Someone in your organization is walking around with a ton of institutional knowledge stuck in their head. He usually wears many hats and has been around for seemingly forever, and so his impact on the organization is widespread. We’ve all run into them. Some call them the historian, the curator, the walking brain, or simply that guy (or girl).
Not only do they have a nickname, but they have invisible dollar signs hanging over their heads.
Instead of just worrying about them, as if they have a ticking time bomb that if lost your organization’s intellectual capital goes with it, you could tap into them to generate new revenue and cost savings. So says a recent study by IDC and Ricoh, debunking a myth that process documentation is just a back-office saver. The study is in line with what we’ve experienced. In this study, 83 percent of respondents indicated that customer-facing document-driven processes on average increase revenue by 10.1 percent.
So why don’t you hear or see more about these processes from peers? It’s because they’re often what makes organizations unique. We call it our playbook, but others have called it their cookbook, recipe box, secret ingredients or chocolate cake. We build on and protect our playbook, better than some NFL coaches, and have all of our players buying in because it’s so simple.
What’s the secret with these processes?
As you grow, you continue to add new initiatives, product offerings or new customers. All the while, the institutional knowledge and processes often become fragmented. They overwhelm those who hold the information and breakdowns occur that result in unpredictable downtimes, delays and lost opportunities.
Process is what differentiates us all and drives growth. It’s process that produces consistency and quality allowing one organization to be more successful than another. Defining processes allows for flexibility as the market shifts, allowing you to adapt more easily to changing demands.
When I talk with clients about process management, I’m often met with uncertainty about how their business processes tie into technology. One of my favorite quotes to date is, “I think that we know how to run our own business.” They’re right, they do. So why aren’t we taking advantage of that knowledge to make technology improve it? Because it’s walking around in someone’s head.
Technology touches (or has the ability to touch) most aspects of every organization. Most people look at process analysis simply as a means to identify bottlenecks within the organization. That’s one benefit, but the hidden gem is after the processes are documented, finding how to reduce or remove steps using technology you already have to save everyone time and money, and to generate growth.
To find that gem though we need to find that guy and get the processes down on paper. We need to move past simply defining the way you do things, and look for ways to automate them, better utilize resources and build on what’s there to meet goals.
Reasons that you should have defined and documented processes:
- Consistency. A defined process is the recipe for continued success. A business built on delivering customer service needs to have a defined process to ensure continuity.
- Scalability. Documentation allows you to identify opportunities to build for automation, which allows you to scale much more easily.
- Efficient starts. There’s no greater tool for a new employee (we call it employee onboarding) than to have well-defined processes to follow to hit the ground running.
- Increase profits. A defined process allows for greater insight into your overall productivity. It identifies gaps in your business and targets improvements to be made. It identifies key metrics to manage and control as well.
- Flexibility. When a market shifts, a defined process will allow your organization to transition much easier.
- Valuation. Your company is much more valuable on the market with defined processes vs. complete reliance on institutional knowledge.
So you have determined that it’s a good idea to get your processes documented…
Processes are best reviewed by the people who create, perform and manage them. Find that guy and start documenting steps. Keep it simple and easy. Then, identify where you can keep these processes where everyone can access them. There’s many solutions available for creating, storing and approving processes, so think about who and how your players tap into these documents. As I mentioned before, using technology you already have is a good start.
Most organizations are taking advantage of Office 365 and have access to SharePoint. There are a number of features in SharePoint to help manage your processes and make this whole brain dump even easier. But for now, I encourage you to trap those walking historians in a room, jot down everything they know and demand your technology experts to find you a way to automate, streamline and meet your goals.