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The Perils of Having an Indispensable Employee in Your Organization

Have you ever heard of the “bus test”? It is often brought up in discussions with leaders and business owners, as a way to determine whether or not the business could keep running without them. “If you were struck by a bus tomorrow, what would happen in your company? Would it keep running or would it stop?”

It is also a measurement of risk that considers the consequences of losing key team members within an organization. It is important to think about for any person, on any team, in any company. I like to refer to the “lotto test” in this case – “If one of your team members won the Lottery tomorrow and quit…”

When assessing people and operational structures for a client, one of my first actions is to audit for the “bus test” or the “lotto test.”

Here’s what it looked like for one client…

They had an Operations Manager who wore many hats (we’ll call him Jerry). Jerry had been a part of the company since the beginning and was viewed as a pillar. He played a major role in the development of systems and processes throughout all phases of growth (many of which lived on paper, most of which lived in his head). He was also responsible for managing calendars, scheduling client meetings, and leading all outbound and inbound communications. Jerry was a trusted sounding board and often in a position of responsibility for decision making (determining what did and did not happen). Lastly, he was responsible for invoicing and billing, and was the primary on balancing the books.

We identified this risk during the Organizational Performance Audit process, just in time for Jerry to suddenly quit.

The team immediately found themselves in disaster control mode. EVERYTHING went through Jerry – he was a bottleneck and had become too essential. He knew in what stage every communication was currently, he knew what decisions had been made and what was still in discussion, and unfortunately he knew how to hide some financial mistakes he had made (because no one else was looking).

After consulting them through some “right now” disaster control, and the development of structures that would mitigate risks in the future, the company recovered 25,000 of would-be lost revenue and caught up to weeks of backlogged communications (that they didn’t know about before).

Here’s my PSA for the day

Even when things look like they are moving along well on the surface, there are probably still risks in your business that you may not be aware of. And if you can uncover them, and then mitigate the risks, then you can avoid a disaster.


Is it possible that you have a key person in your business that would not pass the bus test? Do you have a Jerry?


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