The recent impact of storms such as Harvey, Irma, and Maria prompted us to take another look at how we do our work as learning and development professionals. Consider the following situation.
Lena is the talent and development leader for the implementation of a new customer service application at a bank. The training component of the plan involves four weeks of intensive classroom-based training for the system’s different modules to be delivered by subject matter experts who became learning and development facilitators after undergoing an intensive train-the-trainer session. All sessions have been scheduled weeks in advance to minimize business interruptions. Supporting materials have been printed. A mirror image of the system was recreated so participants could practice without fear of deleting anything. All eyes are on Lena and her team.
Lena is leading the last meeting before the training’s launch in two days to review logistics and any other issues that need to be addressed. Her assistant asks her to step out for a moment for an announcement—a hurricane warning has been issued. Hurricane and tropical storm force winds will strike the area within 36 hours. At least 12 inches of rain are expected and even more in some areas. Management decided that all employees must prepare their offices and leave the premises for final preparations at home. Lena remains calm and thinks about what to do when she returns to her meeting.
What would you do if you received such a warning? Does your company or emergency team have plans for this type of situation? Are you prepared? Do you ignore the warning? Do you pretend that nothing is happening and send everyone to their teams for instructions? Do you panic and tell everyone to go home and take cover?
As a talent development leader, you have a responsibility to the business and, most importantly, to your colleagues. It’s time to stop and think. Priorities are different, and your plans must change.
Before you make any decisions about the scheduled training, consider the following:
• What is the relationship between the training program and the business strategy?
• How much flexibility do you have to reschedule the program after the emergency?
• Which mission-critical participants must receive training first and who can be trained later or perhaps receive the information in another way?
• How relevant will be the training topic after the emergency?
• What can you do to minimize impact on the business if some of the participants cannot attend the training? Have you identified backups either for their regular positions or for their participation in the training?
• Will all of your trainers be able to deliver the training? Do some of them have any potential special needs, such as access to transportation in case roads are blocked?
• Do your training facilities have emergency power generators, back-up servers, and water supplies?
• What can you do if power fails in the middle of a session because of lack of stability in the supply?
• Are your trainers ready to handle technology glitches on the spot?
Business must continue after the emergency, yet it cannot be business as usual. People’s needs and priorities change. Flexibility is key. Here are some suggestions for you to handle the situation after the emergency situation has subsided.
• Contact all trainers after the emergency to check on their well-being and have someone do the same with all participants.
• Verify the status of the training facilities.
• Reschedule sessions based on priorities and ease of access for trainers, participants, and support staff.
• Consider new traffic patterns and shorter regular business hours of services such as banks, gas stations, pharmacies, and supermarkets as you design your new training schedule.
• Reassign trainers and participants to sessions considering their particular needs, such as transportation and family situations.
• Relax the dress code as much as possible, because many people may have limited access to power and water.
• Make arrangements to provide snacks and meals on site since food services may be limited right after the emergency. Your coffee break may be the only hot beverage that some of the participants have for the day.
• Include cell phone and Internet breaks so trainers and participants can handle any emerging business or personal issues.
• Facilitate access to electricity to charge cell phones and other tools during training.
• Allow time to talk about the experience when participants get together for the first time so they can move on to the day’s business.
• Be empathetic with those who may have suffered major losses and who may be reacting emotionally.
• Understand that some may overreact when they hear any news about weather while they are in training based on their experience during the emergency.
• Meet with your trainers at the end of each day to get their feedback and make any other changes to your plans as personal and business needs change.
Events, such as hurricanes and other similar natural emergencies, demand much contingency planning—in other words, Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D. As training and development professionals, we need to think of any possible causes for changes, cancellations, or reschedules.
We invite you to consider the issues that we presented here when you design your own contingency plans for your next project. All eyes will be on you. Today, it is a storm. Tomorrow could be something else. Prepare for the unexpected.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.