How to survive the loss of an important member of staff

31 December 2015

2 min read

Few SMB owners plan for the loss of an important member of staff – but it could be something worth addressing. We share our advice.

How to survive the loss of an important member of staff (Desktop)

Losing a key member of staff is one of a small business owner’s greatest fears. When a business employs just a handful of people, the impact of just one leaving can be significant – hitting sales, productivity and even morale.

There are countless stories of companies that have suddenly found themselves struggling without key people.

Take London florist Appleyard. “As a luxury florist, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are our biggest events and in January this year, our very experienced and knowledgeable search engine optimisation manager handed in their notice,” says manager Sam Quinn.

“This really hurt us because SEO is crucial at this time as it determines what keywords our brand appears for on Google and where we rank.”

A survey of 1,000 business owners by insurance firm NFU Mutual recently found that 70pc of small firms with fewer than 50 staff were worried about losing a key team member.

This was viewed as the second-largest threat to companies, the first being a major shift in target market or customer.

Yet few business owners seem to plan for the departure of key employees, either because resources are limited, or because they prefer not to think about the implications.

When Richard Brady, boss of Recruit Packs, which supplies military recruits with kit and resources for their training, was forced to let a digital marketing apprentice go in May, the company’s social media output suffered.

“I've had to increase my workload again, which means there is less time to focus on other things; the future, product development and research,” he says.

“It hasn't hurt us in terms of turnover: the systems I put in place and the software we adopted during his time here have protected sales, but it's the bigger picture that has suffered in the short-term and our interaction with our customer base.”

There are ways to protect your business against the loss of a crucial member of staff.

Full-blown succession planning may be too much for most micro-businesses, but a bi-annual review of the job description of each member of staff could help you understand exactly where vulnerabilities lie.

Does only one person understand how to update your website? This should prompt you to invest in training so that other members of the team can provide cover in the case of absence.

Job-shadowing programmes are recommended by Kevin Nightingale at Network ROI for making sure that staff have a handle on the roles performed by their peers.

A one-month notice period is not always enough time to recruit and train up a new person to ensure a smooth handover.

Mavis Amankwah, boss of communications agency Rich Visions, had no warning when her personal assistant sadly passed away in 2013.

Ruth had been with Ms Amankwah from the start of her company. “Life has not been the same since,” she says.

Not only did the company struggle to train up someone else, Ms Amankwah found it very hard to work with someone new while dealing with her grief.

The experience led to a bout of depression, she admits. “But it made me realise the importance of building a team of people who are aware of other parts of the business, and not just their own.

“Although they do not need to be experts in all areas, an understanding of where and how things are stored is now essential in Rich Visions.”

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