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Do You Have Indispensable Employees Holding Your Business Hostage?

Ever had an employee who made outrageous demands (for salary, promotions, time-off etc) and you gave it to them because you felt you ‘had no choice’?

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Ever had an employee who made outrageous demands (for salary, promotions, time-off etc) and you gave it to them because you felt you ‘had no choice’? When you feel that you can’t afford to lose an employee, or you need to hold onto them at any cost, that employee has just made themselves ‘indispensible’.

Many employees love the idea of being indispensible, but as a leader, it’s important to manage your business with consideration of the risks this can entail. Here’s ten tips on managing those who try to make themselves indispensible…

  1. Sometimes you ‘don’t know what you don’t know’ – if you have a sense of information being hidden but you can’t pinpoint what is happening, bring in an external expert to review your information flows and make recommendations.
  2. Use a function chart (like an organizational chart but for the specific functions within the business) and allocate a primary service provider and a backup person. Ensure the backup person is well trained and when people leave, ensure you train another for whichever role has become vacant. (This strategy can also work effectively for internal fraud control).
  3. Be aware of how your ‘reward’ systems encourage or discourage withholding of information and power plays. Rewards need to be both team and individually based if you want cooperation and high performance across your entire team.
  4. Be aware of ulterior motives… if an employee is constantly criticized by others as ‘not a team player’ investigate early: What’s really going on here? What is required to change this situation?
  5. Be willing to move people out of the company quickly if they are engaging in game-playing around information or customer relationships – it will be a lot cheaper now than when they really have you over a barrel!
  6. What is the culture of your business? If it is openness and support for each other the ‘indispensables’ will have a hard time thriving due to peer pressure!
  7. Create a culture of belonging – if people do not feel alienated or unimportant, they will be much less likely to behave inappropriately! Avoid having people seen as the ‘manager’s pet’!
  8. Hire carefully: for key positions, always ask about the person’s approach to information sharing / hoarding when you check their references.
  9. Have weekly meetings with key staff – ensure there is a current action list, with deliverables, resources, deadlines and a progress statement on the list that they give you (spreadsheets are great for this).
  10. Use all of your human resource systems to create a comprehensive approach that works for your business – job descriptions, induction processes, setting targets and performance management, reward and recognition programs can all connect to a culture of information sharing and joint innovation.

Look for common characteristics which signal potential issues with people becoming ‘indispensable’: e.g. the drama queen (or king!), the office gossip, the person who doesn’t want anything to change, the ‘go-to’ person for everything, the bottleneck, the overconfident non-performer, the subtle sabotager, the cowboys and the superstars… implement changes that allow you to recognize risks, share the load and minimize your reliance on any one person.

A business held hostage is a business at risk. It’s your business and risk management isn’t an optional extra! What are you going to change today?

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