Written by Paul

The most important asset to any business is its people. Irrespective of your industry, having a great team of people driving your business forwards and ensuring your clients are happy is what all businesses are trying to achieve. Crafting that team which, working as a whole, are capable, engaged and driven to succeed.

So what happens, then, when these key capabilities, attributes and behaviours are locked up in only a few people in your business? Those key individuals that hold the majority of the knowledge, are the ones that encourage others to follow the right behaviours and that motivate others? Those individuals that, if they left your business, would be leaving you with a gaping hole in your workforce, and a real problem for the capabilities of your business?

In this article we will explore how this situation can be avoided, as well as how to get yourself out of this position if you find yourself in it.


Avoiding the issue in the first place

There is a reason why Organisational Design is a rapidly growing activity. Individuals are employed specifically to ensure that businesses have the right structure to support their strategic objectives, and this often extends to a close relationship with the HR and Learning & Development departments (if not embedded within these already) to ensure there is depth to the businesses capability.

It is important to understand the skills and capabilities that are needed for the day to day running of your business, as well as the specialist skills that are used occasionally or with specific clients. Once this is understood, you can start looking at where these skills and capabilities are positioned. If this review shows that a lot of these lie within single individuals, you need to start thinking about how you can achieve a wider allocation of these key skills and capabilities.

It is also important to understand whether there is a “culture of reliance” in your business. Don’t get me wrong, it is correct that you have specialists within your business, but what is important is that you don’t have a culture where the many rely on the few when it comes to important skillsets. If this has become a culture, it will foster greater reliance on a few individuals who, without passing this capability on, soon become indispensable. Keep an eye on any potential “culture of reliance” and make sure to put in place tactics to prevent this, which are detailed below.

Overall, maintain a focus on how skills are dispersed throughout your workforce. It is important that you are able to proactively plan for the loss of skills and, if you see that there is a reliance building towards individuals, that you can put in place strategies to avoid this.


How to get out of over-reliance

There are many ways that you can go about dispersing skills and capabilities to remove reliances, one of which is to use the key individuals to pass on their knowledge and capabilities to other members within their team though structured mentoring. This involves these key people in the solution, and is a great way of passing on behaviours and ways of working that are specific to your business. Mentoring can also be a easy and cost effective of developing others, as you can administer this in-house.



Ensuring the correct approach to training your staff is the best way of ensuring you have capability spread across your workforce. Look at those key skills that are maintained by those few key individuals, and identify training that you can provide to other members of the team to cover them. Not only will this ensure you retain these capabilities should that one person leave, but also allows you flexibility when it comes to instances of sickness absence or shift work, for example. Having identified the skills you need to train into your workforce also has the added benefit of saving you money on your training budget. This may sound difficult to qualify, but experience shows that if you know exactly what you are looking to develop, you can better define your training need and cut out the unnecessary content. Take the example of project management – the role is quite wide ranging, and the cost of the training reflects this, but if you were to identify that you only needed to develop your capabilities around defining scoping projects, for example, you can procure specific training on this area, saving you time and money on the training you procure.

When it comes to workforce engagement (and having this suffer if popular members of your team were to leave the business) there are certain strategies you use. Make it a structured activity (rather than informal) to engage with teams and individuals, to understand their motivations, issues, and perspectives. When you put structure around this, it becomes more about company culture rather than a popularity contest, and ensures the business is in tune with the motivations of the staff rather than relying upon individuals.


It is great to have really talented individuals in your business, but it is your responsibility to ensure that the business is going to be okay should that person leave. As with everything in workforce development, taking a proactive approach to ensure you are not reliant on key individuals and, instead, have a depth of capability throughout your business is the best way to ensure you retain your capability.​​

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