Opinion

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Business Is Personal

A Linchpin Makes It All Come Together, Part 1

Which employee's abrupt departure would cause unholy chaos?

Is there someone in your company whose abrupt departure would cause unholy chaos? Seth Godin called them a linchpin.

You probably aren’t worried about staff members quitting right now. Many employees are simply hoping they’ll be kept on the team until the vaccine does its thing and life resumes to whatever the next normal looks like. Similarly, many employers are hoping business remains strong enough that they can keep paying their team until some form of normalcy returns.

And yet, there’s one type of employee to be concerned about. They’re the glue that holds everything together. I’m talking about someone whose departure could bring the house down, even though might not be apparent.

They’re the folks who “are the company”. If you have someone like that, ask yourself: Do we treat and compensate them in a manner that correlate to their value to the company & our customers?

When the economy starts growing again and it’s clear that the turnaround is going to stick, many companies will be hiring. Finding great people to do the work your company does is your second most important job. Keeping the great ones you have is the first.

Your linchpin will be the one other companies are looking for. They’re not just a member of the team, they’re an essential cog in your business.

You need a plan to keep them.

We’ll talk about four areas:

– What happens if you don’t keep them?

– Compensate linchpins properly

– Treat them like you value them.

– Make their leadership official.

What happens if you don’t keep them?

When the economy turns around, many businesses will see a glut of applications.

The linchpin has their choice of jobs, even if they aren’t looking. If you don’t know who yours are, entirely possible in a larger company, find out. Your managers should know. If they don’t, that should tell you something about the work your managers are doing. In a smaller company, you probably know them.

A friend recently told me about their primary contact at the CPA firm who does their taxes. They gave the firm and their clients two years notice that they were retiring. Normally, this would seem unusual. Taxes are often once-a-year transactions, so their announcement was two transactions worth of notice – reasonable.

The company where they worked apparently did nothing to replace them. This person was a middle tier employee doing tax work, not a CPA. How much impact could their departure have?

This linchpin retired this past summer. The week of December 3rd, my friend got a letter that his CPA firm was dissolving. Not in a few months or after tax season. Immediately.

The now-retired person was the glue holding the office and their business processes together. Imagine having a CPA firm for 20+ years and in December telling your clients that you won’t be their CPA this year or ever again.

Compensate a linchpin well

I can think of two people who worked for me who were linchpins. They’ve probably been linchpins everywhere they’ve worked.

I had control of J’s compensation, but I was young and stupid. The company was new, so every dollar had to be watched. No excuses – I was less of a leader back then.

We treated her like the valuable linchpin she was but whenever I think back to that time, I wish I had paid her better, even though she made higher than average for the position at that time and made more than at her previous job.

20 years later, I’ve yet to find a more effective peer, though I haven’t given up my search.

It doesn’t matter what they do. These people do whatever they do so well and create such an amazing experience that their customers (internal or external) would be up in arms if they left.

For the person you’re thinking of, are you paying them at a level that indicates how much the company values them? It’s easy to say “Well, they’re in a role whose market pay isn’t higher.” Do you make the decisions or does your budget? Do you know what the impact on your company would be if someone offered them $200 more a week than you pay them, so they left because they needed the money?

If you don’t currently have the funds, talk with them. They need to know they’re appreciated and how you’re thinking about them. Keep your promises.

Next week, taking care of linchpins in ways that don’t require cash.

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.