By Marnie Clarke, HR Consultant at Consult Capital

This year’s Rugby World Cup saw some top teams having to make do without star names as they vie for the title of world champion. The All Blacks had to do without icon Dan Carter, whose influence on the field as well as kicking ability is almost irreplaceable.

With smaller companies, it is often the case that heavy responsibility is placed on a handful of key personnel. In this situation, the loss of one of those members of staff through illness, retirement or a move to another company has significant implications for the bottom line. Not only are you losing specialist knowledge, of your business and the industry in which you operate, you may potentially lose the internal and external relationships that the staff member has built. There is also the danger of causing panic among stakeholders and customers.

While the nations can pick from a pool of replacements, what should business owners do if the same fate befalls one of their key performers?

Review how loss of key players can weaken your team structure
Realistically assess the value of each key staff member and carry out a risk assessment. It is important to remember that members of staff may be doing more than what their specific role sets out, be realistic in assessing their responsibilities.

Look for ways to minimise the impact in the event of worst case
Once you have identified these key players, think about how you can insure against their departure having a massive effect on the business.

The key is to establish the risks and plan ahead so that there are skills available both within your broader team and externally to be able to bridge the temporary gap.

Succession planning is key
By identifying and developing other internal staff that may have the potential to fill these business critical roles in the future, you are more able to meet a short term need as well as preparing them for a more senior role in the longterm. You can do this by providing training and other development activities but also may want to consider tailored work experience that gives the individual a real sense of the actual environment they may need to operate in.

So, should one of your key performers suddenly be absent from work, the efforts you have put into developing another individual will mean that you are able to ask that individual to step up to the role. With senior management advice and support through this temporary period, the essential tasks should still be carried out.

Additionally, you may want to do some research on interim and temporary resources available through external agencies. Discuss your critical roles with them in advance to get a sense of what they can offer, the kind of rates they would charge and build the relationship to ensure they truly understand your business environment. If this in place before the crisis occurs, you can quickly organise an external resource to come in and assist without risking making a hasty and potentially expensive decision. And finally ensure the key senior people are aware of these succession plans.

If a key member of staff has left by choice to pursue another opportunity, establishing why is crucial. If the problem is unhappiness or lack of job satisfaction, the issue should be addressed as quickly as possible so as to protect against other members of staff following suit.

Keep financially secure
In terms of financial stability, it may be worth taking out a Key-Man insurance policy. This sort of policy is often overlooked by businesses, but may be the difference between your company sinking or swimming in the face of a key loss. While the insurance can’t bring back the staff member, it can tide you over while you search for a replacement by covering anything from the cost of temporary staff to recruitment and loss of profits.

Establishing succession plans and assessing risks associated with losing key members of staff may seem like a time-consuming job, especially as the business landscape is constantly changing, but it is absolutely essential to safeguarding for the future.

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