Losing a star performer can seem devastating ― particularly when it comes completely out of the blue or left field.  If you have a close-knit, family environment, you may even feel blindsided or betrayed. You may say to yourself, “She seemed so happy, challenged, engaged and committed. Why didn’t she say something?”

This is a common conundrum many of us have faces as business owners.  And the gap left behind by a high-achieving employee can be very challenging to bridge―especially when this person is many executing tasks that others cannot. Such a departure is often a sudden and abrupt indicator of your biggest vulnerabilities and most significant skill deficiencies.

Recently, one of my clients brought a similar issue to a meeting of The Alternative Board. He talked about how difficult it was going to be to replace the employee, the hole the loss left in his company’s resources―and the impact of losing someone who was so multi-talented. Fortunately, this was the perfect setting to explore my colleague’s concerns. A TAB peer advisory board is a powerful resource designed to identify practical solutions and actionable improvement plans. We are strong advocates of TAB for our clients. As the website says, “TAB’s business owner advisory boards help to spark new ways of thinking about your business by providing out-of-the-box ideas and solutions in a confidential environment.“ In this case, it didn’t take long for one of the board members to ask an insightful question:

“If you’d known that she was going to leave six months ago,” he asked, “what would you have done differently?”

It was a great question, packed with opportunities to evaluate not just what went wrong, but to start thinking about what to do differently going forward. As the group worked on the issue, we offered ideas on how better to transfer organizational knowledge, improve communication, cross-train on key tasks, and prepare for potential losses that could severely damage your business if you don’t plan more strategically.

Building Accountability

Difficult surprises like this one also bring the harsh realities of hiring into relief, as well as the hard realities of soft skills, which we addressed several months ago. Making hires that stick is a multidimensional exercise, and one of the most important factors is also inherent in your culture. You will hear me asking this question in a variety of contexts: Are you building a culture of accountability?

You must first do the work necessary to find the best person for the role. However, once you identify the one person who will sit in a given seat, your work is by no means finished. In fact, the hardest work is yet to come, because you must continuously validate that you have the right person in each of the seats. To do that, we suggest you turn to the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) for a simple filter called GWC – that stands for get it, want it, and capacity to do it. Everyone in your firm―particularly the key players―must be evaluated using these simple standards. Look carefully at the new roles that you’ve created and the people to whom you’ve assigned those roles.

Get It: Don’t over-think this. When a person “gets” a role, he or she understands what’s required to be successful in it. When someone doesn’t get it, you know it. You can save a lot of time by just saying no and following your gut.

Want It: Is the person to whom you’ve assigned a function genuinely motivated to do a great job in it? Do you sense that the person is hungry?

Capacity: Let’s face it. Every job requires a minimum level of time, talent, energy and grey matter. Look at each function. Ask yourself whether or not the person you’ve assigned to the function has the capacity to do a great job.

Be tough. Be honest. Sometimes, training is required. It’s up to you decide if the investment is worthwhile.

Answering “no” to any of these questions doesn’t make someone a bad person or immediately issue anyone a pink slip. A “no” in any of these areas simply means that the person isn’t in the right seat at that point in time―and it can definitely prevent the “blindside” scenario we discussed earlier.

We now know we have a situation that requires fixing, and the sooner you fix it the better. Now, take a look at each of the major functions in your business, and break it down from there. Define the primary roles for each of those sub-functions, assign a person to each of the seats― and evaluate each person using the GWC filter. When you’re finished, you’ll know where you may have people issues that must be resolved.

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