Businesses get into trouble when knowledge or relationships reside in a single employee. The reality is that team members leave the company, get sick, or otherwise become unavailable, sometimes with little or no notice.
If one employee is the only one who knows how to perform a specific process or use a particular tool, that’s a problem.
If one employee is the only one with a meaningful relationship with a vendor or client, that’s a problem.
If one employee is the only one who possesses some piece of specialized knowledge, that’s a problem.
As a business owner, you need to have a plan for handling the replacement of any employee.
That means that processes need to be clearly documented so that a co-worker or contractor can pick up the pieces on client service quickly.
It means that someone else — likely you as the owner — needs to have at least a serviceable relationship with every client in addition to their day-to-day contact.
It means that you need to know who you can tap in your network to temporarily cover for any deficit in specialized knowledge.
Even you as the owner should have a backup for everything that you do.
When I was the co-founder of a software company twenty years ago and ran all of the technical operations, I had an envelope in my desk drawer labeled “Hit by a Bus.”
Inside, there were all of the mission critical passwords and other information that my business partner could pass on to the appropriate people to keep the systems running properly in the event that I became suddenly ill, disabled, or worse.
Thinking about these things isn’t fun. The idea that an employee might become unexpectedly absent — voluntarily or otherwise — isn’t pleasant.
But it becomes more bearable if you know that you have taken the proper steps to prepare for just such an eventuality.
The upside is that the preparation process itself can often lead to discovering better, more efficient ways to do things. It can also help you identify opportunities to handle expansion of your current business.
Avoiding over-dependence on any individual employee may be one of the best ways to ensure that you are building a sustainable business that will meet the needs of you, your team, and your clients for years to come.