This article completes a trilogy of approaches to surviving various Supply Chain disasters by planning ahead. In last April's eUpdate we discussed: "Are Your Suppliers’ Supply Chains Strong Enough to Protect You?" And in October we asked: "Can You Run Your Supply Chain If Your Office Abandons You?" In addition to these key aspects there's a third, equally vital part of your Supply Chain that needs to be safeguarded - your staff capabilities. Are you prepared to cover for - or even replace - your key people if one or more leave unexpectedly? Is there adequate coverage for your own absences? Do you have a progressive backfilling plan? Have you selected or perhaps even groomed your own replacement? Let's look at each of these angles of disaster-preventive staff management.

Progressive backfilling is the most important for continuity, and it begins with you - can your department run effectively if you're gone for a week or two (or three) of business travel, or vacation? What if you need an extended (and perhaps emergency) medical leave? If your team has to keep checking with you throughout each day via email or cell phone either your reins are too tight, or you haven't trained your staff properly - or they're the wrong staff. Whatever the answer may be, whoever has to backfill your position should be able to manage smoothly in your absence, at least on tactical issues, until you return. What kind of issues? The ones that can't wait. Carrier selection and contract negotiation, for example, should wait for you, while calculating next month's LTL and Truckload fuel surcharges and notifying all of your carriers has to happen no matter who's missing from the office.

So think a moment: if you get hit by a truck, or detained by bad travel weather, or overcome by a medical emergency, who covers for you? A member of your staff? A peer manager cross-trained to cover your area? Someone else? In one company I worked for, my boss made sure that his three direct report managers could cover for each other's specialties. This meant that I as the Transportation Manager had to learn Travel Management and Fleet Management, while the managers of those areas had to learn each others' specialties and I had to teach them Transportation. We extended our training to include participating in each other's supplier negotiations, selection meetings, and even quality performance reviews throughout our various contract periods. This approach not only gave us all double-depth vacation and travel coverage, but expanded our skill sets and made us all more marketable for future job searches.

If cross-training a peer or two isn't the right answer in your situation, you're back to relying on your staff. That means identifying strategic items that can be put aside until you return, and selecting someone to cover for your critical tactical responsibilities. Keep in mind that your staff is already busy, and adding every one of your responsibilities on to their shoulders would be too much to ask. However, unless you have an official second-in-command (which is somewhat rare in these days of lean staffing), you'll need to pre-designate one of your staff to be in charge while you're gone. And you'll need to provide that person with the training and information needed to function on your behalf, and make it clear to the rest of your staff and internal and external customers that this person is acting for you, has the authority to manage and make decisions, and that you will back the decisions he or she makes.

Now that coverage of your own position is in place, we'll look at ways to insure continuity of operations in spite of the sudden departure(s) of the people who work for you - next month in Part Two.

This article is part of the monthly series authored by ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain topics.

George Yarusavage, CTL, C.P.M., is a principal in Fortress Consulting, specializing in Transportation and Sourcing issues. He is also the Treasurer of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at, or (203) 984-4957. Membership in the Group is open to all ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in the Logistics & Transportation fields.