Find Your Seatbelt: Establish and Maintain Preventive Measures for Your Company

A seatbelt can be a polarizing device.

Some drivers complain the belts make them uncomfortable. Others put theirs on without thinking. But no matter how people feel about their seatbelts, they still need to use them.

Just as seatbelts save lives, best practices save businesses. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create and maintain preventive measures. By putting these systems and practices in place, you can keep road bumps from becoming catastrophes.

Use Unexpected Problems as Learning Experiences
Aside from governmental or legal requirements, we wear seatbelts because we don’t know what may happen. You should prepare your company the same way. Even if such a catastrophe never occurs, you need to plan for the unexpected. An emergency is not a good time to realize you don’t have an effective contingency plan in place.

A few years ago, there was a power outage where my company’s customer service center was located. At first, our leadership team wasn’t overly concerned; we had a battery backup for our answering system. But when we realized the backup could only last three hours, we became nervous.

Thankfully, utility workers had things up and running again within two hours. But instead of sighing in relief that everything had worked out, we realized we needed to make a system improvement immediately. We installed an on-site generator. Our business — and our clients — couldn’t risk extended downtime.

Though it was an arduous process to install the generator, it ensures our operation can function independent of power grid issues. We now perform monthly instructional tests on the generator to ensure our employees know how to use it. Rather than simply enduring the potential crisis, we learned from it.

How to Establish Preventative Measures
It often takes an unforeseen emergency to make leaders recognize the need for preventive measures. Once you recognize the need, you can set up your processes to be proactive rather than reactive.

• Establish leadership alternatives. If one leader has all the important details “in her head,” your company is courting disaster. Part of the CEO’s responsibility is to establish a designated successor to ensure the business could continue even if he or she was suddenly unavailable. The leader should have all duties down on paper, keeping the document current, so another employee can take over without a hitch.

• Stop playing the hero. If you spend all your time quelling fires — making yourself feel valuable in the moment — you’re not focused on improving your company’s product, training employees, or pursuing research and development. In other words, you’re no longer performing true leadership tasks. An effective leader guides his team, but also realizes that others need to be able to solve problems. Otherwise, you’re playing into the phenomenon I call “assuming the hero’s mantle,” in which a leader’s savior complex compels him to be in the middle of everything. Heroes are great, but prevention is better.

• Perfect and document processes. Successful businesses document what to do and how to do it, then follow the documented protocols 100 percent of the time. For instance, UPS drivers avoid left turns because data revealed they were riskier and wasted more fuel than right-hand loops. Establish the processes that work most efficiently after receiving feedback from your teams. Your frontline staff should be developing these documents, and they should focus on both production and expectations.

In most cases, this is the solution companies need most but try to avoid. Encourage your people to constantly recommend improvements to the written procedures. And if a documented procedure needs to be adjusted, make sure that adjustment happens fast.

• Focus on your goals. To build efficiency, work to eliminate daily distractions, like surfing the Internet or idle chit-chat in hallways. Perhaps more importantly, create clearly stated goals that are relayed to your team leaders and your employees. Nobody can read your mind. State your vision and how the company is going to achieve that vision, then use your resources and processes to work toward it every day.

Processes Prevent Problems
Of 135 NASA space shuttle launches, only two ended in catastrophe. Though those were national tragedies, the rest of the missions had a staggering success rate. Incessant system improvement made this possible.

Preventive measures help businesses and society function. Whether it’s software monitoring to ensure employees are staying on task or laws encouraging proper conduct, tangible documentation makes things clearer to everyone involved.

While no leader likes envisioning worst-case scenarios, preparing for them is critical to building a healthy business. True leaders know the importance of learning from the unexpected and preparing their companies for inevitable mishaps. Hopefully — like a seatbelt — preventive measures will never be tested by an accident. But as long as you have them, you can lead your company with confidence.