We had a wicked storm blast through town the other night. Trees were snapped in half like the Jolly Green Giant with a bad case of ‘roid rage walked down the street. Then it happened – the beautiful iridescent “DATA” light on my cable modem went out. NOOOOOO!
My fears were confirmed when I went to turn on the cable and watch some Storage Wars – the Interwebz was down! I panicked and ran around the house in my pajamas screaming at the top of my lungs. After I accepted my (hopefully temporary) Internet-less reality, I assessed the situation and began my plan of action to keep my business running.
I learned four critical lessons any business leader should know during a time where your business is not fully operational. Hopefully you can learn from my experience so you’re properly prepared to handle a shutdown crisis like the harrowing one I’ve endured. I’ve generalized these lessons to apply to any kind of business that loses a key capability during a crisis (e.g., machine downtime, loss of personnel due to a strike, inclement weather catastrophes, etc.).
1. Plan ahead. If there are tasks you can automate or contingency plans that you can put in place, build them now. This blog post is late. Normally they post on Monday mornings at 7AM. Usually I have a few posts slotted to run weeks in advance of the post date. Those go up automatically whether my Internet connection is live or not. This time around I hadn’t planned ahead and when the net went down, I couldn’t deliver my product on time.
For your business, you can prevent some of these issues pretty easily. If you have tasks you can automate far out in time or advanced work you can do before it’s needed (e.g., warehousing inventory so you can still supply customers during a production shutdown, etc.) you would do well to get those plans in place now so when the crisis comes, your business continues uninterrupted.
2. Build redundancy into your business. The Internet connection is a critical part of my business. I manage my clients through it (email), build documents through it (Dropbox), market through it (this blog and our website), and measure performance on it (analytics, sales reporting, etc.). When the great Internet crash of 2012 occurred, many of those capabilities disappeared with the snuffing of a little green light.
I cut over to backup systems. My Blackberry became my primary email connection. Stauf’s Coffee House became my alternate Internet connection. Sure it was inconvenient but there were other available means of running my business. For your business, do you have backup systems in place? Can you shift manufacturing or production to another plant? Does your building have generators in case the power goes out? Build that redundancy now and let people know what to do in case your primary systems go out.
3. Have an “important but not urgent” task list ready at all times. Downtime can be a good time to get all that “we’ll get to it someday” work done. I have hundreds of documents that needed updating, correcting, or filing. That work is important to my business because it helps me be efficient and deliver a good product to my clients. Unfortunately, it’s not fun work and it’s never important enough to be at the top of the list. Funny thing is, once the Internet shut down, high priority tasks were temporarily removed from the list and I could get all these other lower priority tasks done. Fortunately I had that “to do” list already built so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for work to do.
For your organization, do your people have a list of “work to do when I can’t do my primary job” tasks? If not, start creating that list and publicizing it. It comes in handy not only when your main systems are down but also when people finish other tasks and have some spare time on their hands.
4. Chill out. I’m a type-A personality (duh). I am always working away at a frenetic pace. I’m not good about taking breaks and recharging. When the Internet went down and my work became about low priority stuff, I also found myself with some additional time on my hands. I spent it playing chess, minesweeper, solitaire, watching movies, and generally shutting down my brain. I needed the break. The Jolly Green Giant gave me the opportunity to take one. I’ll confess I feel a bit more rested and recharged.
When your business is knocked out of commission, think about giving your folks a “snow day” to take some time off. Don’t take it out of their vacation – just be a magnanimous boss who realizes your people work hard for you and sometimes they deserve a break. When the excuse/opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it. The little green light will come back on at some point and the crazy pace of business will undoubtedly resume. May as well have happy, rested, recharged workers tackling that business when it comes back online.
So there you have it – four lessons I learned from the Great Internet Blackout of 2012. I hope you take the time to put some of these contingency plans in place so you’re prepared to be productive even when your business is taken offline by unforeseen circumstances.
– Another thing you can do if your Internet connection goes down is read a book. Might I suggest One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership as an option. But be sure to order it on Amazon before your connection goes down again.