Organisational ResilienceGamechangers in Resilience: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

In today’s fast-changing business environment, companies are recognizing the importance of business agility. iluminr’s the Gamechangers in Resilience interview series features global leaders who have played a pivotal role in engaging their organizations, clients, and communities in building fortitude and adaptability to thrive in challenging times.

Shane Mathew is the Founder and Managing Partner at Stone Risk Consulting (SRC).

Most recently, Shane led organizational resilience efforts for Zoom. Prior to his time at Zoom, Shane led consulting services for a risk management firm with clients including Netflix, Gulfstream, Uline and Nationwide Insurance. In this capacity, Shane marshaled the development of their initial programs, launching various initiatives to ensure their people, assets and technology were able to withstand business disruptions.

Shane Mathew puts agility into practice through engagement and creativity. Shane’s easygoing, entertaining, empathetic, and business-centric style is contagious and well-known by many in the community.

 

Q: How did you land in Risk and Resilience?

A: 95% dumb luck. 5% curious. In 2002, I was working as a health inspector.

Yes, a health inspector.

I was working for a public health department for a local city when the anthrax attacks in the US turned into a major CDC funded initiative that provided funding for bioterrorism preparedness. The department assembled a team to develop response planning for a health emergency. I was intrigued with the idea of using my Masters in Public Health for combating the attacks on our country, so I took a leap of faith and took a grant funded role to join the team.

When I surveyed the landscape at the time, I had this feeling that having a multi-disciplinary set of skills would enable me to excel faster, and so decided to make the leap. Luckily for me, it led from learning about emergency preparedness but also then to business continuity – because part of the responsibility was figuring out how to continue the important public health services even during a major disaster.

I got my CBCP in 2007 so that I could become the lead for the Business Continuity Management program in a large medical center that was growing its program, and began pursuing my career in the industry from that point forward.

That road has taken me on a long winding path to where I am today, but it was really all based on a small leap of faith!

 

Q: You’ve talked about your favorite thing in resilience being when people’s faces light up when they can remediate a risk that will save them a lot of pain later. Can you elaborate on some of your favorite examples of this “aha moment”.

A: Sometimes preparedness focused professions don’t get the love that it should.

That’s because Resilience is a highly complex concept which many don’t spend the time learning about and is discounted because it may happen sometime in the future- and we live in the present. So whenever I get people to see how investing in Resilience is a no-brainer, it gets me excited.

I especially LOVE it when people who previously tell me that they don’t need Business Continuity (BC), realize they’re not as prepared as they think they are.

A few years ago, I was working in an organization that combined Pharmaceutical medication dispensing, packaging and shipping all together in one. However, leaders came from various pharmacy backgrounds- which by nature is a very serious (sometimes black and white) outlook to their work. There was one leader in particular that was VERY resistant to attending discussions or making plans for recovery- he was just too busy for this, and was sure that the systems in place were either so redundant, or that it would just be too hard to recover.

With some arm-twisting (snacks) I got him to attend the discussion. And with the help of some consulting friends, we built a board game that engaged the participants. The best part was that this resistant leader was SO enthralled with the game and the competition, that the data it was unlocking became more visible to him. By the end of it, he was really taking notes on some of the findings we uncovered. I knew it really worked for him, because he found me in the hall a few days later and asked:

 

“When are we doing the BC stuff again?”

 

 

Q: What are some ways Risk and Resilience professionals can better connect their program with the business?

A: I’ve learned this the hard way, but “consistent connection” is the biggest way to make inroads in the business. As Business Continuity professionals, our scope can sometimes be HUGE, so we have this overwhelming urge to put our head down and get the work of business continuity done. Almost to a fault.

I used to assume that the goals I was hired to accomplish were the most important thing, and therefore, once people saw the results, the connection and understood value would come gushing in.

Wrong.

I see it now as more of a steady drip that you must maintain from the start to the finish. There are a variety of ways to do that. What I’ve found works is developing a list of “Target Audiences” within the enterprise, and answering these questions about them:

  1. What do they care about?
  2. What do they struggle with?
  3. What are my goals for them?
  4. What does a positive experience with my program look like?

Once I understood my audiences, I began to develop a cadence of regular discussions that are either really short check-ins or longer sessions that focus on their initiatives, and together we discuss ways that business continuity could address known or potential gaps. Even if the conversation is just a “how are you doing?” conversation, they produce tremendous value over time.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re over-communicating, but people have an extraordinary physical and mental capacity to communicate, so we should definitely take advantage whenever we can.

 

Q: You are known for the levity and personality you bring to a traditionally serious field. What role does humor have in Risk and Resilience?

