We recently spent a week in Cortina D’Ampezzo, in the Italian Dolomites, with some friends, with whom we’ve holidayed many times over the years. My mate Richard has, in fact, appeared in several previous blogs (including ‘Horses for courses‘, ‘Good enough?‘ and most of the ‘Abersoch Open’ blogs). There were nine of us altogether – four Osbornes plus lodger (see ‘Snow bother‘) and our friends, their daughter and her boyfriend.
The chalet hotel that we stayed in was staffed almost entirely by young people, most of whom had just finished university. Because it was early in the season, for most of them this was the first week of working with the punters after completing a week’s training.
They were all really friendly and enthusiastic, bless them, and so we forgave some of their culinary faux pas, which included two burnt starters, the creative use of what was clearly tomato ketchup as the ‘tomato sauce’ in a chicken dish, some interesting and inventive combinations of ingredients and the exceedingly lumpy porridge, which, at least on the day that I decided to have it, wasn’t actually porridge at all, but Ready Brek or, perhaps, its Italian equivalent (Pronto Brek, presumably).
One waitress in particular took the friendliness and enthusiasm to spectacular heights. She obviously felt that she needed to make conversation with the punters at every opportunity, and so she did, leading to some very strange exchanges. For instance, during dinner one night, Richard was showing a photograph on his phone of their previous dog, which the waitress noticed as she was collecting plates from our table. “Oh, what a lovely dog”, she exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s dead” said number one son, for whom subtlety is not a major talent, to which the waitress replied, cheerfully, “I have a dead dog too”! Things got stranger still when I upped the anti with “We’ve got three dead dogs at home”, but even that didn’t diminish her cheerfulness one bit. I should, perhaps, qualify that statement by explaining that by ‘at home’ I mean buried in our garden, rather than actually at home, which would, admittedly, be a bit weird.
Strange conversations aside, the skiing was excellent. Until, that is, the proverbial fly deposited itself in the proverbial ointment, on the third day. Richard came down to breakfast feeling a bit queasy. Not particularly unusual, given the amount he’d put away the night before, but it turned out to be the start of a nasty little sickness bug that hit several of our party and, it seems, a fair few of the other guests, during the course of the week. I started feeling dodgy the next morning and, although I managed to get through the day, I felt lousy, and that night it hit me like a train. Decorum dictates that I spare you the detail but suffice to say it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. I spent the next morning in bed and, whilst I manfully dragged myself up the mountain at lunchtime – to watch the others eat – my lack of energy made for a less than optimal afternoon’s skiing for me.
Having recovered from my bout of ski-sickness, I ever-so-slightly overdid the apres-ski on the penultimate evening, which turned into early morning before I staggered up to my room. So as not to wake Mrs Oz, who had sensibly gone to bed much earlier, I opened the door as quietly as I could and sneaked, silently and Ninja-like across the room to the little walk-in wardrobe. At which point Mrs Oz asked “Are you looking for something?”.
According to Mrs Oz, this is (allegedly) how the conversation then went…
Oz : “A goat hanger”.
Mrs Oz : “A goat hanger?”.
Oz (chuckling) : “Yes, a hanger for goats”.
Mrs Oz then put on her bedside lamp.
Oz : “You don’t need to put your light on”.
Mrs Oz : “It’s so you can see what you’re doing”.
Oz : “I’m going to put the light out if you’re going to watch me”.
Mrs Oz : “But how are you going to see the goat hanger?”
Oz : “I’ll put mine on then, ‘cos I’m going to read for a while anyway”.
Mrs Oz : “Will you be able to understand the words?”.
Oz (giggling) : “I don’t understand my t-shirt at the moment!”.
Oz (a few moments later) : “It’s OK, I’ve done it. I’ve got the pocket on the front and everything. I’m going for the shorts now”, then (both of us now howling with laughter) “stage one complete” (right leg in), “stage two complete” (left leg in) and “stage three complete” (shorts pulled up).
For the record, Mrs Oz was, as per usual, absolutely correct – despite a valiant attempt, I couldn’t see, let alone understand, the words in my book.
The following morning, I have to admit, I was a bit delicate and a teeny bit grumpy – made more so by the seventeen repetitions of the first few bars of ‘Lavender’s Blue’ on the hotel piano by one of the children – the fourth or fifth time we’d had the ‘pleasure’ of this experience. This was repeated after dinner, at which point it was suggested, quite loudly, by one of our party (OK, I admit it, it was me) that someone might teach her another tune. The hint was duly taken and daddy removed said child from said piano. Just to be on the safe side, first thing in the morning I put an ‘out of order’ sign on the piano, which did the trick, at least for a few hours, after which said child obviously sussed that the sign wasn’t genuine and regaled us with her full repertoire again. Ever the peacekeeper, Mrs Oz diplomatically suggested that this evening I kept my comments to myself, and that threatening to break her fingers was wrong on several levels. So I suffered in silence. On my part at least – if only the same could have been said for the child prodigy and that flipping piano.
So what has all this got to do with business continuity?, you’d be forgiven for asking. Well, not a lot, if I’m honest, I just thought I’d share my little story with you.
That said, there are a couple of things that spring to mind :
Firstly, a minimal amount of training doesn’t make you an expert. In the same way that a few days’ training won’t turn a fresh-faced twenty-something-year-old into a cordon bleu chef or a public relations expert, a day’s crisis management training or a half-day exercise isn’t necessarily going to turn a business manager, however good they may be at that, into a crisis management expert or a consummate media spokesperson. The real expertise comes through regular practice.
Secondly, to quote Robert Burns (the English translation, at any rate) “the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry”. No matter how much thought goes into our planning, things are still apt to go wrong and even the most carefully thought out plans may need to be modified ‘in flight’ when the stuff hits the fan. So we need to ensure the people involved in using those plans have the capability to do so, rather than slavishly following a plan that no longer fits the situation. Which partly comes back to the first point.
We thought we’d planned our holiday pretty well – at least Mrs Oz had, as she’s the real brains behind our holiday planning (the Osborne males are pretty hopeless in this regard) – but a few things happened that we hadn’t anticipated and we just had to deal with them as best we could.
Despite that we had a (largely) enjoyable and (largely) incident-free holiday – if you don’t count my spectacular face-plant and 300 meter slide down a particularly steep slope on day two, or the fact that I lost my spec’s on the same day.
So that’s it for now. Apparently some people find writing about their problems cathartic. Sadly, all this has done for me is to plant that damned tune, or at least the first three bars of it, firmly back in my head! I apologise profusely if it’s done the same for you.
Agree? Disagree? Want to share your own thoughts or opinions?
Leave a reply (below) and let me know what you think.
Andy Osborne (known as Oz to friends and colleagues) is the Consultancy Director at Acumen, a consultancy practice specialising in business continuity and risk management.
Andy is the author of the books ‘Practical Business Continuity Management’, ‘Risk Management Simplified‘ and ‘Ski Boots and Celery – A Compilation of Oz’s Business Continuity Blogs’, as well as his popular blogs and ‘Tips of the Month’, all of which aim to demystify the subjects of business continuity and risk management and make them more accessible to people who live in the real world.
You can follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyatAcumen and link with him on LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/andyosborneatacumen