Tough Calls, Timing, and Trouble

View of Snow

It’s been a very rough winter for us here in the Puget Sound area. As I have noted previously, we’ve suffered wind, snow, rain, sleet, all resulting in power outages, school closings, and on and on. At times it feels like we’re only missing pestilence to round out the collection. Looking out at the snow makes us doubt the truth of global warming, no matter how “inconvenient”.

It has been a tough winter also on the school administrators. Our big power outage in December came during the holiday, but would’ve meant more than a week off school. Since then, we’ve had two major snow storms with several days off. As I write, our school has closed for the sixth straight day, as more snow has fallen just in time for the morning commute. The teachers are in a panic, missing a week in their curriculum can’t be fun. And ideas for making it up range from canceling spring break to additional time in the summer.

It has been a tough winter on the school administrators.

This all points out how hard it is to make the decision to close a school. There are dozens of dependencies to consider, including buses, teachers, new young student drivers, and angry parents who either don’t want to drive or don’t want to miss work. The pressure to get the school work in while keeping people safe makes for a continuous load of tough calls to make.

This morning was an especially tough call to make for our school head. At 5:00, the usual time when these calls are made, the predicted snow wasn’t here. Kids had been off since last Wednesday, when he made a quick and controversial call to close while other schools did not. So the pressure to stay open today was intense.

Then the snow came. Schools all around closed, even the stalwarts. And yet, the snow was supposed to stop any minute now, so how to decide? As it got later, the early students and teachers started arriving. But it still was snowing. Parents were calling. What to do? Well, he closed at the last minute (7:10 am), with students arriving, plans for the day long since decided. It’s a mess. Not only was last Wednesday’s call controversial, but today’s is sure to be as well. I can hear the phone ringing from 10 miles away.

How does this effect you? Well it points out some things you already know. Making decisions is never easy. Second guessing is. And the timing of decisions is often a no-win situation. Decide too early, you don’t have all the data. Decide too late, and the wheels may already be in motion.

Lay the groundwork for decisions well in advance.

It all points out the value of laying the groundwork for decisions well in advance. If you have a good vision for your project or organization, many of these kinds of decisions are easier to make. And there are a number of areas where you can predict the kind of difficulties you may run into, and “pre-make” the decisions well outside the panic of the crisis. That’s why I recommend you do the homework for a good People Strategy. And you can apply this same technique to a number of other areas.

I’m not sure if a clear “school closure” guideline policy would have helped today. But I do know that time and again in business, having a clear vision, spending the time to be prepared, and addressing predictable issues long before they arise, all combine to make you a better leader.