Do your talent plans include critical roles or critical people?

Do your talent plans include critical roles or critical people?



Like most employers, you likely have a number of employees in critical positions. These roles significantly impact your company’s revenue, growth, and business plans.

The loss of a person holding such a position would adversely affect your company, and finding a replacement won’t be easy. For example, the chief executive officer is usually a critical position.

When you identify critical positions, consider whether the designation is due to the responsibilities of the role, or because of the unique talents of the person in that role. In the second case, you should be able to take steps to reduce your company’s dependence on that person, which reduces the impacts of having that position vacant during a search for a replacement.

Critical role

Some roles, like CEO, are critical because the responsibilities cannot realistically be shared with others. In such cases, you may not be able to eliminate the impact of losing the person in that position; however, you can reduce the impact by identifying and training a replacement who can step in temporarily until a replacement is found.

For example, the manager of a retail store is a critical position because the store cannot operate without a manager. However, an assistant manager should know enough about operations to fill in if the manager departs unexpectedly. The primary concern is fulfilling the duties of the position.

Critical person

In some cases, you’ve vested a lot of responsibility in a person with special knowledge, skills, or abilities. If other employees could develop the talents needed to share some of the key duties, the critical designation may be based on the person’s abilities, not the position’s responsibilities.

For example, if you have only one programmer who understands your software systems and keeps everything running, that position may be critical based on the talents of the person in the role. In that case, you should train others and reduce the impact of losing that person.

To help identify options for reducing your reliance on that person, consider

  • What knowledge, skill, or ability makes that person unique? Can the person train one or more backups who can quickly step into the role?
  • If training a backup is not feasible, can you reduce your company’s dependence on that person? Could some key functions be transferred to other employees (giving them growth opportunities)?
  • If sharing duties is not an option, can you quickly find a replacement? Have likely internal candidates been identified? Do you know where to look for external candidates?

A vacancy in a critical position could negatively impact your company’s future, so you’ll want to create a succession plan for quickly providing a replacement. But while a role may be critical based on responsibilities, an individual should not be critical simply because the company developed an over-reliance on that person.

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