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Loss of valued employees can lead to clarity of needs

Sun., May 1, 2011

Last fall two of my managers asked if we could have lunch. They wanted to hammer out a changed procedure and thought we could do it better away from the office. That is not unusual; we are good at moving off site to get stuff done. But they made sure to meet me at my favorite lunch place. I got there first, coming in from another meeting, and they turned up with a gift bag for me. Wow, how nice!

Inside that bag were two teddy bears with little printed T-shirts that said, “I can’t wait to meet my mom’s boss in April of 2011!” Two bears, two managers, oh my. Someone was having twins? Nope, they were both due within days of each other. Mariah and Elea, two key people, both on maternity leave. Swell. But it gets more interesting.

In the beginning, Elea, our BBB vice president, and I had thought long and hard before we hired Mariah — because she is the wife of another key staff person. There are all sorts of reasons not to go down that road, but this case was special. This husband and wife had worked together before in a strict corporate setting, and she brought a skill set and work ethic to our team that was extremely attractive. They would be in different departments, and after much discussion with the staff we offered Mariah the position. Finding those bright and talented young professionals is not as common as one would think, especially back when unemployment was hovering at 3 percent.

Of course, she quickly rose through assorted positions into a leadership role. Now Mariah and her husband, Andrew, are both part of the BBB management team in a small office of 24 individuals. And Elea, Andrew and Mariah were all expecting.

I was beginning to feel like the commander leading her troops up the hill, only to turn around and see nobody behind her. Yes, the BBB has a great team dedicated to the work we do, but these three are the ones who keep everyone moving in the right direction; they keep the wheels on the bus. Yikes! Andrew is the one everyone goes to with their computer problems, and all three of them were going to be gone for two weeks, and two of them for six weeks.

I have just survived the two weeks, and that certainly was an interesting journey. When people are gone from the organization, the holes and opportunities become very clear. It has been an eye opener. I would not recommend this to anyone; it is quite disruptive and frankly feels lonely and weird, but I did learn many lessons:

• It is critical to set goals and ensure all the staff knows where we are going and what their part in that trip will be.

• Things that are not urgent or important can wait. It is not fatal to tell someone, “Sorry, that will need to wait until June.”

• Murphy and his law know when you are thin on staff, and all sorts of IT problems, building problems and staff problems will wait to happen until everyone is gone.

• There are those who will take advantage of their direct leader’s absence.

• Reviewing procedures every so often will show that some of the things we do as an organization may have a historical precedent, but they are no longer necessary or efficient.

• When there is a gap, there are those who will rise to a leadership that you did not even know was possible.

• Some people are so focused in their position and production that they find it difficult to see the big picture.

• Staff members really care about each other and the success of the business.

• Managing and leading are very different skills, and I do not think you can teach leadership.

• Things you may find frivolous or unimportant are actually critical to staff morale, and you need to be sure someone is caring for that factor.

I was so glad to see Andrew return last week. I wanted to have a parade! The whole staff was just as relieved. But the most fun in all of this is we now have two baby boys in the BBB family. And the day Andrew and Mariah went to the hospital to have that baby – just like the day that Elea and Josh went in – well, there were 20 other people in the office having those babies, too.

What a way to welcome spring.


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