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Written By: Bob Napierala on Saturday, January 11th, 2014


Your employees hold the organizational intellectual property required to sustain your business. We can all assume that many companies have one or two employees they couldn’t operate without; someone with an extensive and invaluable amount of intellectual knowledge, someone that could throw a giant wrench in the business spokes if they left. Do you have an employee like this? If so, I suspect that the mere thought of their absence sends shivers down your spine.

It’s easy to let a hard-working employee evolve into a position of leverage. One where they relieve workloads, handle requirements that you don’t want to deal with (or lack proficiency in) and handle issues before they become a problem. It’s a natural progression and you quickly find yourself in a vulnerable state. I also assume you very much respect and appreciate this person (and rightfully so). We all know, this is a risky relationship. Although you may be aware of the “whys”, allow me to elaborate.

First and foremost, when one person is the gatekeeper of your business’s intellectual property and executer of any one process let alone many, you must ask yourself the following questions:
“How can I analyze process improvement?”  
“How can I know it is the best way to perform that process?” and
“What tools or capabilities do I have to measure it’s efficiency if there is no documentation and constant record keeping?”
Of course even if we are able to answer those questions with confidence, we must evaluate the training aspects of that job or any other for that matter.
“Does this employee train new hires to perform a particular set of processes?”
“Are these processes available to anyone else in the company or is it all in our employees’ heads?”
If you answered yes to either of those questions, you already know that it creates a bottleneck effect in the training system. If they hold all the information, they are the only ones who can teach it.

Most Importantly, we must come to realize one way or another that this person will not be around forever. So, what if this key person leaves abruptly? Sudden retirement? Injury? You must confront the endless possibilities and prepare to ask yourself:
“How will I fill their position when processes have not been documented?”
“If I cannot re-create these tasks myself, how can I expect to teach someone else my former employee’s day-to-day operations?”
And if this is too extreme a scenario for you, just imagine a time when this key employee is absent for a day? Maybe a week? You probably have an able body that can fill in for the time being but no documentation on how to actually do the job so you both spend most of the day running in circles asking yourselves how one person handles all of this.

If you had not noticed a theme in this article, I have mentioned documentation quite a bit. Although time consuming, it is the simple solution to keeping your company running smoothly even in the absence of any employee. And I’m not talking about broad-based word documents. It truly is all in the details. Once a team or organization has recognized the value in its formal knowledge and has begun to both capture and manage it appropriately, the group has the key raw ingredients of project memory, and ultimately of organizational memory.  The more robust the documentation is in minor details, the easier it will be for an employee without specific experience to fill in. Time spent up front documenting how your company is run will spare plenty of time and headaches in the long run. Stop procrastinating and take the plunge. You and your business will be better for it in the end.


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