Let’s face it, most entrepreneurs are really busy people. They are focused on launching their new products, raising capital or a multitude of other things. And, with the limited number of hours in a day, who could fault them if they let documenting their business processes slip down their priority list. That is, until one of their key employees quits with all that institutional knowledge undocumented in their head, and you are screwed, scrambling to pick up the pieces with no roadmap to help you.
This is a common problem that most entrepreneurs simply don’t think about until they have been burned by a departing key employee. So, before you fall into this camp, be warned -- documenting your business processes as you go is mission critical from day one. You never know when someone is going to be hit by a bus and all your systems’ login information and passwords are lost forever, as an example.
What needs to be documented?
So, take a pause and think about all the areas of your business that needs to be documented. Where do all my customer contacts reside? What was the last conversation my sales team had with my contacts? What is our desired layout for all marketing pieces and brand messaging? What techniques or phone scripts do we use to convert leads into sales? What should we be upselling to clients? What is our handoff procedure from sales to operations? What is your policy for handling customer complaints? Who has access to our bank accounts and accounting systems? How should we be collecting unpaid accounts receivables? What rules do we follow in building our technology code? And, the list goes on and on.
Training benefits from documentation.
Yes, it is a daunting task . . . the first time. But, once it is done, it can be easily maintained and updated from there. And, most importantly, it serves as a really good tool to train new employees with. So, not only is it a way to protect yourself from losing institutional learnings locked away only in the heads of your employees, it is a great way to come across as professional to new employees, to help them better understand the processes needed for their jobs. And, the faster a new employee is onboarded, the faster they are producing valuable results for your company.
How documentation should be stored.
Make sure these processes are centrally stored on your internal drives and are accessible to all employees that need to have access to such files. Perhaps segmenting your procedures by key department (e.g, sales vs. operations), and by level of role with your organization (e.g., vice presidents have access to more than Managers). You don’t want 100 percent of employees having access to 100 percent of your sensitive files for security reasons. So, make sure only the people that need to have access to those files, get access to those files.
Emphasizing the importance with your team...
And, make sure the importance of having these processes documented is trained into the DNA of your company. Let them know it is part of their job, to make sure these processes are documented, learned and followed by their teams. And, most importantly, updated as they may be changed over time. Most processes are typically not set in stone, they are fluid with the needs of the business or its customers. So, keeping the processes updated is critical to make sure new employees are learning the most current procedures.
. . . without over-processing your company.
That said, you don’t want to suffocate the life out of your business by having too many procedures. You want your organization to remain as flexible and nimble as the market demands require. So, it is much less about have a “process tsar” enforcing all your processes and making a militant environment for your staff (where they will most likely quit), and much more about letting your employees know the importance here, and having them tackle it in digestible pieces as they have time. But, they do have to make time.
So, I know it is a pain in the butt, but get your processes written down while you can, before you actually need it. You certainly don’t want your chief engineer leaving for another company before he clearly has documented all the “patches” only he knows exist in the millions of lines of code in your technology. And, for those of you that ignore this warning, prepare for a rude awakening when you need it most.