Every year we create a “year in review” for our clients to summarize wins and areas of opportunity. A consistent theme surfaced this year, the area that was most often neglected in organizations was contingency planning. To set context, contingency planning is the organization’s response, in the best possible manner, to an unexpected event or emergency. It is based on management decisions, made in advance, that will determine how resources, communications and logistics will be handled when such circumstances arise. Most organizations plan for business contingencies, i.e. equipment breakdowns, vendor delivery issues, snowstorms, etc., that result in a slowdown.  We rarely plan for “people/team” contingencies.

With so many distractions, results to be achieved, and day-to-day fires to put out, we rarely think about the “what ifs”.

  • What if you lose a big client and must downsize your team?
  • What if you win a big piece of business and must produce results beyond your current capability?
  • What if the polar vortex hits, employees can’t get to the office, and you have a project deliverable?
  • What if one of your employees suddenly resigns their position with the organization?

You likely just fell off your chair, turned pale as a ghost, or had to grab a piece of chocolate! These scenarios are not uncommon, the only commonality is the proactive planning needed to determine next steps and keep all the dominoes from falling.

I recently had the opportunity to test my hypothesis. During a visit to a client, I asked 25 leaders the final question, “What would you do if one of your star employees resigned their position”? Many of the leaders stated that would probably never occur, others stated that the department would have to “pitch in and get the job done”.

Employees quit their job for many reasons. They follow spouses or partners across the country, stay home with children, care for aging parents, change careers, find jobs with promotion opportunities, and go back to school. In 2018, a global employment law consultancy received a 21% increase in calls from employers regarding employees “ghosting” a job with zero notice instead of formally quitting. You may think this will NEVER happen to you, and then one day it does, and it takes time to recover. Lots of time!

Employees will pitch in and “get it done” but that is not a long-term strategy as it is exhausting to others. There are only so many times employees are willing to “step up” and cover for someone until it takes a toll on morale, teamwork, and engagement.

So, what can you do to prepare for these contingencies?

Leaders should ask the questions above and identify the gaps and opportunities for improvement. Play the “what if” game! This proactive process may seem time consuming but, saves time, energy, and emotion should the scenarios occur in reality.

Here is an example…

Assume that Bob, one of your “go to” employees comes into your office and tells you that he is giving three weeks-notice to move home to take care of his ailing father. Your response is calm and empathetic on the outside and frantic on the inside. You discuss the situation with Bob and once he leaves your office, you move into “warrior” mode. You start to plan and consider;

  • How will the work get done?
  • Who will do the work? 
  • Who might move into the position?
  • If you promote Sue, who will take her place?
  • If there is no one internally to take on the role, how do you start the interview process?
  • What type of communication regarding the departure is delivered in the company, to customers, vendors, etc.?
  • What type of exit do you plan for Bob (celebration, communication, etc.)?

Calmly sitting in your office with a cup of coffee and considering the alternatives provides breathing space, clear headed thinking, and a broader array of options.

The dominoes fall; it is not a matter of if but when. Will you and your leaders be prepared? The only way to plan for business and team continuity is to plan and answer the question;  WHAT IF? with I AM READY!