imagesOne of the biggest problems small business owners run into when it comes to human resources is the lack of a “bench.” What do I mean by that? In baseball, when one player gets injured or has to step out of the game for any reason, the coach turns to the “bench” of waiting (but talented) second-stringers to fill the gap.

If one of your key employees quits unexpectedly, having a bench of qualified employees who can step in to fill the gap can enable your business to keep running smoothly. If you don’t have a bench…well, you’re in for weeks (or months) of struggle as you place want ads, pore over resumes and interview potential candidates. How can you avoid these headaches (and the risk of an accompanying sales slump) and build a bench? Try these tips.

  1. Don’t get complacent. You may think you don’t need a bench because your key employees have been with you for years and are incredibly loyal. That may be, but with the economy picking up, more workers are itching to find new jobs. Data from the Labor Department shows the average time workers spend with one company is now less than five years.
  2. Plan ahead. Always have a game plan for what you would do if a key employee left the company. Create an organization chart and regularly review it. Who could slot into what position? If you have positions for which there isn’t a potential replacement on staff, make note of them and start fixing the situation.
  3. Identify potential second-stringers. Maybe there’s no one on staff who’s ready to jump into a key position—but is there someone who could do so with a little training and development? Identify those potential replacements and the skills they need to gain to become “bench-worthy.”
  4. Start training. Use all options available to you to provide the training needed to create a bench. This can include training offered by industry organizations or associations; signing employees up for online webinars or trainings; having them take adult education courses at a local community college; or cross-training them to handle each other’s jobs. (The latter tactic not only helps you build a bench, but also makes life a lot easier when someone is on vacation or out sick.
  5. Reward achievement. As employees gain new skills, figure out ways to reward them, whether with salary increases, title changes, bonuses or additional perks, during the interim when they’re learning new things, but are still on the bench.