Without much warning, a senior employee has fallen ill and needs to undergo a surgery that would put him on leave for a few months. Are you prepared to have someone take on his work quickly in the interim? The answer from most employers is ‘No.’
What’s going to happen then? Would the company need to put the impacted work and projects on hold? How quickly can you train someone to become proficient? Would the affected areas be able to offset the impact? What ripple effects are there on the customers?
There are 3 common mistakes employers make with personnel planning:
- Lack of cross training—the busy workplace is often bustling with more than full workload for every employee. In addition to performing the daily work, many employees are assigned to special projects. This leaves little room for cross training. There might be just one person who knows how to do certain work. This expert is an invaluable asset; has a lot of clout but the company is exposed to a big loss when she is unable to work. No one would be able to pick up the work.
- Absence of knowledge sharing—many companies are organized by function and they form cross-functional teams for projects. Though it is a sound practice to share knowledge regularly, it is rarely a routine. The issues with this are employees don’t have a good understanding of how their work relates and the rationale for interdependent decisions. Without frequent knowledge sharing, the dependence on others could turn into a crutch.
- Inadequate capture of routine practices—this is a common problem because we are busy doing the work. There is no time to document how the work is performed. Documentation is considered a waste of time because things change so quickly. Companies rely on the subject matter experts to provide the needed information on demand. The flip side is that when the expert is not available, progress would be at risk. Fellow employees could be scrambling to figure out what needs to get done and how to do it.
It is a risky proposition to count on a single person to be the sole expert. Companies need to have a backup plan. The minimum plan is to put in place some discipline to practice the 3 areas identified above. They help to facilitate coverage for at least the short-term when the expert becomes unavailable for whatever reason. In the long run, a more structured plan is necessary.
© Connie Siu 2014. All rights reserved.