What will you do when your go-to people go?

It’s a well-worn cliché that the most important assets of a business are its people, but far too many businesses only realise just how true that is when a key person walks out the door—and takes with them a chunk of valuable operational knowledge that they have built over years, and nobody really knew they knew.

Often businesses will hire staff who come with knowledge and skills that make a significant impact on the running of the business. Over time they may implement procedures for onboarding new clients, an effective customer service model, even lines of reporting that make day to day management much more fluid and easy. Even small things like knowing what should be in the stationery cupboard and who the photocopier technician is can be the sole preserve of a single ‘go to’ staff member.

Leaving anything from the big-picture processes down to the details of small, every day tasks in the heads of your staff is a crisis waiting to happen. If they hand in their notice tomorrow perhaps you will be able to secure their successor in time for a proper handover. Perhaps. If not, they could hand over to another staff member, who can then hand over to the new one … Chinese whispers, anyone?

But what happens if there is no notice? People get sick, they get hit by the (proverbial) bus. If their knowledge is all in their head, and their head is no longer in your office, you and your staff are left with scrambling about trying to figure out what the absent staff member had on their mental to-do list for today, next week, next month—all while trying to run the rest of the business.

The result? Lost productivity, needless mistakes, disappointed clients. Your team gets frustrated and can lose motivation—you might even lose another staff member to stress—and the business suffers.

So what should you do to make sure that your business keeps its knowledge in-house but not in-head? One way is to start a new ‘knowledge gathering’ project—the sooner the better—in which your key staff record everything they do as they are doing it, creating electronic or physical documents that act as the ‘go-to’ repository for all your important procedures and processes. These should include step by step guides, supplier information, key dates—in short, anything a new staff member would need to know to be able to perform the role. It could also extend to recording the completion of tasks so that if you have to bring in a temp or another staff member had to cover someone else’s role for a week at short notice, it’s possible to see what task is at what stage, and what should happen next.

Orgainising the knowledge in a systematic way so that it can be easily understood is an important consideration, and it’s well worth starting your ‘knowledge gathering’ project by deciding how and where the knowledge will be stored—otherwise you risk duplicating documents, or having multiple variants of the same process on different staff member’s desktops, which is almost as bad as not having it at all. Think too about formats—some things might easily translate into a checklist, others might be better represented as a process or flow chart.

If all this seems like a daunting prospect, there are professional services (like Systemizeit) that can help you to not only document all that valuable knowledge, but also streamline your systems, processes and procedures to find labour and cost savings. Remember, ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is one of the most dangerous sentiments in any industry, so systematising your business will deliver immediate benefits.

Don’t end up losing the knowledge that makes your business tick when you lose a staff member—start ‘downloading’ that information right now so that the important activities in your business are documented, up-to-date and readily available. In other words, have ‘go-to’ files, not ‘go-to’ people. That way anyone—whether they’re new to the company or just to the role—can pick up immediately where their predecessor left off, with minimal downtime or disruption to your business.

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