Tina Hamilton, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Philadelphia, is founder and CEO of myHR Partner, a human resources outsourcing firm that manages HR for small and medium-sized businesses in 26 states. We asked Tina about the value of superstar employees and how companies can retain them or, at worst, prepare for the potential of losing them. Here's what she shared. 

The day that Kobe Bryant's helicopter went down was a sad day for his devout fans as well as those who simply appreciated his amazing accomplishments. He was an icon, an 18-time NBA All Star and record four-time MVP, and one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Anyone would agree that he was vital to the success of any team that he was on.

The tragedy got me thinking about superstar players like Kobe in the business environment: Those super-talented, driven individuals who make everyone better, advance the business faster than others, and seem impossible to replace.

Entrepreneurs depend on their high-achievers. These individuals may hold a critical role in the company--business development, technology lead or key manager--and are often considered part of the company's core team. Smaller businesses are often hit harder than larger ones when superstars leave because they don't take the time or have the resources to develop bench strength and depth.

This raises a question: How do you replace a superstar employee? How and when should a company prepare for such a loss? Of course, it's a best practice to be prepared for the potential departure of any employee. But it's much more complicated--and critical--when the person is a rare find.

Here are four strategies for keeping and replacing superstar employees in your business:

1. Retention

One way to manage the loss of a superstar is to prevent it by providing no compelling reason for them to leave the company in the first place. Unfortunately, the more essential an employee is, the easier it is to grow complacent and assume they will never leave you. You incorrectly perceive their contributions and hard work as an unwavering commitment to your company.

Do everything you can to assure that critical players (and your entire workforce) are not just happy, but thrilled to be working for your organization. If you create an environment that retains superstars, you increase the chances of attracting more of them. Assess your progress with confidential surveys. Keep current in offering the latest perks and incentives.

For superstars, consider financial parameters and incentives (often negatively dubbed "golden handcuffs") to demonstrate your commitment and make their decision to leave more difficult.

Most importantly, stay connected--to the point where your key people feel safe sharing their thoughts and concerns. Talk one-on-one regularly and even on an impromptu basis. Pay close attention to any shifts in attitudes toward work or the company and address them immediately. No company can be "perfect," but being the best that you can be will take you a long way.

2. Documentation of all systems and processes

This isn't an easy task, as most high-performers are consumed with activities that generate results. However, it brings significant value. Develop step-by-step, documented processes for every role in the company that are thorough enough to be followed by a qualified team member. Key positions are the most important to document.

The documentation process also adds structure to the business itself and improves its "salability" and overall financial value when evaluating exit strategies. Every position in the company should be replaceable--including yours. Otherwise, your business is only as valuable as the people in it, which doesn't instill confidence in potential buyers.

3. Cross-training

Not every company can afford to train a standby for each key person's role. However, by training others to handle critical portions of a key position--a role that has been meticulously documented, of course--you assure that there is coverage in the event of a departure or unexpected long-term absence. It's the next best thing to having a replacement ready to jump into the role full-time.

4. Succession planning

Too often, we see companies delay developing staff for their next step in the company and in their careers. Then, when someone leaves, they scramble into a reactive hiring mode. When you're desperate, you're prone to making emotional hiring decisions that cost the company later. The loss of a superstar only amplifies that desperation.

It's incredibly advantageous to cultivate your bench of budding stars who are eager to step up if a crucial players departs. That means being deliberate about their career options within your company and preparing them for bigger and better roles. They can also learn best practices and successful habits from your current superstars. With some creativity, even small businesses can take advantage of succession planning.

Planning for the future should be constant. Leaving your company vulnerable to the loss of a key employee who has exclusive skills necessary for its success is not a healthy way to run a business.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the US unemployment rate was 3.5 percent as we entered 2020. Companies are recruiting good people more actively than ever before--so there's a good chance that another entrepreneur is courting your superstars. In this competitive environment, it's imperative to focus on retention and put provisions in place to accommodate for a loss so you can avoid the perils of crisis mode.

Published on: Feb 28, 2020
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