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Contingency for the workplace mousetrap

by Harvey Mackay
| June 27, 2010 9:00 PM

Down on the farm, a mouse peeked through a crack in the wall and saw the farmer's wife open a small package. Thinking at first it might be a tasty treat, the mouse grew very concerned when he realized that it was a mousetrap!

The mouse immediately took to the farm yard to warn all the other animals, "There's a mousetrap in the house!" The response he got was not encouraging.

The hen clucked, raised her head and said, "It's not my problem! Mousetraps are of no concern to me."

The pig was no more helpful. "I am sorry to hear that, but all I can do is hope that you don't get caught in it. I hope that helps."

The cow was unsympathetic. "I am powerless over a mousetrap. It's really no big deal, as far as I am concerned."

The mouse was hungry by this time, and returned to his hole in the wall to wait for the farmer and his wife to go to sleep. Finally, when it was very dark, he ventured out in search of some cheese. The sound of the mousetrap catching its prey awakened everyone.

The farmer's wife rushed out to see what was in the trap. What happened next surprised everyone. In the dark, she did not see the venomous snake that had entered the house looking for a mouse dinner. But the snake's tail got caught in the trap, and the snake bit her. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, but when she came home, she still had a fever.

Figuring that chicken soup would be a good remedy for the fever, the farmer sacrificed the chicken for the soup. But her condition didn't improve, and friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock so the farmer could tend to his crops and animals. In order to feed them all, the farmer butchered the pig. Even so, the wife did not survive the fever. So many people came to her funeral that the farmer had to slaughter the cow to provide meat for the luncheon.

And the mouse watched the events unfold with great sadness from his little hole in the wall, because all the friends who had ignored his warning were gone.

We all know mouse stories like that: We see a problem and try to warn our co-workers but they don't see the big picture. Suddenly, or so it seems, the domino effect has tumbled through department after department and no one seems to know how it happened.

When one area of your company is in trouble, chances are good that the problems will trickle down to rain on everyone. Sales are slumping? Then production will be affected at some point because the product isn't moving. Similarly, production issues can cast a cloud on sales when products aren't available when customers need them.

Phone lines and websites that crash can shut down an operation in a hurry, even if sales are up and production is on schedule. A snowstorm, hurricane or flood will halt the most efficient, best-run businesses, unless contingency plans are in place for remote operation.

As one who deals in morals of the story, I think the moral here is very clear: All the parts need to work together to keep the whole body moving ahead.

Whether you are a one-person operation or a major corporation, there is one question that you should always ask and answer: What can go wrong? What can make your best-laid plans fall apart? What would be the worst-case scenario? And how can you respond to it?

If you've ever played the child's game "Mousetrap," you know that you can progress through the obstacles until you almost reach the "cheese." Then, when you least expect it, the dreaded mousetrap falls.

Play "Mousetrap" with your staff. Think about likely as well as outrageous eventualities that you would need to address: The whole staff gets sick from tainted birthday cake and the office has to shut down for a week. A long-term power outage knocks out every machine and all communications on the planet. The city tears up the streets around your business during your busiest season. An asteroid hits your city. Your bank fails and ties up your payroll. Your biggest competitor builds a better mousetrap.

It's not so different from the lesson you learned in school - the time to study for a test is before you take it.

Mackay's Moral: Be prepared, or be prepared to fail.

Harvey Mackay is the author of The New York Times' No. 1 best seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his Web site, www.harveymackay.com, by e-mailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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