Your team is not replaceable

I have written about many things that are important in making your showroom and company the best it can be — displays, product mix, environment, technology — each of which are critical in creating a great showroom.

But each pales in comparison to what I consider truly the most important asset to any company and showroom. Its employees.

There is a phrase often used by owners and managers, and I have always whole-heartedly disagreed with. That phrase is “everybody’s replaceable,” and it has always bothered me.

Maybe some throw out this phrase to keep their employees humble, to remind them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and things could go on without them. For these reasons, some may argue there is merit to that statement, but I think the phrase couldn’t be further from the truth. It is not products or technology that make a company or showroom great, it’s the people — many of whom are truly irreplaceable.

I’m not suggesting that you never let an employee go. Sure, there are plenty of cases where a person is either not meeting the job expectations nor fitting well with the overall team, which warrants termination. These people can weigh you down and should be replaced.

Any company can hire someone to replace someone else, but just hiring a new person does not make this person a great employee. As a manager I have had to hire to fill a position, but I have also had people leave that can never be replaced. I can think of two such employees I have lost in the last 10 years, who I would take back in a heartbeat. Each had their own talents and unique skill sets that made them irreplaceable.

When a company has a truly great employee, that employee carries value that simply cannot be replaced. They carry deep institutional knowledge of the business. They have extensive product and systems knowledge about how things work within your company and industry. They have customer relationships that have been built over many years. They have relationships with manufacturers and manufacturers’ representatives they have cultivated over the years. They carry tremendous experience on what has worked and what hasn’t worked for the company in the past. Great employees have camaraderie and influence with their coworkers, which when lost, has an impact on the whole company.

My staff will tell you that I have said I am the equivalent to having five regular showroom people. While I say that jokingly, it is rooted in truth. I have 20 years of experience. That translates to 20 years of seeing different products, products no longer available, products from other manufacturers. I have seen situations that some of my staff can’t imagine, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. I will also say I have staff that have 10 years under their belts, and their value is greater than those with less. Yet what really sets great employees apart is their dedication to their job, which leads them to continually go above and beyond.

I think a great employee also to have what I call “a great sense of self-worth.” This means you have to believe that you are irreplaceable, but also be able to back that belief up. Sadly many companies don’t learn the value of their employees or that they aren't replaceable until it’s too late and they have to try to replace them.

When a company loses a great employee it causes the other employees to have reason for pause, thinking, “Why would that person leave the organization, and why would the organization let them get away? Is there something wrong that I should be worried about? Perhaps I should start looking elsewhere myself.”

Not only will other employees question it, but customers often question it as well. When customers trust an employee and that employee leaves, the customers begin to ask themselves the very same questions that other employees have, “Is there something wrong that I am unaware of? What would have caused that person to leave? Should we be looking for a new vendor?” The ripple effect of losing a great employee is tremendous and it goes well beyond what is easily quantified.

Companies need to be very thoughtful when making decisions around compensation for their employees. To deny a reasonable increase to a top performer in the organization can be a very costly mistake. To try to find and hire a replacement for a great employee will inevitably cost the organization significantly more money when they take into account the starting wage required in their attempt to “hire up,” not including the cost in time and money to train a replacement and get them up to full production, as well as the opportunity cost of having created a gap in the institutional knowledge of the business.

Obviously, there will be some life events that take great employees away from a company, which cannot be stopped. Earlier I mentioned two employees that moved on who I felt were irreplaceable. One decided to go back to school to pursue a different career path. She was accepted to a private art school in another city. The other opted to take a job that did not carry the nights and weekend hours our showroom requires.

When companies have the option to retain great employees, they should do everything in their power to do so. Companies who want to retain their top talent need to be willing to show them appreciation, compensate them well and treat them with the respect they deserve.

At the end of the day, it won’t be a great product, service or technology that makes a showroom succeed — it is great people that make a great showroom. Appreciate those men and women who dedicate their time and talents each day to make your company a success, because those are the people who cannot be replaced. 

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