A Linchpin Makes It All Come Together, Part 2

What you can do to keep a linchpin - without a bunch of cash.

By Mark Riffey

While money is important, it’s not all about compensation. There are at least two other things you can and should do to recognize your linchpins.

Treat them like you value them

“T” reminds me of the person who retired from the CPA firm, ie: they were the glue that holds everything together. Her magic manifested itself during new customer onboarding, customer training and similar duties.

That company’s onboarding process was complex and technical – and was made more challenging by the variety of customer environments we encountered.

During the onboarding process, she’d discover things the customer never told sales – things no one knew about the organization or their business process. Things the customer didn’t often realize they needed or needed to stop.

These are the things you discover when you get down to bare metal in order to add a new capability for a customer. And yet, I watched the company treat her indifferently at times, as a hassle at others, with reverence on occasion, and ultimately as a difficult person who was essential, so the company tolerated her… until it didn’t.

I say tolerated because no one seemed to like managing her. We got along well perhaps because I was fortunate enough to figure out her motivation. She loved the work and her customers. Anything that got in the way of that didn’t sit well with her, but the secret was that her occasional grumpiness was sourced entirely in her concern about a customer’s poor experience. The customer always came first. She’d schedule an onboarding at two am if necessary.

I put myself between the aforementioned treatment and her as much as I could because her value was evident. I saw first hand what she was getting done. She had above-average patience with customers, as well as a load of industry knowledge, technical skill, and the ability to navigate the crazy things we sometimes find at a customer site – without losing it.

There was literally no one else at the company who could do her job. While I had the technical abilities, I didn’t have her industry knowledge. She had both, as well as the ability to work with customers.

The value of people like this is immense. Maybe you can’t pay them like a VP, but you’d better treat them with the same consideration. They’re worth it. Finding out their value by virtue of their departure will be expensive and painful. It’s not all about compensation.

Make their leadership official

The people we’re talking about are often asked to train new team members, even those in more senior roles. There’s a reason linchpins are often asked to train others – and it isn’t necessarily their skill.

It’s the example they set and the attitude they bring to the work.

The thing about spreading what this person does is that how they do their work is what makes them a leader. Sure, they may have more experience and maybe more advanced skills than others, but usually, it’s their attitude and the care they take doing the actual work.

Instead of thinking “I’m just a worker bee, this isn’t important work”, they work as if they realize that every step in the process is an important part of the whole, even their part, because it is.

That mindset and the thought processes they convey can be transferred to other people by using them as mentors or trainers. While this may not be a true management role, having someone act as a mentor or trainer is still recognizing them as a leader. Having a fancy title or management responsibility doesn’t make you a leader. Your actions do that. Most of them are leaders long before that – and often remain leaders even if the title and responsibility is never conveyed.

The people around them already know they’re a leader. Having them mentor or train others tells the linchpin that YOU know. That’s important. It sends a company-wide message that recognize their leadership, even though they aren’t “management”.

You probably have a linchpin on your team – maybe more than one if you’re lucky. Question is, can you keep them?

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.

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