with honoring the human. It’s a kinder and simpler way of running business. Again, besides being kinder and simpler, it’s profitable.”


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