Covid Resource Center
There is a business management phenomenon called “Bus Theory”– namely, the factor by which a project or business would be affected if team members suddenly disappeared from a project. It has even become a macabre joke — someone mightsay “If I was hit by a bus tomorrow” this company would fail.
In 2008, my fledging startup team got a call you never want to receive: one of our server administrators had been killed in a motorcycle accident. At the time, the company was small, less than a handful of employees. Not only was the loss of life a tragedy in its own right, but every one of us had expertise that no one else had. The “bus factor” for each one of us was simply unacceptable.
It took us months to unravel the mess that his death left behind. Years later, there were still virtual machines and systems we didn’t have access to — mainly because we didn’t know they existed. We had to recreate his daily tasks from scratch, and it caused us a lot of security headaches along the way.
So how can you make sure you are truly prepared for the unexpected?
Once the shock wore off, my company and I realized that this was not an isolated incident. As a small company, we didn’t actually know what anyone else did day-to-day, we just assumed work got done somehow.
To combat this, we first polled each employee on what their day to day tasks were in a free-form survey. Once you have those results, you’ll quickly be able to see what is being done –or not –and by whom.
We created a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted or Informed) matrix chart with all the listed tasks, and some others that we felt should have been listed but may not have been thought of. We then sent that out to our team and had them complete it.
Based on their results, we were able to identify a few glaring issues –namely, there were some roles that no one was completing at all, and many others that no one claimed accountability or responsibility for. Worse still, there were multiple items that only one person had chosen for any at all.
When you see these roles and responsibilities laid out on a RACI chart, it becomes immediately clear where you need to focus your training and hiring resources.
Once we had a fairly good overview of what everyone was working on, we now needed to have them write a basic procedure manual for their job. These started out basic– more like checklists– and over time started to gain a lot of detail. As the company grew, this “training manual” became a bible. It allowed us to onboard new employees quickly and ease the pressure for outgoing ones.
My rule of thumb for documentation is thatanytime you create or learn something new that you feel is a valuable addition to your job, simply write down what you learned and what sparked the exercise. For example, if you were trying to create a PDF from a Google Form and found an awesome new tool, write down what the intention for the tool is, how to install that tool, how to use the tool.
And most importantly, make sure that no one person is solely responsible for anything in your company. As we were a new company with relatively young employees, it was fairly unthinkable to us that the “bus factor” would take effect. Once it did, however, we instituted cross-domain training for everyone in the company.
We created distributed backups for every role listed on our sheet, so no one person was solely responsible for anything.
With these simple precautions, you can ensure that even if the worst does happen, it will be full steam ahead.
When Julia Cheek founded Everlywell in June 2015, she was, by her own estimation, “perhaps the least qualified person to start a health care startup.” And yet, as her Austin-basedat-home lab testing companyapproaches its fifth anniversary, she finds herself overseeing a staff of about 100 people, providing home tests for allergies, food sensitivities, thyroid conditions, and, as of May 2020, Covid-19. The company raised $50 million in its last round of funding and was listed at No. 3 on the Inc. 5000 regional ranking for Texas this year.
In anInc. Real Talk: Business Rebootlivestream, Cheek, 36, spoke withInc. editor-at-large Tom Foster and took questions from viewers.Their conversation ranged fromhelping her team cope with quarantine to making big decisions. Here are some highlights.
In May, Cheek and her board decided to give away $1 million to labs across the U.S.to help them develop a working test for Covid-19. For a startup still counting every dime, it wasn’t an easy check to write.However, Cheek saysthey made the decision quickly. “It took about an hour,” she says. “It was one of the fastest and easiest decisions made in the history of the company.”
She knew that funding those labs would speed up development of an at-hometest. She also had to make decisions internally to offset that cost while doing everything possible to maintain head count. That meant scaling back every discretionary dollar her team could find–Goodbye, office coffee!–in order to do the right thing and keepher team. “I wanted to protect as many jobs as possible,” she says.
“It was the right decisionmade at the right time,” she says now. A month later, she’s hiring.
When asked how she deals with the challenges of running a companyfrom home (with a new baby) as well as whilewitnessing the protests in the streets, Cheek was quick to stress the importance ofmakingsure her colleagues are able to cope. “I worry like a mom about every one of our team members,” she says. That means asking herself how her team is doing all the time and asking herselfhow she can make their days better. Sometimes that means encouraging them to disconnect from Zoom or other digital platforms and take care of themselves. “Our primary focus is: What does every employee need for their mental health?” she says.
As for her own self care, she’sbeen developingwellness routines, including taking many meetings while walking and doing her best to separate her home workspace from the rest of her house.
Cheek spoke at length about the difficulties she encountered while seeking funding as a female founder, despite the fact that she went to Harvard Business School and had a strong network.
“It was hard for me,” she says. “So you can imagine how hard it is for people of color, especiallywomen of color. I heard a lot of noes. What I learned is that it only takes one yes.” Among those yeseswas one on-air boost from Shark Tank‘s Lori Greiner, which doubled Everlywell’s sales overnight.
Ultimately, Cheek says, people needto talk about funding obstaclesopenly and honestly and encourage entrepreneursand investors to confront theirbiases. “It’s important that founders hear stories and become part of the solution,” she says.
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