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This vacation, actually relax while your team gets stronger

With a little planning – confidently disconnect and feel good about it

It was almost 6pm on a Friday afternoon and I was wrapping up a late meeting with a client in his office. The CEO stopped in before heading out on a much-deserved vacation. It was to be his first Caribbean cruise.

My client and the CEO, who run several busy production lines over several shifts – reviewed who would be responsible for various sign-offs, to ensure authority was clearly transferred. Then the boss expressed semi-anxious delight as he shared he would not be available until he reached his port of destination.

Like most CEOs would do, he admitted he would jump online when he could, but he also made it crystal clear that he had full faith in his team.

As a leader in manufacturing, there is a good chance you and every one of your executives is wearing several hats. On a good day you barely have the bandwidth to manage everything coming your way. How can you possibly take a vacation, let alone go offline?

Here in the mid-Atlantic, summer vacation season uniquely coincides with severe storm season, tornado season, flood season, hurricane season, power failure season, water restriction season, and just about every other calamity one could think of. Great time to take a vacation, right?

In order to take the vacation you deserve and actually relax, you can’t spend it worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Psychologists have taught us that the little voice inside your head is your amygdala. This small, amped-up portion of your brain is always dreaming up doomsday scenarios. Turns out, it’s not actually all that good at assessing actual risk, but it does a great job of ruining vacations.

How can you deal with these worries without resorting to 24-hour piña coladas? If you don’t already have a robust business continuity plan and trained staff, you can dig into a few key elements of your company’s critical business functions. Such planning (which is also very handy for apocalyptic scenarios) goes a long way toward setting sail with a clear conscience.

 

In order to take the vacation you deserve and actually relax, you can’t spend it worrying about all the things that could go wrong.

 

Here are a few questions and tips to get you started before you pack the sunblock and flip-flops:

Are all roles and authorities clear to the designees? Get your team together and make sure all key roles and responsibilities are completely covered. Keep in mind that your staff will be taking on responsibilities that stretch their comfort zones. Take time to answer their questions, including sensitive areas like spending authority and personnel management. Prepare your team to function without you. If crisis strikes and you are not there, they need to know not only who has to step up but also how to do it.

Do you have adequate strength on the bench? Getting the leader off the grid requires planning well in advance and may require beefing up staffing in other areas. Make sure travel plans are verbalized well in advance so others can adjust their own plans and family expectations. The extra staffing might cost some overtime, but business continuity is essential.

Has everyone shared their contact information? This might sound obvious, but keep in mind that new linkages and lines of reporting will be in place while you’re chilling on the beach. Document everyone’s contact information, including key suppliers and vendors, and share it with the team.

Are there any obvious situations that can be discussed in advance? While Murphy’s Law seems to generate endlessly creative and unpredictable scenarios, many outcomes are predictable. Get your team together a week or two before your trip to think through, discuss, and pre-game some of them. Communicate well in advance and as much as possible while you gracefully transition out the door. Time spent discussing and preparing will not only mitigate potential problems, but it is also a great way to ease everyone into using their temporary superpowers.

Capitalize on the growth and unity of your team when you return. Leaving a box of saltwater taffy in the break room doesn’t go as far as you might think to thank your staff for stepping into the breach and helping preserve your mental health. Take some time to debrief, take notes of what worked and what did not, and celebrate those who exercised leadership. You will probably learn about new capabilities on your team, but don’t forget that they are likely glad to hand you back your keys. Be creative and thank your team adequately.

As a midsize manufacturing leader running a high performance organization, you rarely get to take a break. Don’t just pretend to be on vacation while secretly hoping that nothing implodes while you are gone. This approach isn’t healthy and it could be catastrophic for your company. This year, take a little time to do it right and then take a real vacation.

When it comes to protecting your business from disruptions and disasters, what is the single biggest challenge or frustration you are having right now?