Thursday, May 23, 2013


Give job to best person


I’m a fan of the comics.

Dilbert for May 23, 2013 triggered the thought that a risk management practitioner needs to try to match personnel to processes as an organization (a) tries to maintain a minimum level of service and (b) restore the operation to “business as usual.”

Politics and egos can make this a difficult task, but when it can be accomplished, the results are worthwhile.

There are those people, including practitioners, who are excellent workers under normal conditions. These same people may fall apart under event and post-event demands. On the other side of the coin, there are those who “get by” when everything is proceeding normally but shine when the pressure is greatest.

A nurse may handle routine duties in a routine manner, but come alive in a crisis situation. Another nurse also may handle routine duties in a routine manner, but panic in the same crisis.

Most people performing their day-to-day functions are there because they function well under minimal pressure. This is true for most managers; they got to a supervisory position based on their day-to-day performance.

Most older practitioners will remember the infamous “Peter Principle.” To update the younger practitioners, Wikipedia declares “The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability." (; The Free Dictionary agrees, showing “The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent." (

Dilbert simply shows the Peter Principal in action with Dilbert’s Pointed Haired Boss, a/k/a PHB.

Unfortunately, most organizations have managers who prove that the Peter Principle is alive and well.

The practitioner needs first to identify people who, regardless of hierarchy are able to perform under stress and, second, needs to try to assure these people will be in responsible positions during and immediately following a crisis; people who will, as the express goes, be able to keep their heads when all those around them are losing their heads.

There are some ways to (try to) achieve this.


Every response function requires at least a primary and an alternate responder. No exceptions.

Actually, that is just good business sense.

People go on vacation, go to seminars and conferences, get sick, tend to relatives, retire, and die, sometimes unexpectedly. A well-run organization - and some not-so-well-run organizations – needs to have an “order of succession.” Even the U.S. federal government has a succession list.

    Presidential Succession Act of 1947 lists the order of succession for the President of the U.S. (POTUS). The list may be viewed at the Government Printing Office site: . The list is 18 (18 !) levels deep.

For most organizations, temporary duty assignments (“TDY” in military parlance) can be assigned to different people at different times to qualify more people to step in for a missing person, anyone from the CEO to an intern. (Most people probably don’t consider interns needing alternates, but what do interns often end up doing? Going for this and going for that, i.e., “go-fers.” In a crisis situation, there is a need for “go-fers”; if there are no interns, someone else must perform the function.)

Selling the “alternate” idea should be fairly easy for an experienced practitioner. Just ask the question: “What happens if {name of person or title} is absent then a crisis occurs? Who can make the decisions to keep the organization (department to enterprise) functioning?”

Unless the organization’s management is paranoid – and there are some - the practitioner also can stress the benefits of cross-training. The old Bell Telephone/AT&T used to promote managers from the ranks. The company reasoned, successfully, that if the rank and file went on strike, the now non-union managers could fill in for the duration; the service might slow down a bit, but the company would maintain “at least” a minimum level of service. The U.S. Marines operate similarly; every Marine, without exception, is a rifleman – or maybe today, a “rifle person.” The Marine may be enlisted or officer; most have a secondary function (e.g., radio operator, pilot, cook, Corps commandant) but all are trained to use a rifle.

The only recommendation I would have for managers who assign alternates to their positions is to put the authority in writing: “I appoint Tina the Technical Writer to serve in my position during my absence. Tina the Technical Writer has my full authority and is authorized to make all decisions that normally would be made by me. (Signed) PHB”

Tina the Technical Writer could be named for one absence, Wally for another, Carol the Manager’s Manager (a/k/a secretary), and Dilbert. Asok probably is too inexperienced to sub for the PHB, but someone has to report to the temporary PHB.

Using the military as an example, there are Officers of the Day (OODs) who, while in this role, have the authority of the their commanding officer, Non-Commissioned Officers In Charge (NCOIC) and even Charges of Quarters (CQs), all temporarily with the authority of those in command. (Navy and Coast Guard terminology may differ slightly.)

Final thoughts on alternates Alternates also may be primaries providing both primary and alternate tasks don’t occur at the same time. Also keep in mind that responders may be needed at an alternate site while the primary site is restored.

Finding those who keep calm

Identifying responders who can keep their cool under the pressure of a crisis situation can be a difficult task.

The best, and possibly only, way to identify these people is through exercises.

Walk-through exercises are fine to discover the thinkers, those people who can analyze a problem and come up with possible solutions.

Simulations are better.

Simulations with injects are even better.

“Injects” are, in common terms, the proverbial monkey wrench that gets thrown into a situation to make something simple complicated.

“Injects” are intended to put pressure on responders; to simulate a “real life” situation.

Such monkey wrenches can include managers demanding that a task be performed “right now” – having a manager do this may have the added benefit of the manager seeing this interference is counter-productive.

Other monkey wrenches are to tell the responders that something they expected to be available is no longer available, or that a secondary threat has occurred, e.g., the fiber coming into the building has been cut* and there is no phone or Internet connectivity with the outside world.

    * We know this cannot happen because ALL of our facilities have at least 2 separate points where communications lines come into the structure. Right? Right.

Exercises need to be repeated, swapping in alternates for primary responders. Unlike football teams that practice “first team” against “second stringers,” responder swaps should be random. In a “real life” situation, no one will know who will be available. All team members must be able to work together.

Look for both managers and mentors. Managers may be people who rise to the occasion and, through their personalities and expertise, win their fellows’ following.

Mentors are valuable when dealing with less experienced personnel and with any casual (vendor-provided) staff at the primary and alternate sites. Vendor people may have the technical expertise to do the job but probably will lack the organizational background to work within established policies and procedures.

If a manager cannot manage in a crisis situation

You have my sympathies, but you need to find a way to suggest to the manager that maybe someone else could do a better job “just temporarily.”

One tool that is available is the “alternate.” If the manager can’t handle the pressure of a simulation-with-injects, have the alternate play the role on the next exercise. The manager must be in the exercise area to see the alternate’s performance.

If that fails to have the desired result, having the manager's peers or superiors address the issue with the manager might work. About the only way the practitioner can instigate this is to have the manager’s peers or superiors watch him in action. The practitioner should avoid, if at all possible, “going over the manager’s head,” no matter how inappropriate the manager’s actions, short of causing personnel injury or death.

Critiquing the exercise

The exercise has been completed.

Now is the time for (a) critiques and (b) action items.

A successful critique requires at least two things:

  1. Recommendations to improve, not criticisms of what, or who, went wrong; the purpose is to improve, not tear down other participants.
  2. The lowest ranking person who either participated in or observed the exercise – an intern if available – should offer his or her opinion first; the most senior person should give his or her opinion last. This “lesson from the Sanhedrin” assures that juniors won’t be influenced to simply agree with the seniors and will give their (hopefully) honest opinions.

The practitioner must lay down strict guidelines to avoid rancor and finger-pointing.

Ideally, there will be an amanuensis to record an Action Items list and the names of people responsible for each item on the list. Reasonable due dates should be fixed and a report created, to be circulated to all participants and appropriate management, once the items are completed. Most items can be completed and reported on within 14 working days.

The report will be used as the benchmark for the next exercise.

Keep in mind that nothing is 100% the first time out.

No comments: