Sherlock Holmes. An iconic character pulled through the generations into different environments and timelines, all the while maintaining his aloof, impatient air. He knows what he wants and acts upon it. Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent version settles into this characterization deeply as he works to solve various crimes. Sherlock is determined to move forward based on whatever thinking is driving him. The perennial dog with a bone. He does not necessarily care about the feelings of others as he does so; his insensitivity is viewed as a character strength (at least in his eyes).
For those of us in management, human resources and leadership roles, we don’t have the luxury of being so insensitive and impatient. In fact, a general theme of sensitivity is upon us. With the frenzy over the Coronavirus (COVID-19), our workplaces are narrowing down on policies and procedures once again. And for good reason. Are we able to be flexible in letting people work from home? If the work cannot be done remotely, is there a contingency plan to keep illness at bay and not infect the office, the warehouse, any facility? Do our policies speak to that?
I have always been fascinated by those who specialize in business continuity. It’s one of those fields that most ignore until it’s needed and usually by then, it’s too late. Some business owners find themselves pinching pennies today but risking dollar bills tomorrow without instituting such continuity plans. It’s short-sighted and risky but it’s not an unusual response.
As people, we do defer to the “no, not me” perspective. We look at various ills, dangers and crises as things that happen to others, but not to ourselves. For example, on the road, nearly 90% of drivers believe they’re a better-then-average driver. They think they can handle whatever comes their way on the road. And yet, there are 6 million car accidents annually just in the United States each year. The odds of being involved in an accident are larger than most may assume.
This optimism bias settles into personal, business and relational realities for all of us. Now, of course, it’s best to look at the glass as half-full. Contingency plans are in place to keep that optimism in effect. They are not usually designed to move the organization forward, rather to keep the organization where it is, even at its basic levels. An optimism bias might keep us from putting such plans into place.
It’s very similar to a will. It sounds like a good idea. We understand why we should have one. We agree that a list of last wishes may not hold up in probate court so having an attorney, or some other legal mechanism involved, is better. And yet, the most recent surveys from AARP and Gallup show that somewhere near 60% of American adults do not have a will. We remain optimistic, not that we won’t die, but that we have time to prepare. The same holds true for businesses.
Organizations need to look at their systems, production and people to determine the types of employee contingency plans and maintenance operational strategies to put into place in the event of a large scale event – power loss, health epidemic, weather catastrophe or other huge emergency. Don’t wait.