Why trainers need a contingency plan

Yellow note in the shape of a speech bubble, with "contingency plan" written on it

Jane Robson shares her learnings and insight from the sad experience of the lose of a colleague whilst still needing to run a business

In training delivery we know how important contingency planning is, but what should it cover? You might think about cyber security issues or extreme weather preventing you from getting to a client. Most of us probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking about a member of our team suddenly dying, as it’s really the worst-case scenario. However if this sad event happens, it might have a devastating effect on your business and something we all need to be prepared for.

Despite having a strong a contingency plan in place, it really didn’t consider the full impact of losing someone

Larger operations are more likely be able to absorb the impact of unexpectedly losing a key player and also to have contingency planning in place. Smaller training providers often overlook contingency planning, partly because a small number of people are doing everything, or because they believe it doesn’t apply to them. However, they are the ones who really need to consider what they would do if something went wrong.  

When I first started being involved in this sort of exercise it was referred to as ‘Disaster Recovery’. Thinking of it in those terms brings home its importance, particularly given today’s working arrangements.

Impact of remote working

Many training professionals work remotely, and more businesses have moved to this since the pandemic. I believe that remote working brings more positives than negatives. However, I cannot overemphasise the need to recognise the risks and ensure that contingency plans fully reflect the new way of working, particularly when it comes to the possibility of suddenly losing a staff member.

This was brought home to me recently when my business suffered the sudden and tragic death of a much-valued colleague and friend.

Despite having what I considered to be a strong a contingency plan in place for a small business, it really didn’t consider the full impact of losing someone in that way.

Lessons learned

The first big lesson is how important it is that, whilst you may already have great procedures in place for the saving of documents and work, people and systems are fallible. Team members need regular reminders of the importance of saving things regularly and to the correct place. This is even more important when staff work remotely.

There should be a contingency if a remote worker cannot get onto a cloud-based server. This could be emailing a copy of their work to a colleague or some other backup solution. The reliability of WiFi can also be an issue, so all remote workers should have an alternative solution, such as using mobile data connected to their phone, even if only for long enough to email documents to a colleague. 

The second lesson is the importance of keeping up with training and reinforcing company policies and procedures. If we are honest, we know that we get complacent about how we and our staff are doing things so long as the job is still getting done. But you need to think about what would happen in the worst-case scenario.

What if the remote working trainer dies suddenly and you cannot get their laptop or other equipment back? That equipment might have their own work on it, but also that of client’s, attendees or students, perhaps including test results and evidence of assessment. How will you claim certificates? How can you put in another trainer if you do not know where the participants were up to in the lesson plans? This won’t be as big of an issue if they have saved the work to the cloud rather than their local files.

Issues to consider for contingency planning and worst-case scenarios

Whilst looking at general matters such as adverse weather, cyber security and the effects of a pandemic you must consider what would happen if you lost a key member of staff. What would you do if someone the business relies on is no longer around? 

Some of the issues you may come across include:

  • How are you going to contact all of the clients they dealt with and manage any outstanding work they may have left?

    This is potentially a huge issue if you cannot at once access their records. Ensuring that you have a shared calendar and contacts list so you can at least contact clients to let them know what is going on is imperative.
  • Can you prove the equipment they use belongs to the company?

    If they are using company equipment, make sure you have the receipts and the serial numbers for the equipment logged somewhere. This is also important to ensure that company equipment is not counted as part of the deceased’s estate. Otherwise, potentially it could be passed to heirs with whom you do not have any relationship.
  • What if they use their own laptop and mobile phone?

    If they use their own equipment, make sure you have an agreement about how company data is stored and that it is not held on local files, including contingencies covering WiFi and server issues. This must be enforced as it could affect your duties in respect of Data Protection. There are types of remote access that means if something happens, you can delete all access remotely to all company files. This is something that should definitely be considered where staff are using their own equipment.
  • What will the arrangements be if your remote staff are based miles away, even abroad? Do you know what you will do if something happens to them then? How will you be informed?

    This is something you will need to discuss with your staff member and agree a process. Look at the logistics of where the person is working from – so how far away they are, language barriers you may encounter with local officials, etc. and establish some local contacts to assist you.
  • Do you know the next of kin of your staff?

    Ensure you have the contact details of a nominated representative or next of kin and that they have your contact details. Having the details of next of kin is quite normal, but surprisingly smaller businesses do not tend to be as vigilant about keeping these records as the larger organisations. Gather this information during the on-boarding process, and then doing regular checks with staff to confirm the details you hold remain correct.

It is human nature to not want to think about losing a colleague, particularly where they may also be our friend or family, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that people die unexpectedly every day. Having a contingency plan in place won’t take away the feeling of loss you’ll experience, but it will alleviate some of the immediate stresses and help your business to carry on. 

Jane Robson is CEO of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)

Jane Robson

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