Any good business carries insurance to protect itself from catastrophic events. It therefore stands to reason that it should also insure against these two challenges by taking a few precautionary measures.
This is a major concern for many organizations. What happens when Joe, a key employee in one area of the organization, departs suddenly? Joe was the one person who knew exactly how to handle his responsibilities and no one else in the organization knows exactly how he did it. How do you possibly fill that void?
To answer this question, we’ll borrow a metaphor from Jim Collins’ Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.
Joe is a time-teller. Once Joe is gone, no one else knows how to tell time, and this leaves your organization vulnerable to the key employee problem. Rather than have Joe tell time until the day he decides to leave, have him build a clock instead. This is where processes come into play. Processes are one crucial part of building a clock for your business—they explain how Joe does his job. If Joe builds a clock, everyone will still be able to tell time if Joe leaves.
This is a training/exodus issue similar to the key employee problem. Two jobs with identical job descriptions in two different companies might be vastly different due to the different markets, company culture and millions of other variables. In essence, your current employees have acquired all of the specialized knowledge needed to make your business work.
It can take years, even for experienced professionals, to take hold of all the specialized, organization-specific knowledge required to do the job well. Many companies accidentally let specialized knowledge go to waste when employees leave and they simply expect new hires to “pick it up” along the way. We call this “reinventing the wheel.” Businesses lose a lot of utility and productivity from new hires because they have to rediscover all of the knowledge that was lost when the predecessor departed.
Processes can help alleviate this problem-each documented business process is one more piece of knowledge that doesn’t need to be reinvented whenever turnover occurs in your organization.
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