In order to survive the loss of key employees, whether anticipated or not, an organization must work to maintain a state of readiness. By focusing on three areas of the organization, performance can be improved while building a change-tolerant business.

1. Process

In order to build processes that are very robust and capable of withstanding the loss of key personnel, processes must be well documented and properly defined. This goes beyond the often-generic process descriptions used for ISO 9001 compliance. We need to document what really happens – not what should happen. Further, we must ensure that process design is completed to optimize business performance, not designed around the capabilities of particular individuals.

To further enhance the process mindset, we should coach employees on proper process change. All employees should be motivated to identify performance improvement opportunities. Meanwhile, employees should be reminded that freelance change of process is unacceptable. Once improvements are confirmed, the process should be changed, documented and communicated throughout the organization.

2. People

In order to be robust related to staff loss, we must train and cross-train staff. They should be trained to the level of exceptional performance in their present role and additionally trained to understand and accomplish the mission of peripheral roles in the event that it becomes necessary. This should also allow us to combine roles if capacity requirements diminish during a downturn.

Also, management should identify those performers who have potential for upward mobility into supervisory roles. Training should be conducted to allow those individuals to understand management and leadership roles within the organization.

Particularly strong performers should be trained for ascension into roles two levels beyond their current position. All staff, both blue- and white-collar, should be trained to understand global strategy and organization of the business so they can understand where they fit.

Particular focus on alignment o goals, strategy, and specific activities within the business should be given to all employees.

3. Geography

As much as possible, we should locate operations in geographies that offer supplier/customer ecosystems. Typically in these areas, the ecosystem sustains key personnel employment because staff can be pushed or pulled within the supply chain.

While ideally employees would remain with our firm, if they migrate to suppliers or customers, we still have access to them. So long as the employment relationship has been ethical and mutually beneficial, we will benefit from having these individuals within our supply chain (as opposed to leaving the supply chain and geography completely).

Secondarily, because our organization is located within a geographic ecosystem, we maintain the opportunity to recruit back the staff members to our organization. Of course, it’s preferred that these key employees never leave our organization.

Beyond the supply chain, our organization should identify and align with educational institutions and manufacturing training organizations. These organizations can assist with a staffing pipeline. We should consider both white- and blue-collar training organizations when identifying educational partners.

A Last Resort: Plan B

As a last resort, we should also identify “Plan B” alternative service providers for key roles within the organization. For instance, small manufacturers may identify a CPA or other accounting provider to assist if their internal controller were to be lost on short notice. Having an alternative that, while costly, can be rapidly deployed within the organization will help us avoid loss of momentum that two weeks' notice may create.

In order to build a sustainable manufacturing organization, it must not only be best-in-class, but also robust. By protecting against the loss of key staff, the organization can achieve both goals.

Jason Piatt is president of Praestar Technology Corp., a provider of consulting and training services to manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic region specializing in lean, Six Sigma & strategy formation.