Have you recently visited Upton House in Oxfordshire? This year they have completely transformed the house to Banking for Victory. In 1939 the Bearsteds who owned Upton House moved out and their family-owned bank moved in. They needed to protect their staff and assets from the London air raids so moved Samuel & Co. lock, stock and barrel for the duration of the Second World War.
In the exhibition you can see how the bank staff lived and worked in the 1940s. The long gallery has been turned into a typing pool and the bedrooms have been set up for the bank staff that slept 2-4 to a room.
This is one example of the extremes contingency planning can take. How do you cope during war where your head office is in danger of bombing?
Now there are more threats than just bombing and important work must go on. We have helped a bank to set up their alternative base of operations. This ensured that in the event of any calamity they could operative effectively. Their alternative fully operational base was a replica of the original, so that their workers could seamlessly move from one location to the other. There was a cost associated with this contingency plan including that the alternative base needed staff to maintain the premises. So we set up the technicians shift pattern to ensure that the Bank could always carry on operations regardless.
This sort of contingency planning is not new. The contingency planning process can be broken down into three simple questions:
• What is going to happen?
• What are we going to do about it?
• What can we do ahead of time to get prepared?
Everyday Contingency PlanningWe also help companies with the less glamorous and extreme contingency planning. Everyday most companies will face; absence, sickness, holiday leave and tardiness. We help companies ensure that these everyday events do not affect their operation.
Recently the crash that occurred on the M9 on 5th July which resulted in two deaths went unattended for three days even through a call was taken by the 101 service. Part of the problem appears to be that the call centre was experiencing an over 10% absence rate. An ex-employee described the situation as: "a firefighting exercise and you were doing, say, 10 tasks probably half as well as you could actually manage, because you were trying to get so much done."
Very often staff, where there is no formal cover arrangement, feel like they are ‘firefighting’. To some it is exciting, every day is different. But for the majority it is stress that is unnecessary. So let’s go back to the three questions of contingency planning.
What will happen is absence. We cannot avoid absences. We can go further and assess how often and in what quantity absences will occur.
What are we going to do about it is a harder question to answer. It depends on budget, skill mix, staffing numbers and workload. In general we advocate covering for the absence. If you maintain a consistent level of service you will have a better operation. Even if that level of service is lower than you would like, a consistent service is better in the long run. That way every day is the same and you can focus on improvement rather than spending your time ‘firefighting’.