By: Helios on September 21st, 2021

Print/Save as PDF

How to Protect Your HR Team from Key Person Dependencies

Risk Management | Best Practices

Every employee is irreplaceable, in a way. People have characteristics that make them one-of-a-kind, whether it’s their attention to detail, their empathy with customers, or their genius for communication. But when an employee is literally impossible to replace, you might run into problems.

A key person is someone who has become a load-bearing part of the office structure. Such people often possess highly valuable institutional knowledge about core processes or systems. Depending on a key person means that your whole team is vulnerable – after all, what happens if the key person doesn’t show up for work tomorrow?

>> Download My Free Guide To Executive Recruitment <<


How to identify a key person dependency in your HR team

You might not realize that you have a key person dependency until it’s too late. Say an emergency breaks out in the HR team, and it turns out that the only person who can fix it is on vacation.

Or – even worse – they’ve quit. 

Companies need to identify any key person dependencies long before they become a problem.

Companies need to identify any key person dependencies long before they become a problem. Some ways you can do this include: 

  1. Process mapping: Walk through each HR process from beginning to end. Examine every step that occurs from task initiation to completion. For example, you might run a simulation of doing a benefits enrolment or handling a complaint. Now, ask who has the competencies required to complete each step? If the process always passes through a single desk, you’ve got a key person dependency. 
  2. System audit: The modern HR team uses dozens of systems for essential tasks. As well as HRIS and Applicant Tracking Systems, there are cloud systems like Google Docs and Dropbox. Most teams will also have spreadsheets and documents on a shared drive. Who can access these systems? Who has permission to edit? Who had administrative access? If any system belongs to a single user, that’s a key person dependency.
  3. Knowledge checks: Who do people turn to when they have a question? If you find out who your local experts are, you may find that some people are the sole authority on a particular subject matter, such as compliance or privacy. If nobody else can answer these questions, then it creates a dependency on a key person. 

Key person dependencies are not an issue with your people. They are a structural problem that represents a lack of coordination with your processes. And the best way to fix them? By reviewing those processes. 

Eliminating key person dependencies from your HR team

A well-organized team can withstand the loss of any member. When an individual is absent, the rest of the team should have the process knowledge that allows them to keep delivering consistent, quality results. 

Here are a few steps to help deliver a resilient, flexible team:

1. Eliminate process bottlenecks

Process bottlenecks are a common side-effect of key person dependencies. Only one person knows how to perform a certain task, which means they must handle every single job associated with that task. It can slow everyone else down while putting enormous stress on the key employee. 

There are two main ways to eliminate bottlenecks: 

  • Cross-training: Educate others on the team so that they can lend a hand. This not only allows your HR team to reach their goals faster, but it means that you’re not struggling when the key person goes on vacation. 
  • Automation: If possible, use a software solution to automate this process and take the workload away from your HR team. For instance, employee self-service portals manage a lot of repetitive HR tasks, such as benefits enrolment and payment details management. 

However you approach it, the goal is to open up your workflow so that your team can process tasks as quickly as possible. 

2. Encourage job shadowing

Job shadowing is not just for interns. Everyone can learn a lot by spending the day with a colleague and watching what they do. This kind of practical, on-the-job experience can often provide the kind of insight you don’t get from learning sessions. 

If your HR team gets a chance to shadow other members of the department, it can lead to conversations that wouldn’t otherwise happen. Simple questions like, “why do you do things this way?” can cause the whole team to reexamine how they approach everyday tasks. Often, these conversations can reveal key person dependencies that would otherwise go unnoticed. 

3. Host knowledge-sharing sessions

Key person dependencies often emerge by accident, and it’s usually down to a lack of communication. In a busy HR office, there isn’t always time to educate your colleagues on complicated rules or tasks. Instead, you end up processing each task yourself, and the team becomes utterly dependent on you. 

Leaders can prevent this by giving employees a chance to talk to each other. Knowledge-sharing sessions are team meetings with no agenda other than to discuss protocols and processes. It’s a chance for people to explain things to their colleagues, and for those colleagues to ask follow-up questions. It’s an especially great way to share wisdom about complex topics, such as compliance. 

4. Maintain a knowledge base

You can eliminate key employee dependencies by getting the key person to write a how-to guide for their colleagues. But how do you get this information out to everyone? What happens if you lose the manual? If you update the manual, how do you ensure that people aren’t still referring to the older version? 

These problems can be solved by a knowledge base: a central digital repository for all team knowledge. Essentially, this is an intranet site that everyone on the HR team can access. You can use any system that suits your IT infrastructure, whether that’s a Microsoft Sharepoint directory or an internal Wiki

What happens when you run into key person dependency problems? 

Unfortunately, key person dependencies sometimes only reveal themselves when it’s too late. Your key person leaves, and suddenly the whole team falls apart.

In this scenario, it’s best to bring in an expert. A great HR advisory firm can parachute into an emergency and find a solution. The best HR consultants will have extensive knowledge of compliance protocols, as well as an expert understanding of your HRIS platforms. A consultant will get your HR department back online and then help the team build future-proof processes. 

Need to talk to an HR consultant? Book a no-obligation call right with an HR consultant right now


>> Download My Free Guide to Executive Recruitment <<