Monday, March 25, 2019

I Love a Coverage Plan

The modern working environment has an expectation that you’re available even when you’re not working and that belief leads to bad behaviors for managers and employees. I love when employees take vacation because it gives them time to recharge and gives me the opportunity ask them to put together a coverage plan on how to deal with the things they do while they enjoy vacation. Here is the real kicker, employees frequently offer to be available, do tasks, respond to emails and I’ll tell them in a nicer version of this sentence: “if you are responding to email or corporate instant messenger while you’re on vacation I see that as underperformance.” I would be ecstatic if I could disable someone’s access to corporate resources while they are gone to avoid any and all cheating that may appear.
The steps of completing the task should not be in the coverage plan
For a long vacation (1+ weeks) I’ll tell someone to start their coverage plan a month before they actually leave and use it as something to touch base around in weekly checkins. For every task they do: where is the task documented? who will be the person responsible for doing it in their absence? The coverage plan is a checklist that references other process and procedures documentation.
Waiting to do the task is not an excuse to avoid documenting the task
Sure, it’s fine if there are tasks where the correct coverage is to delay it a week because training someone else is too hard, but those tasks also need to be specifically called out as “I will do this when I get back from vacation” and should also reference the documentation of how to execute that task.
Delegation should be lateral or downward
As your manager, my role is to help you identify the right person to cover for you, but the ideal coverage plan does not have the manager doing any of the coverage for an employee. This inspires inter-team training and reliance. As a head of Professional Services I may not be able to delegate pricing approval downward, but instead of delegating up to the CEO can the head of Sales, Marketing, or Product be in charge?
Client expectation and risk are part of the coverage plan
In addition to all the things you know need to covered, what's the context for unknowns? Do you have clients that are particular frustrated and need extra love/attention? Are there clients doing work on their side to call out, "Client A is doing a big release next week and everything is good, but they may reach out about it." Ideally these notes are in the CRM, but sometimes the coverage plan is the best place.
Don't forget the unexpected
Finally that "out of office email" needs to respond with when you'll be gone and the coverage contracts. Maybe there is more than one? "For technical questions ask PersonA, for project management PersonB" but it should always end with the line, "For another other questions please contact PersonC and they can connect you to the right resource." Also, that PersonC, make sure you're delegating laterally or down NOT to your manager.
So remember...
If you're an employee take a real vacation. You're manager will be incredibly impressed by a solid coverage plan, especially if you've delegated everything to peers or down. "Don't worry about it, my vacation doesn't create extra work for you."
If you're a manager, don't let your employee get away with working on vacation. You get better employees when their rested and stronger organization when processes are documented and can be covered.