Woody Hayes, the great football coach of the Ohio State University once said about running backs: “You need a pair and a spare.” Meaning, you need three that are ready to go at any time. Or, taken literally, two really good ones and one that is able to step in if something happens to the other two.
Organizations would be well served by using a similar philosophy. Look around at your structure and key positions, if the person currently residing in those positions left - who would step up? What if that person left, too? If the answer is “there is no one” then you have a problem.
Far too often, what you will see is an over reliance on a few individuals and a lack of planning for when those folks leave the company - most times there isn’t even a pair and sometimes not even a single person to spare.
Some of this is managerial laziness. The position is filled now, and the person seems happy - why worry? My counter to that is, why as a manager are you not developing all the people on your team at all times? Pushing hard for them to learn and succeed and being their advocate internally?
Another reason this occurs is lack of funds to add additional employees, much less the “A Players” that most organizations want in these key positions. That is a legitimate excuse. That said, if you have 4 people on your team - are all 4 performing? If you could add a “rock star” to the team and switch them out with a certain team member, would you? Should you?
If you are too reliant on a few people on your team the answer is yes. You may not be able to pay for a true “A Player” but you can develop those on your team with the potential to do so. And look to replace those who are dead weight - folks that aren’t a good fit for the team/organization and no amount of time spent with them will change that.
The final reason organizations aren’t prepared is simple human nature: the head-in-the-sand belief that they couldn’t possibly leave. You are great manager. They seem happy. Why would they leave? True “A Players” are always at risk to leave, they have to be challenged, promoted and are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves. That is what makes them A players.
To bring it back around, just like in football it all comes down to recruiting and developing your players. Look around your organization, look for the holes (and more importantly, start with positions/structures where one person leaving would causes chaos) and identify/groom/hire an employee ready to step in and at least one other that you are developing to step up if one of the core “pair” leaves.
Easier said than done, yes. But the alternative will end up being much more difficult.