Small closely held businesses in America still employ more people than their larger, publicly owned counterparts. In many, the employees have similar questions and concerns about the business structure.
Employees of small businesses frequently wonder what would happen to their jobs if the business sells or the majority owner suddenly can’t come to work.
Naturally, owners are not eager to talk about their business plans with every employee. But the key employees have a right to not only think these thoughts, but to approach ownership and ask the questions on their mind.
Owners should not sit around and wait for an employee to raise the topic. It has already been raised as water cooler conversation and discussions among and between those employees who feel they are key to the success of the business.
A good strategy for owners is to begin to frame a conversation on the topic. This recommendation isn’t suggested to cater to nervous or insecure employees, it is to be sure that your business does not crumble if an undesirable event happens, like death or total disability of the leader.
As the owner, you have a fiduciary obligation to several constituents. You have an obligation to your family, your clients or customers, your vendors and your employees. Any one could be instrumental in success or instant failure.
Family could step in and upset the apple cart. This could be from personality clashes or a lack of knowledge of operations. Without clients or customers, there wouldn’t be much of a business and without dedicated employees these customers would surely look for another alternative to meet their needs. If vendors or bankers decide to pull the plug because they lack confidence in the business’ ability to succeed, once again the entity is doomed.
As an owner, it is in your best interest to be sure there is a plan to carry on and all the people who make your business what it is are aware that there is a plan. I’d start the conversation with your key employees and vendors. Be sure they are a part of the plan and there isn’t any panic if the unthinkable occurs.
For key employees, it is appropriate to talk about roles and responsibilities in the absence of the leader. Ultimately, this conversation should lead to a “what’s in it for me” so that these key employees don’t scatter instantly or get gobbled up by your fiercest competitor.
This may lead to employment contracts, where you can contractually limit their ability to impose harm. This may include ownership or a slice of the pie in the event of a sale.