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When You Need That Bigger Boat: Finding Key Employees

Jul 14, 2015 | about the firm, Careers, Corporate, Entrepreneurs, Hiring Independent Contractors & Employees, Operating Your Company

Origami Boats

“The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.”  J. Paul Getty

The watershed moment in any business is when you as an entrepreneur, turn to your partner and say, “We need to hire someone.”

Hiring is one of the toughest skills to obtain. I use a very technical, specific method to hire law clerks. Everyone — from the receptionist through the senior staff — weighs in and we see if they will be able to join the culture and then we test their technical skills and their writing. I use a completely different, softer approach to find a lateral hire; its more about the interpersonal skills.

Once you have that person, and that person “works out,” that person becomes integral to the stability and growth of the firm. You spend energy and money to train this person.  You develop this, the most valuable of resources. You teach them the ropes of your business or a new area or a technical skill.

The challenge is not finding a person who does not triple your work but keeping that person you rely on. You don’t want is to turn a barmaid into a superstar and then see them swooped up by a bigger, more established firm. The key to keeping that employee is to make their economic incentive strong enough to stay.

Take a moment to not just work in your business, but on your business.

Employees, through the training they receive, the processes they follow and the skills they bring, are often critical to the value of the business. Your employees are essential.

Before you start picking favorites in your business, take stock of the entire employee group and think about which of those employees are truly “key” to your future.  You will be surprised. In my own business, my key employees are not the ones an outsider may assume and are not necessarily on this website. So, before creating plans for the future that include those employees, take stock.

A true key employee has four qualities.

  1. The employee has a direct impact on the value of the business. The employee’s role in the company, responsibilities and decisions impact sales, profitability, growth, product development or another critical value driver in the business.
  2. The employee has a significant impact on the value of the business. Their role, responsibilities and decisions are crucial.
  3. Their combination of skills and experience would be difficult to replace. The employee has a unique capability that increases the value of your organization —something your competitors wish to poach, if possible.
  4. The employee will participate in a meaningful way in the strategic future of the company. The employee has a vision for the future, brings ideas to the table, and creatively solves problems.

The loss would damage your business, not just cause a few late nights to catch up. That’s the internal, meditative part of the equation. Beyond that, it’s up to an employee to be a “key employee.” True key employees realize their own value and are willing to contribute that value to the business to grow and drive the business to succeed.

They may not own a piece of the business, but they will darn well act like they do.

As an owner, it is your job to recruit, motivate, reward and retain these key people.  Opportunities for advancement, formal incentives and retention measures may play a role in how successfully you will be to keep a key employee, let alone leverage that key employee’s value for the continued success of the business.

If you have questions, please feel free to give us a call or send us an email.


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I formerly worked as a satellite employee from my home state of New Jersey. I ended my employment with my former employer in 2016. In 2018, I was sued by my former employer for $1.1 million in Illinois State Court. I was referred to Brinen & Associates, LLC by a friend who is a client of the firm. Brinen & Associates, LLC came highly recommended. I contacted Joshua Brinen and then had a consultation at his office with his colleague Mark White. Together, Messrs. Brinen and White explained my options...

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