Staying Resilient When Faced with Loss of Personnel


Inverroy's MD, Matthew Wardner, looks at how loss of staff affects organisations and how to stay resilient.

The loss of a key member of the team is one of the disruption factors when looking at business continuity or resilience.  We often hear that “HR has a succession plan” or similar, but is that enough when put to the test?  For some organisations, losing one person may not be critical, but when that person has unique skills, it can have a massive impact.  

Sport verses Business

The current Rugby World Cup has provided several examples of loss of staff through red cards or injury.  Perhaps the best example is Antoine Dupont, the world’s best player getting injured and can’t play.  In a rugby squad, the selectors assess the requirement for cover in different positions and for France, they started with three scrum halves (Dupont’s position).  To minimise the disruption on the team in the event of a sudden loss, the teams spend weeks training so that each person knows the same moves, calls and game plans, but no matter the training, the difference is the overall competence in the role of the three options.  Dupont was the ‘Primary’ and the others very much the alternates and whilst very good, they are still not the same as the world’s best player.  

In business, we have limited training time. The challenge is how much emphasis do you place on exercising the ‘A Team’ to maintain that level of competence. How much time and resources do you put in to ensure that the alternates are ready and capable of stepping in at a moment’s notice. In the example of France, the alternate scrum-half came on and scored a couple of tries and the French won with a record points margin, but they now only have two options, and tougher tests are to come.  In business, the key point is, can the level of performance be maintained even with one less key responder? 

For you and your business, it isn’t a game, and lives or livelihoods may depend on it.

The more serious loss of staff scenario occurs when it is multiple rather than individual.  This is often due to strike action, sickness or perhaps even a syndicate lottery win.  However, the example on 25 September when 300 firearms officers in the Met Police handed back their cards authorising them to carry a firearm is an interesting alternative example. This could have potentially led to a loss of capability to conduct armed patrols in London.    The backup option was to request support from the Army.  Having been an Infantry Officer, I remember the Rules of Engagement training we conducted to support the Police in Northern Ireland.  The prospect of patrolling the streets of London in support of the Police is a whole different ball game. In this case, as opposed to the rugby example, the alternative solution doesn’t have the same training level, know the same calls and moves and therefore is not a rehearsed and instant good fit.  

Absentees Due to Sickness

Finally, another example of mass loss of staff is in the news with several Gatwick Airport air traffic controllers off sick and unable to conduct the full range of operations.  Just when we thought that we could begin to consign disruptions due to COVID to the history books, it appears the recent cases are more debilitating than those from the recent past.  

COVID this year is different to before and not just the variant.  First, it is not everywhere all at once so our tolerance for the disruptions may differ. Whilst your business may be suffering a disruption, your competitor may not be.  Second, the financial reserves that companies may have built up, and the financial support from the Government are likely to have been eroded over the last few years of COVID and together with the Cost of Living crises, organisations may be more vulnerable to the impacts whether it is staff off sick or suppliers unable to provide the goods or services we require.

So What?

Loss of staff planning is not a simple case of “Oh so and so will be okay to cover the role”.  They might be for a short period, but what if it is weeks/months and you ask them to cover two jobs? 

  • Are they able to step up and deliver their primary role, cover the secondary and maintain their energy levels and work/life balance? 
  • If bringing in an agency person is not an option.
  • Other considerations might include prioritisation of workloads, or cross-training in quieter periods to enable individuals to deliver better results over a longer period when the pressure is applied. 
  • If a member of your team has an emergency response role, this ability to step up can be critical. It may be part of your Duty of Care to ensure a robust and validated capability is in place. 
  • Are you doing all you are required to do to meet your moral and legal obligations?

If you have a continuity plan with a particular solution identified, please rehearse before you need it for real or stand by for disappointment.

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