A: When I was younger, I was bullied a bit in school. I realized quickly that humor disarms even the most challenging people, so I started to use it to my advantage. But believe it or not, when I first started in BCM I was really focused on getting the tasks done with as much seriousness as possible.

I realized that didn’t necessarily produce the results I wanted when one day I walked into the office of a colleague ready to conduct our annual business continuity plan update, when they audibly groaned. They even said:

“Oh my god, is it time for business continuity plans again?”.

Ooff. That hit me in the gut. From that point forward, I had to find ways to include humor, fun and levity into each part of my work.

I think humor definitely has a role in this field, because once we start to take ourselves too seriously, we miss the people’s connection to all of this. And that’s the part that really builds the stickiness of our work.

(Sorry, Return Time Objective scoring formulas just don’t cut it with the general pop like we think they may.) 😂

 

 

Q: What is the leadership playbook you are writing for yourself in real-time?

A: Such a great question! I think historically I’ve operated very organically on the leadership front.

When I see something I like or see a need in my own style, I look at what others are doing and try my best to emulate it.

In the recent years, I’ve taken a special interest in strategic planning for program development and I realize that strategic planning for my leadership style is also important.

Think of it this way, if you transplant Steve Jobs from the board room to the frontlines of a battle field, maybe that style of leadership would work, or you may see him fail miserably. The setting does make a difference in the leadership plays you use. So part of my thought process is that when you get into a new organization, you have to understand the environment and then adopt a leadership style that works best for that organization.

Of course there are core tenants that all leaders should have- like empathy or willingness to listen, but there is definitely a learning that must happen first before you adopt certain leadership principles and apply them into the environment you wish to make change in.

In the BCM field, we have good tactical leaders, but we don’t have many leaders who are willing to address known flaws or identify new ways to think about problems we’re encountering.

In my new environment- of not being tied to the corporate world- I have some leeway to be a leader in ways I couldn’t before. I can say things, I maybe would have hesitated before. I think I can be a leader in this space in a very different way than others can, and I hope I can see those paths clearly enough to make  a difference.

 

Q: To recognize Earth Month, we’ve been asking Risk and Resilience leaders about their reflections on the role of ESG in helping our organizations and ecosystems weather complex change. How do you think about this relationship?

A: My most recent corporate role was actually the first time I’ve been explicitly involved in the assessment of our efforts in sustainability and ESG – so I’m not the expert. However, I believe there are some positive implications that will address both those issues and our own in Resilience.

For example, one initiative is the idea of environmental sustainability. For those companies that have physical work sites or data centers, many questions in ESG focus on how they utilize green energy to power them. For a resilience professional, the idea of outside influence encouraging the employment of solar panels or battery packs is completely aligned with our ideas within resilience of continuing operations with backup methods.

So I take the approach that there are certain segments of ESG that really bolster the business case for improving redundancy of your energy needs – so we as Resilience professionals should understand these recommendations and find ways it can serve our program’s needs as well!

Q: What is the hardest part about leadership in a crisis? 

A: I think the hardest part of being a leader in a crisis is balancing between the “front-stage” and “back-stage”.

There is a great article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, The Two Roles Leaders Must Play in a Crisis, that really explains it much better than I. But in a nutshell, crisis events require a leader to balance between two personas during an event. The “front-stage leader” is one that inspires and assures their teams, sends a message of hope and shares the vision for how the organization will survive the event and stay committed to its values.

The back-stage leader however, often needs to take a blunt or realistic approach to the serious threats.

When I think back to my times leading during a crisis, I can’t think of more of a challenge- because you really have to shift your mind from being focused and directive, to soft and tapping into your emotional capabilities. Finding the balance and knowing when to be which type of persona is important. Because if it bleeds out at the wrong time, you can quickly lose your team.

 

 

Q: How do you apply the lessons of Resilience in your own life? 

A: I’ve always let actual risk drive my preparations in the office setting. So in my personal life, I tend to focus on preparing my home for the types of disruptions that I’m most likely to experience. Since I live in Texas, and have had multiple power failures- including a multi-day failure during winter which sunk my home’s internal temperature to 42 degrees, I’ve got an intense interest in ensuring my home’s power systems are resilient.

I wouldn’t call myself a “prepper,” but I’ve taken an interest (or my wife would refer to it as an obsession) with ensuring we have power generation and food storage for emergencies. I’ve really been enamored by power generation systems, so I’ve purchased a gasoline/natural gas generator and I’ve purchased a really great EcoFlow home battery that stores several KWs of power for those shorter outages. Its great for those especially working from home- because you’d be amazed all that needs to go into keeping your computer, wifi and other systems running!