Andy: Hey! Here’s some news no one wants to hear: This week is just about the last week you have to get “ready” for the holiday season.

Emma: I know we sound like one of those stores that starts decorating with candy canes before Halloween has even happened, but it’s because I have a long history of being completely flummoxed by everything the holidays throw at me as a manager.

Depending on what industry you’re in, starting right around now through December 25th, every day has the potential of being more insane and high-pressure than the one before. Layer in one-third of your team coming down with the flu, or your highest performer forgetting their laptop charger on a snow day, or needing to accommodate someone’s two-week vacation you approved way back in May — why not all of the above on the exact same Monday morning? — and the holidays become a gingerbread-scented nightmare.

Andy: All of this to say, there are going to be a lot of people out of the office pretty soon. That means capacity planning.

Emma: Also known as “math.”

Andy: Correct! I love this stuff. It’s about as straight-forward as managing gets. Right now, you need to know how long it takes to get the work done, who needs to be there to do it, and what’s going to get stuck if they aren’t. We covered a lot of it in Know your numbers, but a few seasonal specifics to add to the mix:

  • Where could the work get stuck or blocked if people are out?
  • How can I build a buffer or a workaround to make my team immune to capacity issues?
  • How many people do I need working to get the minimum necessary accomplished?

Emma: I also encourage you to gather your co-managers and top performers to brainstorm a little risk assessment. Imagine different scenarios: What happens if you’re down one person for the next six weeks? How about two people? Three people? Build those contingency systems and processes now.

Andy: Do it. They are comforting to have in your back pocket, and they will also help prevent you from expecting whoever does show up at the office to just blast through their sick teammates’ work — which is always my first instinct. I’ve learned to think of it like an airline overselling tickets for a flight. They can’t just pile more people on the plane. They have to pull other levers: a later flight, a different route, free travel vouchers. Sometimes they just say, “Sorry, we’re oversold and we’ll get to you when we can.”

Consider now, before colds and snow and company-wide festivities start in earnest, what your business equivalents are to a later flight or free travel vouchers. At Groupon, we had ways we could reroute deals so they skipped some of the layers of editorial. It wasn’t ideal — we designed those layers for a reason — but it was temporary. And, we were able to mitigate potential damage by choosing which deals got the abbreviated treatment: a high-visibility 10-day guided trip on the Siberian Railway would not be skipped, but a $10 for $20 at Small Town’s corn maze was a good candidate.

Emma: At Reviews, we kept work product expectations the same as the rest of the year, but stripped our schedules of meetings, trainings, and “up-leveling” initiatives. I know managers who have a squad of temp workers on call for when things get dicey. Different levers, but a similar number of hours put back in the week.

Andy: I know it can be tricky to make these calls. It feels like failing when we can’t do the work the way we expected to. It’s not.

Emma: Not at all. It’s failing when we don’t adapt to our new inputs.

Andy: Happy Q4 everyone! Godspeed.

More Q4 Preparedness

In the spirit of workarounds: Our amazing illustrator was unavailable for this week’s Good Boss Achievement Stickers. Please enjoy our rapid-fire responses to three extra Q4-themed questions in their stead.

1. How accommodating should I be about vacation time?

Emma: I vote to be as accommodating as possible.’Tis the season, after all. If you know you won’t be able to sign off on everyone’s vacation time, communication is key. Once you know your capacity, sound the alert that people need to get their requests in. Share how you’ll be approving and/or prioritizing requests, and when you’ll stop. If you can, explain to people who won’t get their desired vacation time how it will be made up to them: comp time in the new year, extra pay, first dibs next holiday season, etc.

Andy: Don’t be afraid to get creative. If you have a work-from-home policy or can figure out a way to create weekend shifts so people can travel to their destinations, do it. It’s 2019! If your people don’t need to be on-site to do the work, don’t make them be on-site.

2. People are taking “sick days” when I don’t believe they are really sick. What do I do?

Andy: Unless this is a rampant problem, accept it. If you tell me you’re sick, you’re sick. I do not need a phlegm report or doctor’s note or a deepdive into the cause — was it the buffet? the unrefrigerated mayo sandwich? Spare me.

Emma: One of the best bosses I’ve ever had told me he mentally auto-corrects anyone’s “I’m sick” to “I am unable to do quality work today,” and that strategy has served me well over the years. It covers a whole host of diagnoses: hangovers, period cramps, bad gas, deep sorrow, distractingly good weather.

Andy: It’s usually for the best when your people opt out instead of push through. They’ll feel better faster and they won’t make any kind of Sudafed-induced mistakes you’ll end up having to un-do down the road.

3. I’m trying to get ahead for Q1, but am drowning in Q4. Help!

Andy: Has anyone ever managed to successfully plan Q1 while in the throes of Q4? Honestly, I don’t usually prep for Q1 until the beginning of January.

Emma: At the earliest!

Andy: Please email us if you have ever accomplished this amazing feat. We’d like to interview you.