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How Deep is Your Bench?

Author: Larry Chester, President

I’ve seen it happen often. An employee walks off the job, and there is a sudden scramble in the office. Not only are there security issues, but who is going to do the work that Bob / Sally was doing? It seems to be more critical now, with difficulties in staffing. It’s always been hard to find the right people to do the work in your company, but now there’s the problem of finding someone to fill the empty slot in a tight hiring environment.

If you’re an entrepreneur, and you have a small staff, you are really picky about the people who are taking over a job that you’ve done yourself for the past number of years. In larger organizations it is no less important. Sometimes the major issue becomes not the concern and timing about getting someone in the job, but who is going to teach them? Who even knows how to do the job that the exiting employee did? Is your bench deep enough to protect your company from this problem?

What are the major issues that come to mind when an employee suddenly leaves a company:

  1. What security concerns do we have regarding the employee leaving?
  2. How do we find the right person to fill that role?
  3. How will the work get done in the interim?
  4. Who is going to teach the new employee?

Security Concerns

There are a number of things that are important here, depending on the individual’s role and what they have access to. If they have a laptop, your IT department needs to lock down that laptop immediately by resetting the password. If the individual has access to your company SharePoint – your cloud-based files – you need to have that locked up. You need to change the password on the employee’s email, so that they no longer can send messages or read emails that might be sent to them. And you certainly no longer want them to be able to send emails out from their company email address. Forward their emails to someone who will be able to continue to respond to clients, employees and suppliers.

Depending on the position of this individual, you may need to reach out to critical business partners, suppliers, customers, the Third-Party Administrator for your benefits, your insurance broker, etc. and especially your banks or other financial institutions. And you want to also look at any pending transactions that they might have initiated in the past day or two that could have an impact on your company now that they’re gone.

Finding the Right Person

The first question is: Do you even know what this person does? Have you spent the time to write up a policy and procedure manual so that there is consistent operation within your company? Is there a written job description, and does it accurately reflect the responsibilities of the position? Over the years that the person has held that role, the job has probably morphed. And, the longer that person has been in the job, the more that job has changed. If you don’t know all of the things that this employee was doing, then you’re not going to be able to clearly define the role. Your chances of finding the right person to fill it are significantly reduced. Determine what skillsets you need, who this role interfaces with, and be able to write an effective ad for the job. Now is as good a time as any to determine if the job your former employee was doing is still what you want done at that desk. You need to fill in the gaps to make sure that things continue to operate smoothly. That’s especially hard if you don’t know all the things that Bob / Sally was doing. If not, be prepared to be surprised on a daily basis for a while.

Getting the work done

This is where the rubber hits the road. When the office manager of 10 years walks off the job, who’s going to run payroll this week? Who is going to issue checks to the suppliers? Who is going to send out the invoices? Who is going to make arrangements for the Board meeting in two weeks?

In order to prepare for this eventuality, you need to have planned ahead. Take the time to do this now, because the pain you’re going to feel otherwise is going to be nearly unbearable. The simplest solution is to do something that nobody wants to be part of – cross training. But this is something that you should have been doing all along. Everyone takes vacation, or gets sick. What happens when they’re gone? “Oh, we’ll just wait for Bob / Sally to come back into the office.” Don’t let that be your excuse. Your company will suffer, your customers will be inconvenienced, and your suppliers will get ornery.

Here’s the painful remedy. Have your staff switch jobs! Seriously. OK, it doesn’t need to be for a couple of months. Let it be for a week every quarter or every six months, so that everyone stays sharp with the role and what needs to be. First of all, you’ll take care of that OMG moment when someone leaves. But it also means that your company is going to continue to function while that person is gone.

But do it the right way. Don’t just have the other person sit and watch. Have them take over the desk for a week. Do the invoicing, the order entry, the payables, the payroll, the cash application. Issue the purchase orders, arrange for the trucking company, call for IT service for the laptop that went kaflooey. Then when they really need to sit at the desk, they’ll be able to do the job. They’ll be completely familiar with the role. It won’t be a matter of “What did they do when this happened?” They’ll know, because they’ve done it.

With two people that are specifically trained in how to do the job, you are protected.

Teach the new employee

And that makes this last point simpler. If you’ve done the first three items, then the fourth becomes nearly routine. You have a procedure manual of the tasks that Bob / Sally has been doing. You have someone that has been in that role as a backup for the past year or two. When that desk becomes vacant, the person on your bench who is waiting to be called in, is fully ready to not only do the job, but train the new hire to fulfill all the obligations that need to be taken care of.

It’s always difficult when you lose a key employee. It can be very painful, and even scary, if it’s a long term employee that you have trusted to be there “forever,” that leaves suddenly. It’s not just a matter of filling the role. It’s a matter of protecting the company, your ongoing business operations, and quite honestly, your sanity. You can’t know what needs to be done in every role in your company. Put the policies in place that make any transition, no matter how sudden, seem like a planned activity. It will ease your mind, and give comfort to everyone on your staff that interfaces with that now empty desk.

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