How to Avoid Backfill Hell

How to Avoid Backfill Hell

A couple of years ago one of my employees took me aside and announced she was leaving.

“Sure,” I said.  “Need to leave early?  No problem. Everything caught up?”  

But she meant she is leaving as in “quitting”.

Hiring her finally made my team full.  And I had a very lean team already. I believed it was no small problem to backfill the position.

I was wrong. Learn how you can stay out of “backfill hell” as a leader.

Quick explanation  

“Backfill” is a verb meaning “refilling an excavated hole with the material dug out of it”. As a leader, I warn you to stay out of this as much as you can.  

The news my employee shared with me brought me a big step closer to it.  And it’s the worst of positions to be in.

Why backfill hell must be avoided

The business does not slow down.  Recruiting is caught off-guard and pressed for resources while the possible candidates want to know why there is a vacancy.

It does not have to happen as much as it does.  

How to avoid it

If you’re not meeting with your team each week, start now.  

I understand there is little or no time for one more meeting on the calendar.  If you’re looking for more time, stop right now. Time isn’t found, it’s made!

Schedule the meeting and set the agenda.

The time your team would normally spend fighting fires, they can now spend developing actionable items to improve resolving them efficiently.

Start with a game-changing customer focus approach to staff

Yes, your employee is (or at least should be) your number one customer.  Without him or her, you really cannot serve your paying customer.

So, to avoid the land of backfill, you need to focus on your employee like you would a paying customer.  

Listen with the intent to improve things.  

Act with an energy that results in improvement.

Listen for the subtext in their words

How do I manage this?  I already listen.  How do I improve these listening skills? I listen for the subtext.  

Somewhere in what your employee is sharing, there is a complaint. Too little time.  Too much work. The system is too slow.

Each of these problems are missing a solution.  

Feed the complaint back to your employee and start discussing ways to resolve it.

Don’t stop trying

Everything I tried with my employee to prevent her from leaving was being stopped by her already-made-up-mind.  There seemed to be no way to win this one.

So, I simply asked, “What’s the problem?” She replied, “We’re moving at too fast a pace’.”  

And the light bulb turned on!

Create a smoother onboarding experience

She needed a smoother onboarding experience.  Great. I can make that happen, so that is just what I did.

Most of the processes at work can be tweaked a bit without disruption.  

I found room in the process to adjust things and my employee had more time to get to know who’s who in the company.

She learned the how/why of what we do, which rules she could bend, and those she could not.

At the end of the day

The smoother onboarding experience I created not only kept her from leaving but also allowed her to greatly develop in her role.  

She became quite confident and, as a result, she performed really well.  Perhaps, even more important, when larger problems came across her desk, she had no hesitation bringing them to me for help.

Meet with your employees regularly.  Listen to them as you would a paying customer.  Listen for your next opportunity.

Finding and resolving it might make all the difference in proactively avoiding backfill hell!

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