HR Blog

What Happens If You Step Off A Curb And Get Hit By A Bus?

10/01/2018 | Dee Yingst

I’m a big proponent of cross-training and contingency planning.

In fact, I have had so many conversations over the years that start with “what happens if you step off a curb and get hit by a bus?” that a staff member once exclaimed “Dee, why do I have to get hit by a bus?? Why can’t I win the lottery?!” 


If you win the lottery, who else can do what you do? Since presumably, you’ll be off sailing in Rio and not be at your desk in the morning.

It’s a different way of asking the same question: what’s the plan when someone leaves? (Make no mistake, that’s a “when” and not an “if”).

There’s a lot of talk about disaster recovery plans and succession plans. What I don’t see a lot of talk about is contingency plans.  To be sure, there is some overlap with succession planning and contingency planning but they’re not the same thing.

You have to have a plan. You should always have a plan. It may not always work as well as you think, and it may not always be complete when you need it, but you have to start somewhere.

I’ve talked to many organizations that lost an employee and suffered some pretty unpleasant consequences – especially when you’re dealing with a long term employee in a small or mid-sized company where there’s not a tremendous amount of redundancy in positions. It’s not just sales or other customer-facing types of positions either. Sometimes it’s an IT guy/gal or a maintenance person who knows your building better than you know your own home. These folks leave behind pretty big holes.

So what do you do? First and foremost, make sure you have documentation regarding everyone’s job duties. I’m not talking about their job description – I’m talking about not just what they do but also how they do it.  Every single position in your company should have procedures on how they do what they do. This should include contact phone numbers for vendors (if applicable) and step-by-step instructions that could be followed by someone else in the event of a sudden departure/absence. The goal is to be able to function until you fill the vacancy.

So who creates these step-by-step instructions? The best person to create these instructions is the person who is doing the job. If writing is not their forte then have them jot notes have someone else compile it. Find the person on your company that is really, really good at writing instructions have them do it.

Don’t stop there. Take the time to test the instructions. If you use these procedures to cross-train other employees you can test the instructions and set up a backup system at the same time – it’s a 2-for-1 - gotta love it! Oh, and make sure you keep the procedures up-to-date – outdated instructions aren’t really helpful and might actually make things worse.

Hopefully you’ll never need your contingency plan – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. So get your pencils ready and get ready to write those procedures - oh and next time you’re stepping off a curb, watch out for that bus!