One of the hard facts about running a business is that eventually, no matter how tight-knit the company culture, someone will leave. Whether it's for a move, more money, or simply a new opportunity, there will come a time when an integral member of your team has to move on, while their responsibilities remain. Sometimes there will be a quick, obvious replacement from inside the company, but usually others on your team will need to take on extra work for an extended period of time if you want to hire the best person for the job. If no one is prepared for a long-term departure, you could be left with a crisis.
While it's not pleasant to think about your employees leaving, it's best to assume that any person could give notice at any time. The worst situation is the one where the person who leaves is the only one who knew how to do any part of their job, so their absence comes with a steep learning curve for the rest of the team. Well before you suspect a coming departure, enact practices that prepare your team to take on each other's roles at the drop of a hat.
Embrace Some Redundancy
Is it productive to have multiple people doing the exact same job every day? Not usually, unless you're a big company with a vast workload. Is it worthwhile to train multiple people to understand the same job? Absolutely. Whether you're growing your startup or you're at the helm of an established business, training should be a priority in order to keep all of your employees up to date on what's going on in the company and in each other's specific roles.
Make sure that at least two, preferably three members of each of your departments know how to do each other's jobs. If your company is small, cross-train employees from different areas to ensure that at least three people know the ins-and-outs of one job. Should one of those people leave, you can divide their tasks among others until you pick a full-time replacement. Assign these roles with clarity and keep your employees updated on your timeline for a new hire.
Prioritize Learning Systems and Documentation
Long before anyone decides to leave your company, set up systems to share information among departments. At my company, we hold monthly lunches where a department gives a presentation on what they do, how they work with other departments, or a deep-dive into a specific part of their work. These meetings give each of our teams insights into what other people do all day, and we keep the presentations stored on a shared server for later review. It's also critical to have written procedures for each role, particularly if your company is small and individuals often manage responsibilities solo.
Whether through a presentation, a newsletter, or job shadowing, help your employees become familiar with other areas within the company. Assign each manager the task of compiling clear, written instructions for each role, and keep that information in a place that's accessible to everyone.
Build Your Bench
Talent is a key success driver in most organizations, so smart leaders are always making time to meet the best and brightest minds in their community and industry so that when the need arises, they can pull from this bench to fill roles quickly. Whether you meet these people through networking events, industry conferences, or social circles, try to find and meet a few potential replacements for all of your key roles. If that proves to be a challenge, get to know a few recruiters so you know who to turn to when the time comes.
You should always be prepared for the possibility that someone will leave your company. If you make training and documentation a priority and proactively build your hiring bench, you'll save yourself a major headache and be able to devote your time to onboarding the best replacement you can find.