Out of Office Should Not Mean Out of Luck

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Does your Out of Office Plan look like this?

Does your Out of Office Plan look like this?

It happens to every small business. You’re humming along, meeting deadlines, finishing projects, wooing customers and the CTO leaves for his annual Roswell pilgrimage or the business manager gets hit by a meteor. Suddenly there’s a hiccup and everything’s thrown into chaos because no one besides the missing employee knows how to fix it. It’s the Out of Office nightmare.

Now, at the beginning of the year, is a great time for a business owner to plan ahead for this situation. It’s inevitable that employees are going to go on vacation, get sick, have family emergencies. Is there someone who can pinch hit while they’re gone?  Have they been cross-trained to handle the other person’s job? Companies who don’t do this often fall in the following ditches:

  • Operations get stuck, you fall behind, you lose clients and….
  • You end up with power silos where a person in possession of some crucial piece of knowledge or skill wields it like an incriminating photograph. In essence, that employee can blackmail the company for money, status, position.
  • You have to replace someone in a hurry and wind up hiring a couple of duds before you really have the time and energy to devote to finding someone great.

Not good.

So we’ve devised a list of steps a business owner can take to prepare for the year’s vacations, meteor showers and other potentially problematic events.

  1. Make a laundry list of what has to happen in your company every day to keep things running. Who pays the bills? Purchases supplies?  Performs key services? Woos customers? Sorts out payroll? You get the picture. Identify who does each of these key tasks. Charts, graphs  and diagrams work nicely for getting a good picture of this.
  2. Note who is carrying the load. Is there someone in the company you thought was a functionary but it turns out that person is uber-ly important? Does anyone else in the company know how to cover that person’s tasks or would you be in a mess without him or her?
  3.  Look around your company for possible cross-training opportunities. Who has the experience or the aptitude and the time to step in for someone else if a problem arose? Who would make a great understudy for the sales guy, for example? Ask employees about their interests and background, don’t just go by what you know.  Someone in the tech side might be hankering for an opportunity to learn more about business.
  4. Hire an auditor. Businesses often have someone come in and make sure the books are being handled correctly or laws are being complied with. You can do the same with talent. Have an auditor come in and see whether your business is operating as efficiently as possible and where cross-training opportunities or more teamwork possibilities exist. That’s one of ValentineHR’s specialties, in fact. You can call us!
  5. Build cross-training into your culture. Make it clear to employees that their contributions are valuable but they will, henceforth, be evaluated not only on how well they do their jobs, but how well they share skills and information with other people in the company who may need to step in for them. Build time into the schedule for training when it works for both parties. And REWARD people for their contribution to your cross-training programs.


Give yourself a break. Every small business, struggling to grow, has to decide where it can afford to put funds and where it needs to use duct tape.  We understand. We ran on duct tape ourselves at one point. But we’ve always put at least two people with every client to make sure all the bases were covered. Then came the day when one of our clients called on a Friday afternoon wanting to fire someone, RIGHT NOW! Firing people is tricky and the client needed our help to make sure it was done correctly.  I was out of the country. One of the two HR people on his team was incommunicado on a houseboat in Arkansas. The other had a child at Dell Children’s Medical Center.  Within an hour of the original call, however, another of our HR experts was able to get up to speed on the situation, call the guy and talk him off the proverbial ledge.

Not only was the crisis averted, but the client was wildly impressed to have a support team four-deep in a company our size. So give whatever money you can to the project but make sure you put some attention into cross training this year…in case some one gets abducted by aliens, discovered by Hollywood, joins the circus…..

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.