I’m such a big fan of the “hit by a bus instructions” that I drive most people crazy about it. When I learn something new or add a new task to my normal routine I document it. And then I document it again. For real y’all, if I get hit by a bus tonight I want my team to be able to easily access what I have been working on, what my pending deadlines are and what work requires an immediate pick up and run. Too often we think that people will only be out of work for a day or two at a time, but let’s face it these instructions are for multiple circumstances. 1) the obvious-if I get hit by a bus. 2) if I get mad as all get out (after my screw you fund is built up of course) and walk out, never to be seen or heard from again. 3) if you get all mad at me and walk me out, never to be seen or heard from again.
As HR professionals we have all seen a situation where we “suddenly” had a problem employee we had to get rid of and start devising a plan of how to divide up the work tasks this person was responsible for. Wait, you do know what work tasks that person was responsible for, right? Oh, well there is another problem. How do you know what they are doing? Oh okay-you can just go around to their co-workers and gather information and piece their normal job functions together. Cool. Good luck with that.
Sometimes we don’t want to ask employees to keep a “living” training manual of what they do. It may take too much time, they are busy enough after all. The employee may start thinking we are going to fire them or replace them. Or you think they probably won’t do it anyway. Well, my dear HR pro, that is because you are not selling it right. I am often baffled at the lack of salesmanship from HR pros and must say I deeply value my selling capabilities. When our job is to manage our human resources we have to get creative, we have to find a way to get our humans to receive our message! Example: Is your work environment team oriented? Then you could sell it as a way to relieve pressure from the team if something happens and they have to step in and help with your job functions at the last-minute (hello, what if you get hit by a bus). Are your employees focused on climbing the ladder? Well then their transition up will be easier when they have the opportunity if they can train their successor quickly and give them a go to guide for the day-to-day things.
Still not enough for you to think about these handy-dandy manuals? How about this “hit by a bus instructions” should include a point of contact sheet. This sheet should list everyone and everything this employee is a POC for and what all contact information is used for this POC. Why? Because almost a year ago I switched jobs for the first time in 7 years. In those 7 years I accrued a lot of different responsibilities and became the POC for a lot of different employees, vendors, customers, etc. I still (with the most recent being yesterday morning) get phone calls on my cell phone from different people who the company failed to follow-up with and change the POC info. The most recent call was from the security service because the burglar alarm was set off. The call before that (two weeks prior) was about an employee working on third shift who got injured on the job. When I say third shift I mean my phone rang at 1:13 in the morning for an issue I didn’t need to know about. This list goes on and on and on. Had they taken the time to go through the instructions I had in reference to my job and the point of contact info they would’ve been able to take care of notifying everyone promptly. Or I could just change my cell phone number right? Don’t worry, I will soon. Seriously though, in the case of the burglar alarm what if it was a crisis that needed to be handled immediately? That isn’t the time to scramble around for the password for the security customer service rep to verify you are legit while you frantically tell the tale of the employee that is no more.
Employees, keep track of what you do. Keep track of who you are the contact for. Keep track of all the contact information you have for all of your point of contacts relevant to your projects. Don’t leave your team high and dry for any reason whether its you really get hit by a bus or you get ticked and walk out.
Employers, know what your employees are doing. You can do that without micro managing, I promise. Assign a back up point of contact for all projects, just in case. Don’t nag employees, but do follow-up and see if they are indeed keeping a good operating manual for you or someone else to take over in case something goes bad.
Managers, don’t spring a last-minute problem employee on us. Bring your issues to HR and lets talk about how to deal with it. I promise we won’t immediately say fire this person (that is why you don’t tell us right away isn’t it?). We will work with you, but if the employee doesn’t get better it’s a lot easier to get them out the door if we have followed procedure. We didn’t make this stuff up, its to protect you and the company so cooperate with us.