How You Can Tell Who Really Is an Essential Employee

I’ve had many conversations in my career with employees who “essentially” felt they were probably more important to the business than they really were.

You know who I’m talking about — the ones who at some point let it slip that, “This place would shut down if I wasn’t here,” or, “Let’s see how you do if I leave,” or, “I made this company what it is today.”

It’s usually a salesperson or a technical person who have had big roles, no doubt, but they begin to get a little to big for their own britches (as my grandmother would say). 

2 questions to determine who is “essential”

Over time I’ve developed a good two point test to determine if someone is essential or non-essential to your business:

1. In a snow storm, is this person required to make it into the office/facility no matter what? (Think large storm – more than one day.)

Example: I worked in a large health system where doctors and nurses had to get in. We actually had plans on how to get them to work in an emergency. I, on the other hand, being in HR, didn’t have anyone coming to pick me up in a 4-wheel drive SUV.

2. Does the person in question spend way too much of their time trying to convince you how important they are to your operation?

Examples: “Without me, our largest client wouldn’t be here,” or, “Our department (a non-revenue generating department) saved the organization over $500K last year.” – on a budget of $3.7M…”

Everyone is essential in a start-up

You know what is really interesting about looking at the life of an organization? When they start out, in their infancy, there are only essential employees. If you make widgets, and all you need is someone to get widget material, someone to make widgets, someone to sell widgets, and someone to collect the cash and pay the bills.

It’s pretty basic. No HR, no marketing or finance, no customer service – it’s a very straight line organization. Most companies don’t even add an HR element to their organizations until they get over 100 employees, and usually an office manager/payroll/accounting person, or maybe even the owner, takes on this responsibility.

I always like to remind myself of who is “really” essential in my organization. It’s important.

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It’s important that as a “client” to those people, I make sure I focus what I’m doing on things that will help them do what they are doing. That only happens when I actually talk to them, face-to-face, and ask them, “What can I do to help you do what you do?

Non-essentials want you to think they are important

It doesn’t seem overly complicated, but somehow we try to make it harder than that. You see, that’s what non-essentials do – we convince you that what we do is really important!

I like to look at organizations the same way you pick a team on the playground. If you had the most essential person in your company begin picking a team, where would you get picked? First, 10th, last?

It’s a good exercise to go through. What you’ll see is your most essential person will pick people who can help them get the job done – without hassle, without issues, without extra work.

Are you essential to your organization?

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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