At my work, like in every good business, we develop plans to deal with various risks. One of the risks we plan for is the sudden unavailability of a staff member, leaving both a knowledge gap and a shortage of hands available to work. My go-to expression for this is “what if X was hit by a bus?”. However, I am often chastised for this and encouraged to frame it in a more positive way, the classic being “what if X won the lottery?”
I’ve given this some thought, and pessimistic though it is, I have two good reasons why it is better to plan for someone to be hit by a bus than win the lottery.
The first reason is: Statistics. Although “hit by a bus” is fairly specific, it is really just a stand-in for any accident that claims the life of the staff member. “Winning the lottery” is also fairly specific, but there are not many other positive events that it can stand in for. Having a baby? Sure, but you get at least a few months warning. A new job? You get at least 4 weeks warning for that, more if you work in a good environment. Inheriting an enormous fortune? Yeah right, might as well rely on the lottery. All of these things give you at least some buffer time for knowledge transfer and to get started on hiring a replacement.
But getting hit by a bus? Or a car? Or a heart attack in the middle of the night? Those are things that actually happen. How many people do you know that have won enough money on the lottery to quit overnight? And how many people of working age do you know that have died unexpectedly? I hope the answer is “no” to the last one, but I bet it isn’t.
But this alone is not enough reason to worry about your staff getting hit by a bus. No, the real reason is this:
When a colleague dies, people get sad.
A sad worker is not a productive worker. And guess who gets saddest? The people closest to your ex-employee. These of course are usually their closest team members. Who also happen to be the people most likely to be able to do what your discorporated corpse used to do. If you haven’t planned well, your business could be in serious trouble.
So don’t be the person watching your business fall apart as half your workforce mope around crying and attending funerals, and the only thing filling Worm-Food’s seat is dust. Plan for the actual worst cases, not for the wholesome Disney-fied ones that will never ever occur.