Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The health and well-being of its operator or owner is a critical, yet often overlooked element in the day-to-day operations any business. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and even some larger businesses hinge on the vision, leadership, and daily involvement of their owners.

 

But what happens if the owner suddenly falls ill and is unable to fulfill their role? It’s a situation, says Linda Braga, that many business owners do not think about.

 

“It’s not even at the forefront,” says Linda, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years. “I think there is a real lack of awareness because no one wants to think about facing an imminent illness.”

 

In fact, according to a recent StatCan figure, only 15% of business owners actually have a contingency plan in place for themselves in the event of illness.

 

“That’s very surprising,” says Linda. “In light of what happened with the pandemic and contingency planning, it is something that leaders should have in place.”

 

A contingency plan serves as a blueprint for maintaining operations when the owner is incapacitated. It outlines clear procedures and assigns responsibilities to other key team members to ensure that the business continues to run smoothly. This foresight helps prevent disruptions that can lead to lost revenue, decreased customer satisfaction, and potential long-term damage to the company’s reputation.

 

Demonstrating resiliency

 

“We know that in leadership resilience is the theme and having a contingency plan is just demonstrating a company’s resilience to ensure that they are not going to be impacted in a negative way,” says Linda, adding that for many leaders, their business is essentially their ‘babies’. “Wouldn’t you want to ensure if something happens that it is going to be taken care of?”

 

She believes fear of showing any vulnerability is not necessarily the reason many business leaders appear to be hesitant to put plans in place, but pertains more to a time management issue.

 

“They are just so busy with everything that they’re doing. It’s not their priority,” says Linda, adding some fully trust their team will be there to ensure the business continues to smoothly operate and leave no plan in place. “They have to realize when it’s not written in stone or a procedure that’s written out it can create ambiguity and lead to decision paralysis with the leaders and management that’s left behind.”

 

She says knowing there is a plan in place can significantly reduce stress and anxiety for the owner, their family, and the entire organization. It provides peace of mind that the business can withstand unforeseen challenges, allowing everyone to focus on recovery and continuity rather than crisis management.

 

“If you’re dealing with an emergency, why would you want to add any additional stress?” says Linda. “All of your top-level management should have a contingency plan in place.”

 

By preparing for the unexpected, businesses can safeguard their operations, protect their stakeholders, and ensure long-term sustainability. Every business, regardless of size, should invest time and resources into developing a robust contingency plan, securing its future against looming uncertainties.

 

 

Preparing for a scenario where the business owner suddenly falls ill and must take a leave of absence is crucial for ensuring the continuity and stability of the business. Here are several strategies a business can implement to be well-prepared for such a situation:

 

1. Develop a Comprehensive Succession Plan

This involves identifying key personnel who can step in temporarily and ensuring they are adequately trained.  The plan should include:

 

  • Designation of Interim Leadership: Appoint a trusted individual or a committee who can take over the owner’s responsibilities. This person or group should be well-versed in the business operations and decision-making processes.
  • Role Clarity: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the interim leaders to prevent any confusion or overlap of duties.
  • Emergency Contact List: Maintain an updated list of key contacts such as legal advisors, financial consultants, and major clients or suppliers.

 

2. Document Key Processes and Procedures

Having detailed documentation of all critical business processes is essential. This should include:

 

  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Document daily operations, workflows, and procedures for all key functions.
  • Financial Protocols: Outline how to handle financial transactions, payroll, and accounts payable/receivable.
  • Client and Vendor Information: Keep an up-to-date list of clients, vendors, and contracts with detailed notes on ongoing projects and relationships.

 

3. Implement Robust Communication Systems

Ensure there are systems in place for seamless internal and external communication:

 

  • Crisis Communication Plan: Develop a communication strategy for informing employees, clients, and stakeholders about the situation and how it will be managed.
  • Delegation of Authority: Clearly communicate the hierarchy and decision-making process to all employees.
  • Regular Updates: Establish regular check-ins and updates to keep everyone informed about the business status.

 

4. Leverage Technology

Utilize technology to maintain business operations smoothly:

 

  • Project Management Tools: Use tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday.com to keep track of ongoing projects and tasks.
  • Cloud Storage: Ensure all important documents and data are stored securely in the cloud, accessible to the interim leaders.
  • Remote Access: Set up secure remote access to critical business systems so that management can operate from any location if necessary.

 

5. Financial Preparedness

Ensure the business is financially prepared to handle the owner’s absence:

 

  • Emergency Fund: Maintain a reserve fund to cover unexpected expenses during the transition period.
  • Insurance: Consider business interruption insurance and key person insurance to mitigate financial risks.

 

6. Legal and Administrative Measures

Take care of legal and administrative preparations:

 

  • Power of Attorney: Assign a trusted individual with the power of attorney to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of the owner.
  • Review Legal Documents: Regularly review and update legal documents such as partnership agreements, bylaws, and contracts to reflect the succession plan.

 

7. Training and Development

Invest in continuous training and development of employees:

 

  • Cross-Training: Train employees to handle multiple roles and responsibilities to ensure versatility.
  • Leadership Development: Develop leadership skills within the team to prepare them for taking on higher responsibilities if needed.

 

 

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