The Devil is in the Details

For the past year we’ve focused on a lot of ‘strategic’ issues: decision making, incident management, debriefing, yadda, yadda, yadda…

And yes, many of the strategic issues we’ve written about are important – they’re critically important. But the goal is simple. Recover from the emergency in the safest, most efficient way possible. Restore utility service to your customers in the safest, fastest way possible. And while you’re at it, make good use of your community liaison and engage in proactive restoration communications to let people know what you’re doing.

“The devil is in the details.”

Equally important is the ability to execute at all levels. That means you have to be able to track each person stationed alone near a downed wire so they’re not stranded without relief. You need to have work lined up for the mutual assistance crews when they arrive and are ready to work. You need to have the materials available. You need to mobilize ALL the potential resources in the company, not just the usual players. You need to be firing on all cylinders. You need to consider and take care of hundreds, maybe thousands of details. That’s why the “devil is in the details.”

Customers freezing in the dark or sweltering in the sun are hungry for one thing more than their service restored – they’re hungry for details. That means going beyond the Sgt. Joe Friday “just the facts ma’am” approach. Explain your restoration process – explain why they might see various people from your company come and go, but no repairs happening right away. Explain why every executive level complaint that comes in can’t be a priority. Talk about how you understand their concerns and what actions you’re taking. Avoid the Cassandra Complex, the dreaded process bottleneck, and above all, “corporate jabberwocky.”,

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; In practice, there is.
-Chuck Reid

This stuff is not hard. But it does require an attention to detail. It requires an organized, well-documented approach. It requires the commitment of company personnel to work together for a common goal. It requires that every employee understand that at the end of the day, the customer is the end of the story. Without customers, there is no need for the rest of it.

That’s why that big binder – flash drive or online document – the Restoration Plan with all the details – is so important. It’s a pain in the butt to put it all together. It’s annoying to keep it updated. It’s about the least exciting document you’ll ever read. It too often gathers dust on the shelf or goes ignored. And it is absolutely vital.

“It’s all very well in practice, but it will never work in theory.”
-French management saying

The secret to keeping the details alive and healthy is to give them some exercise. Think about pre-season training camps. The athletes all have the skill sets to get the job done. The coaches have the strategies and playbooks thought out in advance. Hours are spent in lecture, coaching, chalk-talks and film study. And none of that is enough to get the job done.

Weeks of training camp are spent in exercise, sharpening fundamentals, practicing the tactics, running through the teamwork processes. And all that time is spent in order to deal successfully with a single ungovernable factor – the stress of the moment. It is common for coaches to make practice sessions tougher than actual game conditions to help players deal more successfully with that Stress.

Practice is the best of all instructors.
-Publilius Syrus (~100 BC)

There’s no doubt about it – the devil is in the details. A well documented process will prevent you from reinventing the wheel, repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Exercise that process and it will become strong, able to cope with the unusual stresses of emergencies. Because practice itself is yet another “detail.”

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