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Every bit of profit should be kept from your hard-earned sales.
“This company would fall apart without me!”
... How many times have you heard that from colleagues and employees before?
While it may be a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke and perhaps even a bit of self-promotion (who doesn’t want to feel depended on?) - this seemingly casual claim pokes at a deeper, more serious question. Is your company relying too much on one employee?
Referencing the age-old phrase of someone “getting run over by a bus”, do you have employees that should they encounter the terrible misfortune of getting run over by the proverbial bus would result in a real issue for your business operations? Are you at risk of being too dependent on a team member?
The answer is: probably - since this isn’t exactly a unique situation. A lot of companies run this way - and successful ones too! The only problem? Running this way stunts the company’s growth, so if you want to grow, you’ll have to face this issue head on and move away from this structure.
Does this mean you should depend on anyone? No, we aren't talking about heartless employments here either. We mean moving towards a structure where there is a healthy amount of dependency, the right balance. Like with any relationship, too much dependency from either side isn't healthy.
You won't see growing companies on track to Fortune 500 stardom working that way. Here is why:
Most small and medium companies tend to have the minimum number of employees needed who end up multitasking many activities. This makes sense - you are running a full operation with the bare minimum. Wearing many hats is part of the job. However, this also means that key tasks (let's use financial and operations management as our example) may be handled by one employee. This is the same for other functions the company needs - for example, a lot of the time sales are handled by the owner and since sales efforts can take up a lot of bandwidth, unloading other necessary tasks onto other employees only makes sense.
The biggest risk, however, is if (or when) that person leaves. These tasks that your subject matter expert were performing on their own now become difficult to perform for anyone else. Not impossible - but difficult. In times of difficulties, you aren't operating with full efficiency, and the work is often riddled with errors from trials. With everyone operating in their own silo, the information never gets passed around, documented, or cross-trained - opening up your company for vulnerability when someone leaves. Not only is your company now open to facing difficulties in the event of a staffing change, everyone remains spending all of their energy just getting the tasks done for the day, with only the short term in sight.
Consider another risk born from this dilemma. Due to the hand off of responsibility that may happen through necessity when someone leaves, whoever ended up taking on the task (still using finance and operations as an example) may not exactly be an expert on financials and operational activities. So what inevitably happens is this individual designs and develops their own methods on how they assume is the right way and continue to operate on tribal knowledge (without written documents about the process). See the "recreation of the wheel" happening here? Each person that picks up from before without a set structure or manual on "how to do this job", will end up giving their own take on what to do, and while they may be trying their best, they simply don't automatically know best practices from before. In terms of the business - the tasks still MUST be performed even when an employee leaves, so the risk is amplified here on potential hiccups while trying to ensure continuation of operations like before. Thankfully a lot of employers have wonderful attitudes like "don't worry, we'll figure it out". While that's certainly helpful, it is not as foolproof as preventing this from becoming an issue.
So what do you do?
Since you can't clone (yet!) or keep your most valuable employee's forever (against their will, anyway!) - the most important part of avoiding this situation from happening is to have robust systems and processes in place so that these important jobs always get done the right way no matter who is doing it.
Rather than depending on people, switch to dependency to processes and systems.
This isn't to be heartless and reduce 100% dependency on people. You still need amazing staff who are motivated and happy at work! But by switching, the shift and pressure will be removed from each individual person and everyone will breathe a little easier, your employee's too.
Once the processes are defined, the most important part is documenting the process to ease training the next staff person, which will ensure the standards are met.
An alternative to defining processes and documenting all of the standard operating procedures is to outsource these tasks (especially financial and operational) to a firm who are experts in this area. Why stress over finance and operations if that's not your passion? Was learning financial and operational management really the reason you started your business? Probably not - but they are important byproducts of your passion, so they can’t go ignored.
Tips to consider when selecting an outsourced COO function firm:
- Physical presence in the company - how often will they come to the company / be in office? Are you comfortable with the schedule and amount of face time with you and your staff?
- What is the fee structure like - monthly fixed fee, or hourly? Will they provide estimation of hours?
- Communication and delivery - make sure they provide very clear deadlines, and even with deadlines, be sure to follow up on progress. This way, you are still in control.