The recent government shutdown and furlough days affected my immediate area tremendously, with nearly half of our population employed by or connected to the federal government. It was interesting to me who was designated as “essential employees” and who was not. I worked for the National Security Agency many years ago and this designation was both a blessing and a curse – especially if your “essential” designation meant fighting a winter storm to get there. More often than not, the higher your managerial title or your skill level, the more chance you got that distinguished title.
Small business owners often fall into the same mindset, making themselves the “essential employee” who has to always be there. I look at what makes a team member an essential employee much differently.
An essential employee:
- Can do their job without supervision. Supervision is not the same as accountability. I still review my team member’s statistics and they know I will ask about anything that is falling behind or out of the norm. But they don’t need, or want, me standing over their shoulders either. I let them know that if I have to be there, they don’t. They get the concept.
- Can make 90%+ of daily decisions without me. Yes, I had to train them on how I would want them to approach situations, especially when dealing with a mistake on our part, or an upset customer, regardless of whether we are to blame or not. But part of my hiring process is getting an idea of how they deal with conflict and make decisions. If they insist on calling me into the office every time a decision needs to be made then I have failed to either identify them as the team member I need, or they are not acting with confidence in the decision making power I have handed them. In either case, it needs corrected.
- Has a heart for the company’s vision. I don’t expect my team members to sacrifice what I did to start the company, or to push their personal lives aside. I do expect them to give me their all while they are there, and to have some flexibility to “make it happen” or “get the job done” when things don’t go right. Our company serves people; sometimes serving can be messy. They need to be willing to embrace that aspect of our business.
Essential means “of the utmost importance; indispensable;” it means things don’t run as smoothly without you there. I don’t want to be an “essential employee” of my company. There are decisions as the owner that only I can make, but they are not the ones that require my daily attendance. Why would you want to own a job?
And yet, so many small business owners do just that – create an environment where they are the most essential person there, and no one can act without their input first – or they hire only people that will be reliant on the owner’s level of experience. You own a job, not a business, my friend, if this is you. Think on that.