It’s not often I regret being correct, but this is one of them. In March I wrote the Summer of Discontent revisited outlining the need for all organisations to have a business continuity plan.
The events of 9th December have, unfortunately, proved me correct. The ‘student protest’ proved that it is not only the police who need a strategy for unrest, so do all the owners of public buildings and every commercial organisation. Could your organisation be the next Top-Shop?
Strange as it may seem, I would also advocate that every group that wants to make a protest should also have a clear strategy for being ‘hijacked’ by extremists. Will the 9th December 2010 be remembered for the day students protested against increased fees? No, it will be remembered for the day that a royal car was attacked and the day when rioters attacked government buildings and shops in Oxford Street, such as Top-Shop. Would the majority of students want it remembered for that? No, they would want their point to make the headlines, which makes this type of protest useless unless the organisers can keep the focus where they want it.
I do not profess to have any crystal ball to realise what may happen in the future. Good leadership is about learning from the past, dealing with the present and planning for the future. In previous downturns and when Governments propose unpopular decisions there is a backlash by way of industrial disputes or protests. In recent years a number of these have been hijacked by a minority intent on using the occasion as an excuse to cause unrest and damage property.
The United Kingdom cannot afford the current level of spending on public services and has made a series of difficult decisions that will be unpopular. At the same time many organisations are still announcing job cuts, so you do not need a crystal ball to realise that these kinds of incidents are going to increase.
Therefore, at the moment ‘dealing with the present’ means planning for the future and having robust business continuity plans that are communicated to all of your staff. If you choose not to then, when it all goes wrong, don’t be too quick telephoning the police. They may well be occupied dealing with other industrial disputes and protests.