Sunday, August 3, 2008

Contingency Planning

This week I was reminded of the importance of contingency planning. In an otherwise very busy and eventful week, life presented these additional challenges:

-- One of my employees passed away. A great American and important piece of our organization failed to show up for work one morning and, as we ultimately learned, is no longer with us.

-- A 5.4 magnitude earthquake centered about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles rocked my headquarters building. Thank God for building codes!

-- Flooding in Arizona continues to stress infrastructure and pose problems for people and businesses. I learned that some cities and municipalities have Emergency Action and Response plans...and others do not.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." It is impossible to fully script and account for every crisis, every scenario that we might face. No matter what we plan, life will throw a curve.

So do we abandon planning and just be ready to deal with anything? On the contrary, contingency planning is critical to provide the base off of which we can respond. It gives us a framework for thinking about how to think and how to lead during emergencies. It will help identify things such as:

-- How to contact employees, customers, and others in times of crisis?
-- How and when to report to higher headquarters about important issues?
-- What are important first steps to be able to assess the situation and take immediate action?

We can't plan for everything. But the very act of conducting contingency planning for likely scenarios will help prepare leaders for what does occur. It gives a general framework for decision making in crisis. It also helps subordinate leaders and teammates understand what actions they must take at their respective levels as well as how to respond in the absence of orders.

This is what I have learned -- this week and in 23+ years of responding to emergency and crisis scenarios: While I think we are ready for what we have planned, the reality of life will be something much different. But the very act of planning, of working through contingencies and "what if drills," will help us meet our challenges. People will have confidence in themselves and their leaders in times of crisis.

What might you plan for this week? What scenario might you present to your team and work through how you will respond? Are you ready? That's Leader Business.

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