I had a key employee quit this morning. With a small business, I guess all employees are key. But this has put me in a serious bind and you would think I would have known better. A year or so ago, I had a key office person quit. But I've learned some lessons that I need to make sure are implemented before this happens again (and it will happen again).
In 2009, the person that left handled many key internal functions that no one else knew how to do. When she left, I really thought it could be the end of my business because we relied on her so heavily. I didn't let on to the rest of the staff, but I was scared to death. But I took on her responsibilities before hiring someone else and learned a great deal in a very short period of time.
The employee that quit today, while extremely valuable, many of her jobs can be outsourced. The most immediate problem is meeting deadlines with work in progress.
- Everybody can be replaced. No one is so valuable they can't be replaced. Be prepared so that one particular employee can't hold the business "hostage."
- Customer communication. If the relationship with the customer is deep enough, they will be more than understanding in crisis situations. But that foundation must be built long before the crisis.
- Cross-train. While I did do this to a minor extent, I did not stay on top of my "good intentions" and enforce the cross-training plan. A detailed plan and schedule should be in place for cross-training employees. I had the plan and dropped the ball on the schedule.
- Employee reviews. No matter how small the business or how much you feel like family, do regular employee reviews and document any performance issues.
- Have a network ready for outsourcing your work. This is useful not only in a crisis such as mine, but when you have a surge in business volume. You can outsource to meet timely deadlines instead of hiring. And if business volume remains high, then hire.
The easiest way to gain experience is to learn from the mistakes of others. I hope my procrastination on some of these issues will help others.
David A Moore is a cross-media marketing junkie fueled by Mountain Dew. His habit is supported as managing partner of Advantage Printing, a commercial print and marketing service provider serving churches, nonprofits and small businesses.
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