Recently I read the news that Reddit let go of their director of communications. As she was a key part of the popular Ask Me Anything interviews, which often featured major celebrities, the moderators of the /r/IAMA subreddit locked it down in protest, and a number of other subreddits did the same.
It’s back now, but the volunteer moderators are unhappy with the sudden change and lack of communication from Reddit’s staff. The good news is that the backlash seems to have resulted in efforts by the site’s staff to work with the moderators to make things work more smoothly.
I can appreciate how the removal of a key employee can change everything. People worry about Apple’s future with Steve Jobs gone now. It can be disappointing to go to a favorite restaurant and discover that they replaced the chef and now everything tastes and looks different. A high turnover can mean that each time you call your utility company you are never sure how helpful the staff member will be on the other end of the line.
But I found it strange how dependent organizations can be on one person. It sounded like Victoria Taylor was great at what she did for organizing interviews, but what happens if she gets sick? What if she for one reason or another is no longer available?
Tl;dr: for /r/IAMA to work the way it currently does, we need Victoria. Without her, we need to figure out a different way for it to work.
Personalities are great, and in some places they are key. Radio DJs, for instance, can seriously impact ratings.
But if you are dependent on one key person, and that person goes away, you’re left high and dry.
In management, the situation is described as getting hit by a bus. If it happens to you, what’s your organization’s contingency plan to carry on without you?
In a large organization, not having a way to function without some key individual probably means you don’t have your key processes documented. You are expecting one person to know how to do everything, and no one else needs to.
You have a single point of failure, and when it fails, it is catastrophic.
We have been really blindsided by all of this. As a result, we will need to go through our processes and see what can be done without her.
If you are a lone wolf indie game developer, or any solo entrepreneur, then without you, there is no business.
But even so, take this situation as a warning that you should figure out the processes you depend upon. You might not always be available to personally handle things in a unique way each time. You want consistency.
If you ever get to the point where you want to hire help, for instance, you’ll need to know what that help should do. You don’t want to depend on someone to wing it and change how your business appears to function to your customers. You don’t want to accidentally give the appearance of changing chefs.