An article by Jennifer Matt about key employees caught my eye and although it was written primarily for larger print shops, the concept is equally applicable to smaller shops. She makes the argument for a shop to be system-driven rather than employee-driven. In a shop where there’s a system that the employees drive, there is less chance of the absence of a “key” employee being disruptive. That employee who believes “this plant won’t run without me.”

She explains: “This article will cause some consternation with folks who want to celebrate their ability to critically think about every job. It makes you feel smart to have to solve challenges on every job to make that ship date. My first job in the printing industry was at a 24/7 retail Kinko’s location. I loved the sense of urgency from our customers and the sense of accomplishment when we hit their deadline. We had one of the most profitable stores in the country. I remember a strategic consultant visiting our store and commenting to me that what I was doing at the store was not replicable because it required me. I took it as a compliment and then years later figured out, I was that employee that believed “this plant won’t run without me!””

So, as Matt points out, that key employee is often seen as a plus but can actually be a minus. The question for you then is whether your shop is run by a system or by an employee? Are you using technology to the fullest to ensure that the absence of the “key” employee won’t turn into a minus from the plus that you thought you had?