The 60-Minute Back-up Plan (plus a template!)

Beyond binge-watching Tiger King and spraying down your groceries, one step every team head and staff member can take to deal with our COVID-19 anxiety is to create a plan for who will take over key responsibilities if one or more of our team members is out.

As crucial as back-up planning is, given the threats we all face, it doesn’t need to be daunting. Figure out the most important responsibilities that need to be covered, who could do them if the current owner is out, and what that person needs to do now to prepare.

Ready to go? You can make huge progress in as little as 60 minutes. With more time, you can get more sophisticated. Read our tips below, and then get started with our simple template.

Tips For Making Back-up Planning Easier

  1. Aim for 80 (percent)!—Don’t feel like you need to get this perfect. Get the important stuff down now and improve it over time. Start with critical functions (such as doing payroll, communicating with your members, managing your team) and build from there as you have more time.
  2. Conduct a “back-up-a-thon”—Schedule a time for your team members to get together (virtually, of course!) and crank out a quick plan for their areas of responsibility. (If you’re an ED, you might start with a leadership team meeting, and then have each department head conduct this exercise with their teams.) In a one-hour session, you can get a decent plan together and build on it from there. (Oh, and if “back-up-a-thon” makes you think of that 1999 Juvenile song, you’re not alone.)
  3. Create a folder for everything—Consider this your organizational “go-bag,” which holds the essential information needed for someone to fill in. Create a “back-up planning” folder and put the most relevant documents there, ideally organized by team (including logins and admin rights for systems). Password-protect and set permissions for documents and sub-folders that not everyone should see.
  4. Mind the equity implications—As you draft your plans, pay attention to who’s being asked to carry more (or less) of the load. If and when the time comes, the back-up owners’ managers should work with them to deprioritize some of their other responsibilities. (One way to mitigate burdens on your current staff is to remember to reach out to contractors or others outside the organizations who could step in if needed.) On the positive side, investing in your staff to learn new skills outside their usual areas of responsibilities is an excellent cross-training opportunity, so pay attention to who you’re giving those growth opportunities to.
  5. Use video and voice—You don’t need detailed written instructions for everything. Instead, have owners record themselves doing tasks (log into their videoconferencing platform, hit “record,” share their screen, and narrate what they’re doing). Good old voice memos can also work, especially to share context that’s helpful for the back-up owner to know when there’s not enough time to write everything down.
  6. Do a trial run, if possible—If feasible, have the back-up owner(s) do the assigned task before they have to take it over. By actually doing the work, they’ll spot questions and better retain any lessons.

We know that back-up planning can be daunting—not just logistically, but because it can be hard to imagine the worst happening to you or your teammates during the pandemic. This is one tool we hope you’ll never have to use. However, if it does happen, we hope you’ll be prepared.

Click below to access the Back-up Planning Tool:

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