"The Junk Drawer" - I think I was 10 years old when I saw my first true meltdown situation, where a parent was clearly in the wrong. I was at a neighbor's house, and if my memory serves me, the mom was trying to make a roast. In order to make the roast she had to tie it up. Traditionally, one uses string to tie a roast. On this day, the mom, Joanne, could not find the string. I sat at the kitchen table with my neighborhood friend, and watched as Joanne slowly fell apart looking for the string. As the time ticked way, the dinner got closer, and the roast was still not in the oven she began screaming "Where in the hell is the string?" I can't type in this blog all of the colorful language that was used on the fateful day that Joanne could not find the string. After about 10 minutes of over-the-top explosion about the string, my neighborhood friend got up and walked over to their family junk drawer, opened it, held up the string, and said "Mom, it's right here, in the string drawer." The rest of us practically fell out of our chairs. The story remains a classic among our family friends.
I think we all have that drawer in our kitchen. This drawer holds everything that doesn't have a place. My friends called that their "string drawer". We call it a junk drawer in my house, but it serves the same purpose. I have things that I know live in the junk drawer, and I get frustrated when I cannot find them. It should be holding my black electrical tape. It should be holding the lighter for the fireplace. It should even hold an occasional screwdriver so when you need one, that's where it is found.
Although Joanne eventually found her string, there are times where I have lost things that I truly needed and I did not have a backup. These are even more frustrating. I have a Leatherman tool. I have not seen it for several years. When I was flying in the service, I could always put my hands on it. Now, it seems that I may never find it again. You would think I would simply buy another Leatherman tool and keep better track of that. I suppose that's an option, but I just can't give in like that.
In the workplace, we have tools that are incredibly invaluable. They are our employees. As summer approaches, the Maine Tourism Association is starting a promotion encouraging people to use all of their vacation time. In fact, they have gone as far as to offer to anyone in their organization that uses all their vacation time, an extra day as a gift, provided they spend that one more day in Maine. Chris Fogg, the director of the Maine Tourism Association, recently quoted the staggering number of unused vacation days that were left behind at the end of last year. He believes that if we could get all of our employees take one more day of vacation time in Maine it would result in overwhelming tourism revenue throughout the state.
As a business leader, and an advocate for state economic success, I'm a big fan. As a manager, I'm terrified. I have very specialized employees, they do specialized things. One more day out of the office means we go without, right?
Wrong. This is not the right approach. Obviously, for employee well-being and staff morale, we should be encouraging people to maximize the use of their vacation time that they have earned. So how do we make it comfortable for employees to go on vacation? The best way to mitigate the impact of their absence, and reduce the single point of failure problem, is through cross training. By taking time to train your employees in other areas of the workspace, you will find that they not only more thoroughly enjoy their job, but also feel more valuable to the team effort. Additionally, when they do go on vacation, there will not be as much panic or stress on your part, or theirs. They will have helped train somebody to do their job, and are comfortable with the fact that tasks will not be left undone. When they return to the workplace after vacation, they will not be met with piles of unanswered questions or issues.
So take time to figure out who is responsible for each task. Cross training is a valuable resource and will not only make vacations more supportable, but also provide for coverage in the case of a short notice leave or departure. On top of that, it will reduce the number of sleepless nights, you, as a manger, will lay awake worried about losing a key employee. You will always be able to find the string in the string drawer.