What would happen in your organization if you got hit by a bus on your way to work tomorrow?
We all like to think that we have basic control of our lives. But the fact is, there are infinite possibilities outside of our control that could occur at any given moment. For example, we don’t know for sure that we’ll show up at work tomorrow. Our daily plans can be derailed in an instant.
When I consult with clients, I often lead them through the “Hit By The Bus” scenario: what happens if a key person gets hit by a bus on their way to work?
It might sound like a far-fetched concept — who gets hit by a bus? What are the chances of that actually happening? But I work with someone who was recently literally hit by a bus while bicycling to work, and he was put out of commission for a time.
Unexpected events happen and tragedies strike every day.
- A sudden illness puts your HR person in the hospital.
- Your CFO is involved in a serious auto accident.
- The IT Director has a freak aneurysm.
- A house fire takes someone’s life.
If you aren’t prepared, your business could be materially impacted by someone’s sudden misfortune.
The Importance of Preparing for Hit-By-a-Bus Scenarios
The hit-by-a-bus (HBB) scenario is essentially a euphemism for someone being instantly gone from the organization and inaccessible — suddenly and without warning. You have no ability to contact them for information, insight, or answers that only they possess.
In the HBB scenario, you’re left on your own to figure out what the subject matter expert knew from years of experience and learned insights.
Very few organizations take the time to ask the question, “What happens if this person is no longer a part of our organization, without warning?” It’s something every company needs to prepare for, because it can happen to any company at any time.
If you take your business continuity and disaster recovery seriously, you need to look at the hit-by-a-bus scenario as well.
In many cases, you can’t simply step into the shoes of the person who is no longer there. You don’t have time on your side, but it’s going to take time to close potentially years of knowledge gaps.
For example, if you lose someone who was central to your payroll process and you’re just five days from payday, you could be in a tight spot.
What if you lose someone who was flipping a bunch of switches each week to keep your products operationally functional? You don’t have any idea what switches they were flipping, how they were flipping them, where the switches even are, how to flip them, what order to flip them in, or what the switches do when they get flipped. Your products could be dead in the water until you figure out those questions for yourself.
How to Plan for a Hit-By-a-Bus Scenario
The only way to mitigate the Bus Factor is to develop cross-functionality for every single area of your entire company. Everything, everyone, and every vendor. Look at the organization with a fresh set of eyeballs and don’t go under any presumption that some people are more critical than others.
You could have a critical vendor that’s easy to overlook. You could have a mid-level developer with unique knowledge. It could be someone in customer service.
Planning for these scenarios takes time, and you’ll need to prioritize which scenarios to work on first. That said, each department should be given the responsibility of developing these plans so that you can share the load throughout your organization.
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Identify your top individuals
Prioritize the people to focus on first and determine the impact on your organization if those individuals were suddenly gone without warning. Which person’s absence would have the greatest effect on your company? That’s where you want to start your planning.
Incorporate an activity for everyone who is interviewed as part of your annual risk assessment process. Ask interviewees who are the top people in your organization or department you definitely wouldn’t want to get hit by a bus. Make it a small enough number that they have to think hard about your most critical people — for a company of 50, you might identify three individuals.
When your interviews are done, tally up the names and start with the ones who had the most votes. From those tallies, consider who is likely to have singular knowledge and the realm of their knowledge.
Document and train
Capture the information that only those people possess. Document it and make it easily accessible in a central location.
Once everything is documented, perform cross training so that multiple individuals have shared knowledge.
Rinse and repeat
Don’t do this exercise once and move on. Your organization is alive, and constantly changing:
- New people come in
- New skills are developed within the company
- You have new service offerings
- Knowledge transfers between members of your organization
Revisit your scenarios once per year and identify any new gaps in your preparation.
Prepare for Resistance
One thing to be prepared for: some people determine their value to the organization by the knowledge that only they possess. They hold onto it tightly to protect their status and to be irreplaceable.
While that approach has a certain logic to it, they’re actually putting the organization at risk. No single individual is more important than the overall organization, and holding information hostage cannot be permitted.
At TCT, not even I am irreplaceable. We have redundancy built in at every level, so that at least two people have shared knowledge in every area. We see it as an obligation to the company and to one another to ensure that level of redundancy exists.
Do you know where you’re most vulnerable if someone got hit by a bus tomorrow? What would happen to your organization if the wrong person were suddenly gone and inaccessible? Don’t wait to find out, because the unexpected will eventually happen. Start your contingency planning today.
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