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Replacing Key Employees – Continuity Planning
By Sonya Buck, Australia



It’s no secret that Small Business whether it be in Agriculture or other sectors, makes up the majority of all businesses in Australia.  Behind these businesses there are employees who are vital to the everyday operation of each business.


Have you considered what you do if one of your key employees suddenly couldn’t return to work?  Whether it be an accident or a personal circumstance, they may not arrive in the workplace tomorrow.  Alternatively, staff may resign unexpectedly or be approaching retirement.


Usually larger organisations plan for key employee unplanned long term absences and this will be part of identifying risk and mitigation strategies.  Similarly all businesses (whatever size) should plan for this type of occurrence to ensure there is no loss of productivity and your business continues to operate effectively.


There are many other benefits to continuity or succession planning including: identifying skill development needs; ensuring staff talent is recognised and identifying staff which are ready to progress to a new role.


When planning it’s important to consider questions such as:


  • Which roles are key and may be difficult to fill?

  • Which employees have the knowledge and skills to cover each key role?

  • Who may be considering retirement or parenting leave?

  • Which roles have a high turnover? (You may also like to consider why)

  • Who is likely to be promoted?


With regular absences such as annual leave, you may already be more prepared than you think.  If you have staff trained to cover roles during these times, they may be the first staff to step up.  If not, training should take place to ensure staff can carry out more than one role.  Ensure when commencing training you communicate it is good for the business for staff to be familiar with different roles, as some staff may feel threatened.


If you don’t have formal procedures documented, ask staff members to create step by step instructions for their work.  Make sure these are updated regularly.  One important issue to consider - Do you have an up to date record of your staff’s computer passwords?  Knowing all staff passwords is essential for unplanned absences.


For changes you can foresee such as staff retirement, identify staff which are worthy of promotion.  If the retirement has been advised, commence training and the transition early.

If not planning to fill a role from within, ensure you have an up to date position description and it may be the opportunity to involve the retiring employee in the recruitment process – no one knows their job better than they do!


What about if something happens to you?  You are a key employee in your business.  Although it’s another cost, have you considered accident and income protection insurance?  If in a business partnership, could each partner carry out each other’s duties?  In the least, do you have someone trained who could carry out your essential duties?


The importance of your key staff (including yourself) can’t be underestimated and using continuity or succession planning will ensure your business continues to operate successfully into the future.


Should you have current vacancies to fill, consider using to target the right employees for your business.