What do you do if one of your key people resigns, retires, or dies? It happens all the time…people leave, no matter how important they are to your organization. Believe it or not, employees are more concerned with their own welfare than they are with yours. So they leave, usually when you least expect it or when you need them the most.
Sadly, sometimes they die. It’s happened to me. In my long career, I have had several key employees pass away. Since people leave unexpectedly, you need to have a plan for handling these unforeseen departures. Our problem is that we always assume people are going to be here, and if they do decide to leave, we’ll have sufficient time to replace them. This almost never happens.
This is why I coach my CEOs to use the “hit by a bus” test
Take a look at each of your key people, and ask yourself this one question: “What if they get hit by a bus tomorrow?” If that makes you squeamish, ask “What if they slip on a banana peel?”
Bang! Just like that, they are gone, either dead or in the hospital. No notice, no hint, no warning. So what do you do? How do you handle their sudden departure? Most of us have no plans in place for key people departing. Our default mental position is that we will simply hire someone to replace them.This exercise yields a lot of valuable insights. Let’s take a look at key employee, “Bob.” If Bob gets hit by a bus tomorrow, how do I make sure there is continuity with his work? How do I replace him? Can I spread his work around to others? Does he have key customer relationships that I don’t have? Does he have important knowledge that is only in his head? Will we suffer for some prolonged period of time? The list of questions that Bob’s departure can prompt may be very long.
It can be an eye opener
However, knowing these issues gives you the ability to start planning to diminish the damage his departure might cause. It might also tell you some other things. For example, Bob is way overworked. Or Bob is doing things that others should be doing. Or Bob has made himself “indispensable” by hoarding and secreting key information from everyone else, or isolating key customer relationships so that no one other than himself can have any rapport or influence on the client. Another eye-opener may be that you don’t need Bob at all. Perhaps his role can be divided up and handed out to several others. Bob may simply be an expense that doesn’t need to be incurred.
You owe it to yourself to perform the “hit by a bus” test on all of your key people; figure out their roles, responsibilities, and critical functions/relationships; and develop a plan to handle their departure with minimum negative impact on the organization.