Back when I was working on my Master of Accounting degree at NC State University, I worked as the manager of a local sporting goods store. I was the manager of the home store, which also contained the corporate office. While there, management hired a consultant specializing in customer service. It was his job to help improve sales at the chain’s seven locations. Ed spent a lot of his time at the corporate office, which meant we got to spend a lot of time together.
Not long after Ed was hired, the store manager of one store turned in his resignation. He had been with the company for a very long time, and his resignation was not expected by corporate management.
I distinctly remember talking with Ed about this. He said the owner “was very upset. But I told him this is what we want. We want our employees to grow. But as a small business, we don’t have the size for everyone to advance within the company. So naturally some will leave. It’s up to us to develop the next generation of store managers, knowing that most of them should eventually leave, too.” Ed’s positive reaction to a situation that most everyone else viewed negatively left a distinct impression on me. Which is why I still vividly remember our conversation.
Within many small businesses, you can find situations just like this. Employees who are great at their jobs. They come to work on time, they get along with everyone, they do more than what is expected of them. They work as though they own the place. Due to their work ethic, they are “invaluable” to the company. And when they move on, they are extremely difficult to replace. Because many employees like this must move on. They are restless, always looking to improve themselves. And when they work for a small business, they reach a limit since there are no more positions to strive for.
As small business owners, these are the employees that we want. When we find them, it is natural to do whatever it takes to keep them. We pay them too much. We give them gifts. We create ridiculous titles to give the impression of advancement. Sometimes this works. When it does work and they do stay, we become more dependent on them. And that doesn’t work. Your small business should never become too dependent on any one employee.
You know if you have such an employee. These are the employees that you say, “I don’t know what I would do without them.” You call them your right hand. You wonder why everyone else can’t work as hard and produce as much. Sometimes, these employees are content with remaining with the company. As the owner, you need to recognize when they are not. And when the day comes that they are ready to move on to better things, encourage them. Wish them well. It’s time for you to move on, too.