For a small business, having one key employee quit can cause chaos. Because small businesses typically run lean, you may not have a “backup bench” of people who can readily step up to fill the employee’s shoes. That can lead to poor service, missed orders, unhappy customers, and lost sales.

4 Steps to Building an Employee Backup Bench

  1. Do an assessment.

Create an organization chart (even if you’ve only got five people on staff) and write a job description for all roles and responsibilities. Then envision what would happen to your business if any one of those people left. Could someone else handle the person’s duties, even if just for a short time? Or would you be left completely in the lurch?

Once you know which skills are in short supply, pinpoint the people who could best fill those gaps. If your marketing person is the only one who knows how to handle your business’ social media accounts, for instance, could you start training a junior employee how to do it? Figure out who should do what.

  1. Cross-train employees.

Training employees to do each other’s jobs (or at least part of each other’s jobs) is a smart way to build your bench. It doesn’t involve any new hires, and it gives your employees new skills that make them more valuable. Employees typically welcome the chance to acquire new skills. They also benefit from having people who can fill in for them when they go on vacation, call in sick, or take a day off.

Before you have employees cross-train each other, make sure that you’re satisfied with each employee’s job performance. You don’t want people to pass on bad habits to others. Once you’re confident in their abilities, pair employees up to share their knowledge with others. Work the new skills into the trainees’ daily duties on a regular basis so they don’t forget, but be sure you don’t overload them. The point isn’t to give everyone double duty, but to widen the scope of each employee’s job so they have more variety and become more confident in their new skills.

  1. Watch for warning signs.

You’re less likely to be broadsided if you keep up with your employees’ lives and pay attention to the workplace grapevine. Regularly chatting with employees and gauging the mood of the office will help you spot someone who’s dissatisfied so you can either forestall their quitting or make plans to deal with it.

In addition to informal communications, more frequent reviews can also help you spot trouble. When doing reviews, don’t just focus on now; ask employees where they see their future in the company and what other skills they’d like to learn. You may discover potential bench-fillers you didn’t know you had.

  1. Be prepared.

You can’t always develop a backup bench on the inside. If you simply don’t have the staff or the expertise in-house to be ready to cover every position, plan ahead for how you would handle it if each employee quit. This might include keeping up with potential new hires on social media, knowing where you’d run help wanted ads (and even having job descriptions and ads ready), developing relationships with temporary agencies or staffing services so they can spring into action for you, and maintaining a stable of freelancers or contractors who can fill in quickly if an employee leaves.

By taking these four steps to building a bench, you’ll be better prepared to handle whatever curve balls your employees throw at you.

Rieva is a small-business contributor for Fundbox and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. She has spent 30+ years covering, consulting, and speaking to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs.