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The Indispensable Employee……

‘If you make yourself indispensable to your employer, he is not going to part with you in a hurry no matter what it costs him.” Robert Baden Powell

This is all very well for the employee, but what will it cost you as an employer?

Think about your business for a minute and the key people in it; many of them will be valuable but are any of them indispensable? If the answer is yes, you have a big problem.

At first you may think; what’s the problem? – Ms Necessary is like gold to me. But, aside from the whole “what happens if she gets hit by a bus?” scenario, the chances are you are giving Ms Necessary a lot more leeway than (let’s face it) you know you should, and the balance of power is fast tipping in her direction.

Ms Necessary recognises that power lies in indispensability, so she’ll take care not to delegate key tasks, train subordinates or establish a succession plans. You may notice that when Ms Necessary goes on leave, key things are not done, so her absence is keenly felt.  Everyone is so grateful when she returns, that the fact that it’s actually her responsibility to make sure key tasks were covered in her absence, is not addressed.

We’ve seen situations where an “indispensable” person threatens to leave to get a pay increase, better conditions etc.. The employer think’s it’s a small thing, as the person really is key to the business, so comply. Sadly though, this is generally just the start, it’s a bit like negotiating with terrorists – all it does is open you up to more terrorism and higher demands. Once the business realises their dependence on this person, and the person realises their value, it gets to the point where employers don’t want to upset Ms Necessary, or get into a conversation with her where she might demand even more. They start to avoid managing her on a day-to-day basis, which results in small issues not being addressed in a timely manner then subsequently snowballing, and not calling her to account for her performance or behaviour.

In the broader workplace it sets a precedent where you risk being held hostage, not just to Ms Necessary, but to every employee who catches-on and realises that the way to get ahead is to pick a time when the business is vulnerable and name their price. This could be a time when someone else has left, peak periods etc..

To avoid this, it’s essential to establish clear KPI’s that include;

  • knowledge sharing behaviours
  • ongoing training and developing of subordinates within established succession plans
  • cross-training with staff in different roles
  • creating and maintaining Standard Operating Procedures for key tasks and work-flows

Make sure that there is a clear organisational chart. Not only does this set the blue-print for reporting and delegating, it makes sure that everyone knows who the boss actually is.

Establish a formal professional development program for staff at all levels, so that when one of your team is missing, there is someone ready to step in or step up to fill the gap.

For key senior and highly skilled and difficult-to-fill roles, have a contingency plan. This can include networking – try to have at least three people you can approach to hire, should Ms Necessary leave (or get hit by a bus) and build a strong relationship with a specialist search recruiter.

If you have an employee who is indispensable, fix it, because this is a huge risk to your business. Our experienced HR Gurus can assist with developing your organisational charts, training plans, recruitment and making sure that in your business, no one is indispensable.

Written by HR Guru – Louise Betts

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