by Michael Holland     

All seasoned leaders at one point in their careers have been challenged with the departure of a key employee who had certain work knowledge that was painful to replicate.  Companies invest time and money in developing succession planning for leadership roles. They invest in developing strong leaders to make sure those employees are prepared to lead major functions of the business.  But seldom is time invested to mitigate the risk of exposure from the loss of a key individual contributor.

Look at your teams’ processes and key knowledge workers.  Who has intimate knowledge of processes or data or customers that would not be easy to replace?  Maybe the knowledge was built through years on the job. Maybe it’s the combination of the individual’s talents and skills.  Maybe the function has been restructured to a point where a few folks do a tremendous amount of work.

Take an inventory of your mission-critical processes or information.  Determine the truly critical from the really important.  Next, visualize that the individual responsible for the process has just called you and said that. for personal health reasons, they will not able to return to work.  No transition.  No knowledge transfer.  No brain dump will be available.  How painful – in business terms – will this be for your team and the organization?

Create an impact analysis.  What is the dollar impact for:

  • The loss of work from the process
  • The loss of information
  • The cost to hire 2 people to replace the one knowledgeable person
  • Missed deadlines
  • Overtime and/or overload

Take this information and figure out how to mitigate the risk before the tragedy.  Document processes.  Force cross training.  Get an additional resource hired.  Get other departments involved.

Or, figure out the story you’ll spin for your boss for not mitigating the risks.