In my last post, I discussed the importance of speaking up about all facets of your business life, especially if you own your own business and have another side gig, or if you're an independent contractor who wears many hats. Keeping such information to yourself only hampers your ability to truly connect with others, in terms of potential customers, business partners or referrals. Today, I'd like to emphasize how important it is for business owners and corporations to ensure that pockets of information do not go out the door when an employee leaves the company. I'm not just talking trade secrets here; those can be protected during exit interviews and with the proper paperwork. I'm talking about those little-known tricks, workarounds, resources and systems that a savvy staff member develops while in your employ.
For example, Joe in Marketing is the only one in the company who uses that frustratingly antiquated back-end such-and-such tool, simply because he's the only one who knows how. It's your job to make sure that when he leaves the company, his successor knows precisely how to operate that tool, even if it is an old way of doing things, because necessary files or information may be stored there that can later be analyzed for statistics or trends. At the very least, the successor should know that the particular process exists, if only to recommend more user-friendly software to accomplish the same task. This may require that Joe either train his successor, brief his manager or draw up a func spec to serve as a reference guide.
I realize, however, that what I am describing is an ideal knowledge transfer, which isn't always attainable. Not every resignation or termination situation carries with it the standard two weeks' notice. Some happen abruptly, with a later-that-day departure that leaves no opportunity for file transfers, copying of client contacts or hand-offs of any kind.
To avoid future situations in which leave you in the dark, I suggest that managers, directors and owners start early:
1) Try to instill regular documentation habits early on in the process. Asking employees to keep regular reports is an effective way to keep tabs on where systems need to be implemented, or even to spot where systems exist in the first place. If you see that an employee is approving customer comments on the company blog, then ask that employee to draw up a simple how-to guide that includes login credentials and step-by-step instructions so that any co-worker can cover that task in the case of illness or departure. While employees don't enjoy the process of daily or even weekly reports, it truly is one of the best ways that you can see productivity and the big picture.
2) Encourage managers to hold regular team meetings, or even a team meal. The more a team gets together as a unit, the more opportunities for open dialogue to occur. And when co-workers talk shop, processes are shared, ideas emerge and operational flaws are discovered (and often solved). At one company I worked for, a close-knit department got together once a week for lunch in the conference room. It wasn't catered or anything; rather, teammates would either bring their lunch, order in or get it to go and then gather around the table for an informative, casual discussion. That department operated like a well-oiled machine, and I'm sure the bonding and sharing of information that occurred at those lunches had a great deal to do with that.
3) Start. Organizing. Now. It's never too late to start documenting processes or even just keeping tidy files. Don't wait until things get chaotic (the office is moving, there is a merger or acquisition, a new leader implements a system overhaul, etc.) to organize files and develop systems for the smooth transfer of how things are done. You will only make an incredibly tedious assignment even more of an uphill struggle. For myself, I regularly pick a portion of my hard drive to organize every week or so: On any given day, I'll tackle photo files; the next time around, I'll handle music files; and all along I'll make sure that client folders are categorized and up to date. It's such a rewarding feeling to get a request for a specific file and to be able to locate it right away with no problems. I want that for all of you.
What's one way you ensure knowledge-transfer ease?