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Small Business Coaching: Revive Your Profits, Revitalise Your Perspectives, Reinvigorate Your People

Are your employees holding you hostage?


Image: Flickr - SinDesign

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’?  As a leader, it’s important to manage your business strategically.  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 happen, 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 see 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…
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’ for everything person, 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 is essential, especially with the new Fair Work laws in Australia.   What are you going to change?  Tell us below!

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Managing the ‘indispensable’ high performing employee.



The recent global financial crisis has seen an increase in advice to employees to ‘make yourself indispensable’.  A useful strategy for the employee maybe, but not always ideal for a smart small businesses! 

Those same high performers have the capacity to hold your business hostage to their demands!  So how do you have high performing team members without making them indispensable?

  1. Create a culture of high performance so that the ‘average’ level of performance is higher than expected in most businesses.
  2. Create an environment and a culture that offers your people incentive to stay and to perform at their best, without them feeling like they need to instigate the ‘power crazy’ aspects of being indispensable.
  3. Work with your team’s strengths – the person being ‘everything to everybody’ needs direction and support in working towards specific targets that benefit the business.  Just because someone can, doesn’t mean they should!!
  4. Have awareness of people who are implementing the ‘indispensable strategy’ – they may not always be the ones you want to keep should the going get tough…  (look for strong performance in their core job role, or move them to a more suitable role if you start to see previously undiscovered talents!!)
  5. Don’t be tempted to rely on the people making themselves indispensable – you are compounding the problem and teaching them to become a bottleneck.  Encourage good delegation practices (starting with you!!) and ensure that those not performing at the higher levels know they need to step up – allow the bar to be raised!!
What do you think?  Have you ever been held hostage by an employee who thought they were indispensable?  What did you do to alleviate the risk to your business?  How did you harness their enthusiasm and commitment to the business without creating other problems?  Share your ideas here!

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