Are you letting irreplaceable information slip right through your fingers? Companies today are savvy about protecting their computer files, backing up hard data, setting up firewalls and making copies of crucial documentation…but what about the details that cannot be downloaded? All those little bits of important information embedded in to the brain of your best employee, but never translated to paper. How do you plan for when knowledgeable employees retire, transfer or just leave?
Most businesses have one or two people who seem to know everything. They have been with the company for ages, and they know where everything is, who everyone is and why things are done the way they are done.
We have someone like that at Omnia...Betty is starting her 24th year with us. She remembers when we had just a couple of computers and a phone and when our profiles were written by hand (and delivered by horse courier). She remembers why we do things a certain way, and what happened when we tried something new. She knows everybody, or how to get in touch with everybody. She knows where to find our punch bowl, coffee filters, and that one form we might need one day. She is the one who has a spare safety pin, stapler or glue stick. She has been seen hemming someone’s pants in between booking profiles. If you have a Betty, you are lucky indeed.
Sometimes information isn't gathered over decades, but quickly, by rising stars who shoot to the top in a couple of years. I know someone we’ll call Stan* who started in the mail room of a large international company. He moved up rapidly, working in many different departments, helping streamline processes and taking part in special projects. He was the go-to guy for anything unusually challenging, and one of the few people with a good idea of how each team impacted the other. Then one day, he’d had enough of the corporate world and went to work on a farm in New England. True story.
*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent. Some aren’t so innocent.
Do you have a Betty or a Stan? Luckily for us Betty isn’t going anywhere.
Creating procedures and writing down processes is often the most dreaded and overlooked part of running a business, but it is the only way to keep that irreplaceable employee information from slipping away!
1) Identify them! Sometimes the people with the most knowledge are the quietest. You might not even realize how much intelligence this person has gathered. Your gurus are identifiable by the line of people waiting to ask them questions or seek their advice.
2) Have them take notes and document their processes as they go along. Be proactive and get this in place before the employee may even be considering transferring, retiring or resigning. Explain why you are singling them out for this task. People might not like writing procedures or explaining their processes on paper, but they are likely to appreciate having their abilities recognized.
3) Once you find out they are looking for a change, Try to stop them! Retain your top performers! Find out what makes them tick and offer them more of it. Be willing to go above and beyond to hold on to such a valued employee.
4) If that doesn’t work and they are intent on going: Stop everything and make mining their brains the very top priority. Yes, it will be challenging to have one of your best workers halt their normal production right before they leave. However, once they are gone, the chance is lost. You can’t call someone who is sitting on the beach in Tahiti and ask them what you should do with the Johnson file.
5) Have your guru help hire and train his/her own replacement. This person is ideally suited to identify what traits are needed for the position. By training the newbie personally, the most important processes and details will be safeguarded. Make the trainee take copious notes!
I know more important business issues come up on a day to day basis, putting these tasks to the back burner, but don't put it off for too long! You could find yourself reconstructing vital data from scratch, which will be tedious or nearly impossible and WILL take MUCH longer. In which case, at the very least, find out where those darned coffee filters are!