Planning for the Bus

“When it comes to business, your people are your most important asset. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t treat them that way. If you have a fire at your building, you have insurance for that. If your servers fail, you have backups in place. If your intellectual property gets stolen, you know what legal steps to take to make yourself whole again. However, there’s no insurance out there for losing a team member who was a top producer for your company.

Think of your top producer, most efficient operator, or another key team member; what plans do you have in place if they get hit by a bus on the way to work tomorrow? This might sound morbid, but it’s necessary for you to plan for disasters when you evaluate the risk for your organization.

Now, odds are a rogue bus is not going to take out your best performer, but I hope that drove the message home (see what I did there?). In reality, there are many reasons that you might lose key employees, and you should be aware of those risks. While some of those risks are in your control, here are some that are not:

  • They are within 5 years of retirement age
  • They are unhappy; with you, colleagues, their commute, or just 2020 in general
  • They have changed roles and responsibilities
  • They have had a major life change: kids, grandkids, moving homes, family illness, etc.
  • They are underpaid or feel undervalued.

You are not going to be able to change many of these. I’m not saying not to try; by all means, pay people what they are worth, make them feel valued and create a happy and healthy work environment. But even if you do these things, that might not be enough to mitigate your risk. Your team members will continue to get older, have major life events or get stolen by another company who has more resources than you. Because of these reasons and many others, your effort needs to be directed at planning for the future.

Write down every role in your organization and who currently sits in that seat and put everyone through the Bus Game. This might be hard to do, but it’s important to know! If each person got hit by a bus on the way in, who will take over those person’s responsibilities? Some answers may be quick and easy, but chances are some will be hard to come up with. Pay attention to what happens when you play this game: you keep pushing the problem down. Who fills the roles and takes on responsibilities that were just vacated by moving other people into the empty roles left by the destruction of the “Bus?” Keep playing the Bus Game until you have no team members left to fill roles.

The truth is, you will never win this game. You will always run out of people and you’re never going to have an infinite amount of team members. This game is an important tool to help you identify which roles in your organization are key, which ones that, if left unfilled, bring your organization to a halt; those are the roles you need to prioritize planning for.

Whenever business succession planning is mentioned, business owners tend to think only about who will replace them. The issue with that thinking is that owners of companies don’t tend to change very often; it’s the team that changes more fluidly. It’s so important to build succession plans for every role in your organization. Focus on bringing in entry-level talent and plan to have your star team members train those people. Cross-train your team so that they can be back-ups for multiple roles and provide you much needed flexibility. Start the knowledge transfer process years before a key team member retires so that decades of experience don’t go walking out the door with nobody to take on the challenge. Plan for the “Bus” and build yourself an insurance policy on your key team members.”