There’s a term I learned on my first marketing job at Johnson & Johnson that I’ve been using again a lot lately. We were a conservative group at the time, but not in the political or social way. We were conservative in that we were always scenario planning and outlining worst case contingency plans. It was our way of dealing with risk -- we expected it and we planned for it. In a way, we were waiting for it to happen, so if it did happen we’d be ready to react successfully.
Truthfully, the worst case rarely happened but I bet if we hadn’t thought about it ahead of time then it probably would have materialized.
We called it “belt and suspenders.” Meaning, we wore both a belt and a pair of suspenders just to make certain that our pants didn’t fall down. The belt was the contingency plan if the suspenders broke, and vice versa.
The current climate has started making me especially risk-averse again. I don’t like taking chances these days. Failure at work seems catastrophic now, so we must plan against it in every facet of our work.
Here are some strategies I use.
1. Back up my files
I’ve never done so many backups to my backups like I’ve done this year. I keep copies of important documents on my desktop, the server, a jump drive, and an internet storage system called The Box. Sometimes, I even mail a copy to my home desktop. While I’m creating documents, I save every thirty minutes and I create a new version every day . . . with the date on it so that they store in my files chronologically.
My documents take weeks to create and they involve a lot of brain power. Once I’ve got drafts in the making, I can’t possibly start all over again if something happens to the file due to a crash or virus. I wouldn’t even be able to start to recreate the thinking. So, I use the belt and suspenders strategy to make sure I’m covered.
It works. Just last week, a file that I’d been working on for months got corrupt the day before a big presentation to our CEO. Fortunately, I had saved a version on The Box just a few minutes before, so I rebooted my laptop and downloaded the document. I had only made a few changes since the last save and I still had all my notes. Bam.
By the way, I just saved this document.
2. Check in with my customers more regularly
Checking in with customer at all levels on a regular basis is not just good business, it’s also belt and suspenders. Catch problems before they happen, listen to frustrations before they guide decisions and help improve your work before it's finished. Check in with your customers in multiple ways at multiple levels to make sure the feedback is consistent and that nothing falls through the cracks.
3. Interview for talent
I am constantly meeting new people and interviewing for new skills, even if we don’t have an open position. Some call it a talent pipeline, but I call it belt and suspenders. You never know when a key team member is going to suddenly take a new job, get sick, take a break or fail to finish a job. You also never know when a new opportunity is going to come along that you need someone new to complete.
By constantly meeting people, you build a network of talent you can utilize whenever you need it.
Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People
4. Have dinner with my family
Work is endless; that’s the new normal. I know we’ve been saying this for years, but now it’s true . . . between emails, texts, video conferencing and more, we could literally work twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes, it feels like we do.
While I’m in constant contact with my family, it’s also important to have dinner with them once a week or as often as possible. Having dinner together is a different dynamic and you get a better sense of how they’re doing when you break bread. What doesn’t fit in 140 characters certainly comes out over spaghetti and meatballs.
Belt and suspenders works at home, too.
This is how I stay prepared for surprises and practice belt and suspenders. It might look a little silly, but you'll be glad for it when adversity strikes.