One of the most important lessons I learned during my years as a CEO was that great employees are not replaceable. It isn’t the technology or the product that make a company great, it’s the people. And companies who see their good employees as “replaceable” are wrong. Good employees are not replaceable. Let me clarify what I mean by “replaceable.” Can a company hire someone to fill a position to replace someone else? Of course they can. In today’s market, the world is ripe with candidates who are eager and willing to take the job. But putting a behind in a seat doesn’t replace a great employee. It simply puts a new behind in a seat.
Business leaders who adopt the attitude that anyone is replaceable, thinking they can simply hire someone with a greater skillset or someone with a more prestigious pedigree, are fooling themselves. When a company has a truly great employee, that employee carries value that simply cannot be replaced. They carry deep institutional knowledge of the organization. They have extensive product, systems, and process knowledge. They hold client relationships that have been built over many years. They carry tremendous experience on what has worked and what hasn’t worked for the company in the past. And great employees have camaraderie and influence with their coworkers, which when lost, has an impact on the corporate culture.
When a company loses a great employee it causes the other employees to have reason for pause, thinking, “Why would that person leave the organization, and why would the organization let them get away? Is there something wrong with this company that I should be worried about? Perhaps I should start looking elsewhere myself.” Not only will other employees question it, but clients often question it as well. When clients trust an employee and that employee leaves, the clients begin to ask themselves the very same questions that other employees have, “Is there something wrong that I am unaware of? What would have caused that employee to leave? Should we be out looking for a new vendor?” The ripple effect of losing a great employee is tremendous and it goes well beyond what is easily quantified.
Companies need to be very thoughtful when making decisions around compensation for their employees. To deny a reasonable increase to a top performer in the organization can be a very costly mistake. To try and hire a replacement for a great employee will inevitably cost the organization significantly more money when they take into account the starting wage required in their attempt to “hire up,” not including the cost in time and money to train a replacement and get them up to full production, as well as the opportunity cost of having created a gap in the institutional knowledge of the business.
Obviously, there will be some life events that take great employees away from a company, which cannot be stopped. But when companies have the option to retain great employees, they should do everything in their power to do so. Companies who want to retain their top talent need to be willing to show them appreciation, compensate them well, and treat them with the respect they deserve. At the end of the day, it won’t be a great product or service or technology that makes a company succeed – it is great people that make a great company. Appreciate those men and women who dedicate their time and talents each day to make your company a success, because those are the people who cannot be replaced.