Michael Vick and The Second Role

A successful restoration event requires the best efforts of an assortment of company resources – not just the field personnel. Of course, don’t try telling that to a lineman, because we know what the answer would be: “Just get those office / engineering people out of my way”.

Of course, 90% of the time there are enough people to handle restoring outages. But for the other 10% of the time, the normal resources are stretched thin, worn out, and overworked. And you know what happens then…then you might turn into Michael Vick (don’t worry -I explain the connection later in the post).

Since utilities can’t permanently staff for that 10% occurrence, how do you handle it?

Some companies operate under the philosophy that every employee has an emergency role, sometimes called second roles or storm jobs. For some, their emergency job is the same as their everyday job – line personnel, customer service personnel, field engineering, etc. But for others, that second role could be something very different from what they do on a day-to-day basis.

Some companies don’t utilize all their available second rollers in emergency situations, or even expect them to pitch in. Why is that?

Maybe it’s the silos. Some organizations just don’t share resources well across business units. Sometimes it’s individual resistance: “That’s not what I signed up for when I joined the (finance / legal / accounting / staff engineering – pick one) department. It’s not my job.”

On the other hand, second rollers themselves can have legitimate concerns:

  • “You know, we did emergency restoration training me once a few years ago, but I haven’t really been involved since then.”
  • “How do I find out what I’m supposed to do?”
  • “Who am I supposed to be working with? Who am I working for? I’ve never met any of these people.”
  • “You want me to go where? What’s this ‘Storm Room’ they keep talking about?”
  • “I’d like to help, but I really don’t think I have the skill to do what they’re asking me to do.”
  • “Just how do I fit in the plan here?”

Take Michael Vick (please). He might be the NFL’s most dysfunctional second roller. Wonderfully skilled as an “option” quarterback, he’s stuck in a West Coast offense with the Eagles. Restricted from playing in the pre- and early season, he looks ill-prepared, overmatched and, frankly, lost. Too many adjustments to make, not enough time. He has every Eagles fan praying for the continued good health and safety of Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb.

In other words, second rollers may be willing, but the system might be weak. Inadequate training; insufficient job aids; exercises that don’t give second rollers enough practice or opportunities to build relationships prior to “The Real Thing” – none of this adds up to a promising plan for handling intense or extended crises.

As a result, breakdowns become self-fulfilling prophesies. Operations personnel come to assume that no one else but they can do their jobs. So when a second roller shows up unskilled, ill-equipped and asking a lot of questions, the prediction comes true. There isn’t time during a storm restoration event to babysit and train the outsider who has shown up to help.

So why are operations people reluctant to accept help from ‘outside’ personnel?

  • Takes too long to stop and show these second role folks what to do, and how to do it, in the heat of the battle.
  • Operations people feel that it reflects negatively upon them if the job isn’t done right, and they don’t have trust.
  • Sometimes, it’s just misguided professional pride. “We can handle even the toughest situations.”

Yet it doesn’t take much to trigger the need for a second roller. A few dozen cases of flu here, a vehicular accident there, employees’ families in need, one of those 96 hour marathon ice storms – a few good second rollers every now and then could make a difference.

Exclude second rollers from your emergency planning at your peril. Nobody wants to have to rely on a Michael Vick, unless he really is part of the game plan.

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