power your advice

The Importance of a Plan B

Written by: Stuart Friedman

All people–fortunately or unfortunately–are dispensable. One person cannot control another person and, should they quit tomorrow, there is little a boss can do beyond having a contingency plan in place. Good leaders need to shift their paradigm to accepting circumstances may never change and always have a Plan B.

An illustration:

On a Thursday, approximately five minutes before 2 p.m., the VP of Operations went into a meeting where people were already waiting. In observing the VP’s appearance, one person asked if he was feeling okay; he was pale and had beads of sweat on his forehead. He replied that he was sluggish but okay. By the end of the meeting, more people inquired about his health as he seemed to worsen. The VP admitted to not feeling well.

The company president suggested the VP go to the hospital. He refused, saying that if he didn’t feel better the next morning, he would have his wife take him.

The company was experiencing its greatest growth in 12 years. The VP was a 30-year employee in this privately-held, family-owned business. He had much of the know-how of running the operations: purchasing/procurement, manufacturing, finishing, shipping/receiving, etc. His brain was like a database of information especially with historical methods of solving complex problems that occur once every five or six years.

He was great as a go-to person. He created a sub-culture whereby people go to him for help and he fixes the problem. He responds with, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” The result is that no one other than this VP can solve some–if not most–of the complex problems.

While the VP has great qualities, over the years, he has not been a good mentor, teacher or supervisor. The company president came in only two years ago and, during his short tenure, has tried to get the VP to document/memorialize much of what he does day to day. The VP, as busy as he has been, procrastinated on this request.

The company president relies on him so much that he has a plan to reorganize the operations division and place this VP on his own to execute special projects. The company is growing and a couple manager-level individualsfor operations were hired to take on responsibilities. The president asked the VP for assistance to create a plan for these managers. He didn’t. Perhaps it was because he perceived a threat that he was being replaced before he was ready.

In my opinion, the VP positioned himself well to be “counted on” by the president as well as all the employees involved with operations. He made himself indispensable and created job security until he decides to retire. Shame on the organization for not seeing this and, because they didn’t see it, they never set up a contingency plan. That problem was more glaring when, on Friday the next morning, the VP’s wife couldn’t wake him because he lay there dead in his bed from a heart attack during the night.

Do any of the following sentiments apply to your organization:

  • Do you have employees that refuse to share pertinent information with others?
  • Do you feel you have employees that hoard information and use only to their personal advancement?
  • Do you feel you have employees that are holding you hostage because of what they know or what they can do?
  • Do you feel stress every time you think of these team members or having to work with them?
  • Every good leader should have a Plan B for the organization. Consider:

  • Ask them to create documentation:
  • Be specific as to what you want them to document and timing for completion.
  • Have the individuals that would be using this information review for completeness, correctness and clear understanding.
  • Have the individual(s) create a training program with timelines to get this information into the minds of the appropriate employees, team members, colleagues, peers, etc.
  • Create an incentive and consequence.
  • If you do not get response from your reports, cease hoping that one day these people in your organization will come around and your company will be okay for the future. They will not and it will not. You are the leader and you need to be prepared for every circumstance.

    The choice is yours!