Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Preparing for the Bus

We all know one, or maybe we are one. You know – the person that plans for all eventualities, including the most unbelievably improbable situations or opportunities.

I like to think I’m that person now, but that wasn’t the case many years ago. For me, this was a lesson presented over and over and over again by one of my favorite bosses. For every new idea, project or policy suggested for implementation, she would ask, “What happens if you get run over by a bus? What happens then? How do we pick up where you left off?”

The Bus; what happens after The Bus?

How do you prepare? How far in advance do you prepare? Where are these instructions kept? Who maintains/updates them? What is the basic plan if Employee A is unable to perform their job unexpectedly? Employee B? Employee Z? How do we mitigate the negative aspects of the loss of a staff member? How do we, as an organization, react publicly and to the family?

These are some the questions that constantly run through the mind of a planner.

The answer to that proverbial question is to write down the procedure, logon/password, instructions, etc., so anyone on the staff could step in if necessary during an emergency situation; even if that staff member is you.

This does not mean that everyone on staff knows every aspect of everyone else’s job. It just creates a starting point for those who need to step in when circumstances require.

Some people are inherently opposed to writing everything down for a variety of reasons. Some like to think they can keep it all in their head and act when necessary using just their knowledge. Others feel like writing it down opens the door to being replaced by a younger, less expensive employee, while some just don’t think it is important for anyone else to know because they like to control access for security (or other) purposes.

On the other hand, there are those who write everything down; what time they went to lunch or on break, and what day and time they spoke to "Mark at Intellimedia" about correcting a flaw in the system. This can be helpful, but in some ways it could also be just a little too much.

Over the past few years my team has been working on a project that took much longer to produce results than we anticipated. In the initial planning stages, several options for success were discussed and plans were devised. Over time it became apparent that success would be achieved when least expected; sure enough, it did.

Were we ready? Yes.

Did everything work out the way we planned? No, but we had Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D to pull from as circumstances quickly changed. Eventually we ended up with a combination of every plan that had been devised, and a significant amount of documentation to fall back on as new challenges appeared.

A leader’s job is to lead (no kidding!).

So, lead!

Sell the idea of documenting the key elements of each role in the organization to your staff so that if The Bus hits your organization, those tasked with ensuring the ship is not circling around rudderless have sufficient information to keep it moving in the right direction.

Perhaps working in teams to identify areas where members depend on others to perform their own work is the best place to start. For instance, if Sam depends on data from Kay, Sam should know how to get the data, where it is normally stored, or to whom he can go for assistance so that he can get what he needs if Kay is unavailable for any length of time.

I know this all sounds so simple, like Management 101, but how many of us actually have this system in place? How many actually have a plan for the eventuality of The Bus?

It’s not something we want to think about, but we should – and plan for.

Dawn is the Deputy Executive Director for the Academy for Eating Disorders in Reston, VA. Before founding her own consulting firm in 2013, she served as a respected project management and administrative operations professional in the military, higher education, and women’s healthcare fields for almost 30 years. As a volunteer, she currently serves as the Past Chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's Women's Council

Dawn holds a Bachelor of Arts in Management from Trevecca Nazarene University, as well as a Master of Business Administration degree and a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Management from American Public University, and a Lean/Six-Sigma Green Belt.