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Expecting the Unexpected: 4 Tips to Safeguard Your Business

Editor’s note: Check out our “Safety First” article in the September 2013 issue of CoatingsPro Magazine for a more detailed discussion about how to plan for a disaster and protect yourself and your business!

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was on its way to Charlotte, N. C., when two minutes after takeoff a flock of Canada geese flew into the aircraft causing both engines to fail. The passengers braced for impact. As the plane fell from the sky, the freezing waters of the Hudson River came into view and Flight 1549 hit the water at 150 mph (241 km/h). Dave Stockton, a businessman on the plane, said later in a television interview, “When you think you're going to die, you start thinking about your life…your family, little league baseball, things like in a movie." All 156 passengers survived the crash in the 36° F (2° C) water and their lives were changed forever.

That was a totally unexpected occurrence in everyone’s life that morning. But what was a sure disaster became a much different story than anyone could have imagined. Captain Sullenberger told Katie Couric in an interview on ABC that, while this emergency was unexpected, he was not unprepared. “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I've been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training,” Capt. Sullenberger said. “And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."

What was evident to everyone on Flight 1549 was that this captain had spent sufficient time preparing himself for the unexpected, which occurs every day in our coatings businesses and personal lives. Those who are wise always expect the unexpected and prepare accordingly.

Emergencies are inevitable, so how do you prepare for the unexpected?

Value Experience

Every business has a number of experiences — personal and corporate, positive and negative — in its history. It is impossible to run a business, including a coatings contracting one, without facing and overcoming difficulty. The collective wisdom learned ought to be shared. Rather than forgetting and burying past mistakes, those who are wise will take the time to review and discuss past solutions and new ways to confront problems should these past problems, or any similar ones, arise again. This is not about assigning blame but about discovering what went wrong and why. The corporate memory of senior employees who review problems in the past can help prevent them in the future.

Has your company dealt with workers getting injured on the job? Have you experienced disasters or illnesses? Slips, trips, or falls? Take those experiences and learn from them. After all, the experience of Capt. Sullenberger made the difference in the lives of everyone on board.

Rethink Training

In the archives of every business, whether it is entrepreneurial or corporation, big or small, events have occurred that need to be discussed and reviewed with an emphasis on discovering answers to past problems. This is exactly what Capt. Sullenberger's training was all about. He had investigated accidents in the past and understood the fatal flaws that resulted in tragic consequences. Although training can include attending a special class or seminar, such as how to wear proper protective equipment on the job, it’s not just that. Training takes place every day in how we view and carry out our tasks and responsibilities. Safety training is not simply where to find and operate the fire extinguisher, but what fires were caused in the past and why.

Educate Everyone

It is important to remember that Capt. Sullenberger took a number of flight safety training programs held throughout his career. What if his age, his background, or his previous educational experiences had disqualified him from training or what if he had decided it was unnecessary at his level of experience? The outcome may have been different.

Safety is everyone's business and training everyone is in the best interest of every business. Be sure to train everyone at your coatings company. Instill a sense of importance in training from the top (e.g., the company’s president and project managers), and it will continue down to the applicators and office workers.

Make Regular Deposits

Every day, your company has an opportunity to train, motivate, and recognize your employees. Helping everyone do best in whatever job he or she is doing ought to be the function of every manager.

Unexpected events do not always occur when leaders are around to make decisions. They can occur on the ride to the jobsite, on a rooftop, or when the coatings are delivered. When a tiny flaw in the manufacturing process becomes apparent, that’s often the place and time to act. It is those everyday occurrences where “confident” and “prepared” have the opportunity to make a difference in the outcomes that affect our employees, shareholders, management team, clients, and products as well as the wellbeing of our business.

Bringing It All Together

The unexpected can come from anywhere at any time. Who could have expected and prepared for a flock of Canada geese to bring down a modern aircraft? Capt. Sullenberger responded by trusting his experience, education, and training to guide him in wise and thoughtful action. You can do the same.

Taking care of the little details, learning to be observant, and discussing problems and issues without any fear is a trait of being successful. Training and experience helps everyone prepare for the unexpected so that when a major crisis comes a safe landing can be made.

About the Author:

Stan Craig is an accomplished financial planner, executive coach, and keynote speaker. He is also author of ForeTalk: Taking Care of Tomorrow Today. As a finance professional, Craig enjoyed a 27-year career at Merrill Lynch, which included positions as national sales manager, director of global sales for defined asset funds, and the first vice president and senior director of the office of investment performance. For more information, please contact:

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