The Weakness of One

I’ve discovered that the number one is the worst number in business. You don’t want to only have one product line or one customer. You don’t want to have only one source of revenue or be on only one network. We get ourselves in the most trouble however, when we have one employee who is over empowered and we are afraid to lose them so we do stupid things like keep them too long when they should be fired or we find ourselves strapped when they do leave.

I once found myself in both these situations and I teach this stuff. In my business I had an employee who, for lack of a better term, held us hostage for the last year. He had a set of technical skills that we were convinced we would die without. He was not a good team player, in fact he was rude and condescending to our team members and I tolerated it in the name of skills.  “Yes, he is an ass but we need him because he is the only one that knows this stuff,” I’d say. I take responsibility and I should know better. When I finally did fire him, I wondered why I hadn’t done that a year ago. Ever been there? The crazy thing is that after I fired him, we found out all kinds of things he had been lying about. The reality is, he didn’t really know nearly as much as he had us fooled into believing.  In fact, he really screwed up a lot of things and we didn’t know because he hid it well and lied a lot. In this business the same thing happened.

I had another team member leave another business of mine. She had a baby and decided to take another career path. She knew 90 percent of the technical side of this business. I had over-relied on her to take care of things. When she left, it left me in a real bind. I didn’t even know how to send out these emails, so life was a real challenge then. In that case, I wished she stayed, but the result was never the less the same.

Interestingly, both people left at the same time and in both cases I realized I made essentially the same mistake. I had relied way to heavily on one person to have all the knowledge. I had entrusted too much. This is a mistake in business. You have to disperse the knowledge. I have made this mistake before so you would think I would learn the lesson.

You should have at least two people who know everything. The rule should be if this person leaves we will be shorthanded but we will not have any knowledge leave with them that we do not have somewhere else. There are essentially two ways to do this.  Either you cross train at least two people on every position or you outsource the job.  I think both are viable options depending on your needs.  Using a combination may be the most powerful. For example, in the two cases I am using as examples, I chose not to replace the first person but to outsource his job to another company.  They are more professional, smarter, and have integrity.  In addition, if one of their people quit or get fired, that’s not my problem.  In the most recent case I am using a combination of hiring someone and outsourcing part of it.  In addition, I am cross training one of my own people to do the same work she will be doing so if the new person ever leaves, I will not be in such a lurch.  I have dedicated this year to making sure I don’t have this problem in any other positions in my business.  That there is no one that if they left or got hit by a bus, the company would stop working, including me. What about at your place?  Is someone holding you hostage?  Does someone have the keys to the vault? If so I recommend starting to cross train others or outsource or hire someone else to learn that skill set.  I am afraid this is much more common than any of us want to admit.  Search for the bottlenecks in your business and start to shore them up by hiring, cross training, and outsourcing.

Living Every Minute

Dr. Tim

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