by: Yolanda Redrup, SmartCompany

Hawthorn Football Club looks set to be left reeling from the loss of key forward Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, as late yesterday it was revealed the star is set to sign with the Sydney Swans.

The deal has shocked football fans, clubs and the league, as the much-lauded Franklin was thought to be going to fledgling club Greater Western Sydney.

Franklin, 26, is said to have been offered $10 million in a nine-year contract, prompting an AFL investigation into his management regarding any possible rule breaches.

Greater Western Sydney was knocked out of the race for Franklin when it could not monetarily match the Swans’ offer; Hawthorn is also unlikely to match it.

It raises questions about how any organisation should cope when a crucial talent is poached – and when it can’t financially match an offer from a competing group.

SmartCompany spoke to Leigh Funston from the Australian Institute of Management about how businesses should prepare for the loss of a significant employee.

Build the team, not the individual

Funston says to avoid catastrophe when a staff member leaves, the business should be composed of skilled and committed people who can absorb the loss until the individual is replaced.

“The load of work needs to be able to be spread across the team of individuals who are working together,” he says.

“This should be supported by a good teamwork orientation within the business. You need people who do their best work as part of a team and this in turn needs to fuel a positive workplace culture.”

Funston says having a team of people who are multi-skilled is especially crucial in small businesses so they can manage when employees take holidays or leave.

Show leadership

A strong, positive environment is largely formed by the strength of the leadership of the firm.

“This is based on what we call ‘leadership equity’, where every individual in a business is encouraged to see themselves as a leader, for example, having the confidence to do tasks in a more innovative and productive way,” Funston says.

“People should feel encouraged to have their own ideas and to be innovative.”

Succession planning

If it’s an executive or leader of an organisation who decides to leave the firm, this can make the challenge of replacing the person twice as difficult if the business is unprepared.

Funston says all businesses need to have a succession plan in place for the managerial and leadership staff, pointing out 46% of succession plans don’t succeed.

“There is clearly some work to do with fine-tuning succession plans, but if you’re one of the 8% who don’t have a plan at all, you’re behind the pace.”

Establish multi-point contacts

It can be grim for businesses whichrely on clients or product sales when an individual responsible for major sales or clients is poached.

If unprepared, this can result in major clients leaving a firm, which can be devastating for businesses big or small.

Funston says the best way to avoid this is to have multiple points of contact with all clients.

“You need to have strong customer relationships established between multiple contacts in the business,” he says.

“If your best salesperson leaves, your organisation could be exposed if you don’t have multi-point contacts. There needs to be others who can step in and fill the gap.”

Look for the best talent

If a company’s best employee is poached, it should consider poaching someone of its own, even if it’s a small business.

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you don’t think and don’t act and don’t get aggressive, you won’t get the player that you want,” Funston says.

“Be aggressive and go for the talent that you’d like to have, even if it’s difficult.”

Funston says many employees from big organisations like a change of pace as they progress and would happily consider working for a small business.

“In today’s hectic, complex workplace environment, you can never assume that an individual at a high-profile company wouldn’t take on a new job at a small business.”

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