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Resilience and Growth from the Shadows

By the Academy Team for the Bottom Line

  • Does your business stop when key members of staff take time off?
  • Could you survive the long term absence of a key person?
  • How would you cope with the sudden departure of one of your key people?

If your answer is that you’d put your contingency plan into action and that other members of staff could cover quickly and easily while you sort out a longer term solution, then well done. If you answer that you’d improvise (or worse, panic) and maybe take on additional tasks yourself, then maybe you need to do some contingency planning.

For your business to thrive you need continuity, especially with key clients and major projects, and you need resilience. The business has to be able to withstand the sudden absence of key team member otherwise you are likely to struggle to service, or even lose, key clients. With a little forward planning, that can be avoided.

With systems these days, we would try to design them without a single point of failure. The internet, for example, is, in theory at least, resilient. It achieves that by having multiple options for any function. With a team, the same principle can apply. To do that, a six step process can be applied as follows –

  1. Identify the key people in the team and quantify the risk they represent if they were to be removed from the team without notice.
  2. Prioritise their roles. Where in their daily work are you most exposed. Which tasks do they do, which relationships do they maintain that couldn’t be quickly picked up by others.
  3. Begin allocating shadows. Shadows are other staff members who will learn these key processes and become involved with the key relationships. Consider making them mutual so staff members cover for each other.
  4. Document progress on projects and key relationships using systems like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Project Control Systems. Many these days are in the ‘cloud’ and cost effective to use. Eliminate knowledge held on post its or in employees’ heads as far as possible.
  5. Have shadows schedule regular one to one sessions where they update each other on the current position.
  6. Agree triggers that will activate the shadow to cover the roles in the absence of the usual role holder.

Sometimes, despite the best planning systems, the two members of a shadowing team may be away together. For the most critical tasks and relationships, it is worth having additional shadows. The additional overhead of updating means that they will have to be carefully selected.

With prioritised tasks, when the shadow is active, some lower priority and less time-critical tasks may be dropped or handed on to other members of staff to do when time allows or simply picked up once the employee returns.

When setting up this system, don’t forget that you, the CEO, should be included. You are, perhaps, the most key person in the business so make sure you get yourself shadowed, too.


In the next article, we’ll take a look a how the CEO can make sure that he or she, too, can (and should) make the most of this summer.

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