The Difference Between Key Staff Members and “Irreplaceable” Employees

September 7, 2022

Who’s that one employee you can’t afford to lose? 

Recently, a client said she could never lose a key employee because he “knows and does everything.” 

After spending several months working with the company, it was clear why this team member was so “irreplaceable.”

The Difference Between Key Staff and Irreplaceability

Getting the work done takes drive, ability, and leadership qualities. All of these are fantastic attributes in your employees. However, if work simply goes to critical members of your team, disappears, and comes back complete—you have a problem.

An “irreplaceable” problem.

Key staff are members of your team who often have leadership, managerial, and training roles. They know how to do every aspect of their job (and often others). Key members of the team also provide insights you may not see, advice to help make better decisions, and so many other benefits of great people working together.

However, there’s a big difference between these sort of linchpins in your business and those who do everything without you understanding exactly what’s happening.

The irreplaceable staff member(s), almost certainly not on purpose, create  a pseudo-proprietary workflow apart from the other employees in the business. Instead of them following your documented process, the work goes to them and somehow gets done.

In an example of our client and her irreplaceable employee, we noticed a few problems:

  • Nothing he did was documented & no one else was trained on his duties.
  • They (the company) had no online filing system for sharing/storing company documents (everything was paper-based or shared through email).
  • There was no shared calendar where team members could be aware of important deadlines. Because of this, they were always REactive. They constantly interrupted each other at the office each day rather than scheduling meetings.
  • Data moving between departments, like time tracking data moving to Accounts Receivable and Payroll, was inconsistent & unreliable creating manual maniuplation on both ends.
  • Half of the customer contracts were missing, so there was no way for anyone else to know how much to invoice customers and what the payment terms were.
  • He hadn’t taken a vacation in over a year because no one else was trained to do key aspects of his job.

Great key employees are important, yes, but EVERY employee should be replaceable. And this isn’t some macabre thought process. Ever heard of the saying, “Work yourself out of a job?”

Ideally, you determine and develop processes that support business growth. Those critical team members follow these processes. Those who do well, move up the ladder of your growing business. How will you move your best people to new roles, required by growth, if you can’t replace them?

What kind of problems will this create? (Disgruntled quality workers and stagnated growth, to name a couple.) Often key staff have some kind of managerial role, which adds value to your business—as well as their career.

With the right structure and systems, moving employees to new roles isn’t stressful (because they’re replaceable).

Replacing the Irreplaceable Mindset

In a few words, it’s systems, technology, and documented processes. Here are a few good places to start (immediately):

Cross Train or Outsource to Professionals

More than one person should be trained on key tasks. This process can be another internal employee or ideally an outside professional (i.e. using a 3rd party consultant for Finance, HR, IT, etc). 

One reason an objective third-party is often a better solution is it immediately resolves the irreplaceable employee from being irreplaceable without having to onboard and train a new employee. 

Third-parties get a 1,000 foot view of the process and document key tasks, workflows, and identify problems with how your current team operates and optimize the process Professionals already know what they are doing, so there is not need to train them on technical skills.

At Momentum, we use a project management software called Teamwork combined with Google Workspace tools like Docs and Sheets to document procedures and create recurring reminders for important deadlines. 

Get Key Accesses Right

Most businesses rely on web-based programs or software solutions. For consultants and agencies, the number of software products used can reach double-digits. 

Important: Key data, logins, etc. should NEVER be managed by any one person.

Most of these solutions have role-based accessibility controls. Set yourself and another manager like a director of operations or your IT consultant as admins of the account. Then, divvy out controls based on what each employee uses the particular program for, in their work. You should be able to easily add and remove staff to applications and you should know where to find the password, log in URL and account manager contact for all of the app vendors you work with. 

For shared password storage, we recommend LastPass

We also recommend using a payroll software like Gusto, so all of your employee data is stored digitally and securely in one place. 

For accounting software, a 100% cloud based product is the way to go. Avoid desktop software at all costs which creates siloed access. We’ve seen clients lose access completely to their Quickbooks Desktop when their bookkeeper left along with their computer or password. 

We recommend using Quickbooks Online, Xero or Freshbooks. 

Document Everything into a Workflow

What does each member of your team do? How do clients move from one service to another, between the staff?

Take an honest evaluation into how well you know how work goes from closed client > onboarded client > deliverables > results.

Get these processes down and connect them to one another, to get the big picture of how work flows through your operation (aka workflow). Tech is a big part of this, too.

We recommend using a project management software like ClickUp. Implementation can be a huge challenge, so rather than doing it alone, it’s worth investing in a support from a ClickUp consulting company like ZenPilot

Ready to Increase Employee Replaceability? 

Getting your processes right means never having to worry about one of your team members winning the lottery. Properly implementing software and managing passwords means you’ll never worry about not having access when those employees leave, either.

At Momentum, we offer services helping you implement the right accounting and payroll technology that makes your systems run on autopilot. And it frees you to build relationships with the team, keeping them on staff for the right reasons. 

In addition to our payroll services, we also offer technology implementation, setting you up with secure connections and proper access for the entire team.

Ready to find your staffing momentum? Contact us today.

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