Today's focus: When duty calls

We're used to losing our employees for a day or two of sick time or a two-week vacation, but few actually remember a time when co-workers, who also happened to be military reservists, were gone for extended periods of active duty.

Yet that's the situation many enterprises found themselves in after National Guard members and reservists started getting called to duty last September. And the resultant staff squeeze is especially potent now, in a time when budgets are tight and staffs are lean.

This week's Management Strategies story in Network World outlines how companies, such as Hilton Hotels, are handling the shortages.

Some folks, like Hilton CIO Tim Harvey, were prepared. When he found out that he was losing three people to active duty and several more were on stand-by, Harvey consulted his department's written contingency plan, which is also used in family and medical leave situations. He was able to redistribute the work among other employees, and if things got very busy, temps were called in.

Now that's what I called being prepared.

Do you have a written contingency plan? Me neither. However, it makes a lot of sense. Contingency planning is something most of us don't do until something nasty like layoffs comes into the picture. Then we're forced to figure out who could take over for whom if you had to let someone go.

Yet what's stopping us from contingency planning now? Sure, it would take some work outlining everyone's key responsibilities (though, theoretically, you would have them on a piece of paper somewhere) and charting who is cross-trained in another's duties. But contingency planning would provide two benefits - not only would you know who could handle another's duties, but you also would know who couldn't. That knowledge could help you plot new areas of growth for that employee and new areas of security for you.

Think about becoming ultraprepared for any staffer long-term leave (military or not) and develop a contingency plan.