Who Holds the Knowledge in Your Organization?

Who Holds the Knowledge in Your Organization?
Monday, February 4th, 2013 Scott Bossart

                Spend any amount of time in the trenches of any organization and this question can quickly be answered.  At every level of the organization there exists a level of expertise for certain activities.  Usually I hear things like, ‘We need to ask George, because he is the one who knows how to do that?’  Every organization has individuals who perform more consistently for certain activities.  In other cases, it may be a specific group or select individuals who seem to be the folks with all the “Knowledge”.  Consider everyone in the organization and the key roles they function within, in an effort to keep the business engine running.  Typically every leader in the organization functions under the premise of specific activities are consistently being accomplished.  Also, typically, no one really fully understands potentially itemized details required to accomplish these achievements.  On the other side of the coin are the groups of employees who seem to always outperform others.  The one key factor which is typically missing, involves replication of successful activity completions between differing employees.  Naturally there is an element of skill involved in completing some activities but the steps required should always be consistent.  It is these steps which I am directing this writing.

                Consistency is an extremely difficult thing to achieve if activity process steps are allowed to be self-developed and dependent on who is actually performing them.  I routinely see certain jobs or tasks which come up and everyone re-organizes the normal day to day schedule so one specific person can handle it because that is the only person known to get it consistently right.   The other scenario can include certain activities performed either by a specific crew due to their role.  As long as they stay as the point person/s to complete the assignment, all is well.  Once there is a requirement for personnel change in that role, then things deteriorate quickly and even in some cases, to a point of failure.  This leads back to the organizations ability to replicate certain task’s, assignment’s, or activities.  The knowledge each successful role holds, typically determines where the subject matter experts reside.  There is one question that lingers; What happens if one or more persons are replaced to perform the same activity?  Often times the business will stumble or produce less than desirable results until a replacement is brought up to speed.  This is not to suggest no learning curve is involved or skill set needs to be developed.  What I am referring to are the steps, requirements, details, etc. of which the normal Subject Matter Expert would follow.  If the steps are not documented to an adequate level of detail for replication, there could exist a high risk gap in your sustainable business model.

                Documenting all required processes is a key to achieving replication.  Taking time to record detailed steps for completion of an activity is value-added time spent.  I’ve witnessed what would seem as the most mundane or insignificant activity, not be documented, and come up short or simply completely fall apart of what was once considered a successful process.  It is easy to get caught up into thinking a specific person or group will always be performing a specific activity or group of tasks.  Especially if they do it very well or always do it correctly.  This mentality can establish a false comfort level of success.  Each step should be documented and formally vetted to ensure it is not only the best process, but also it can be replicated by another person or group if required.  This is not to suggest there is a need to threaten job security for a valuable employee or group.  It is to say, any successful business leader will have the information on what it takes to complete any function or activity required to keep the organization running smoothly.  This is even true in the front office functions and activities.  This includes anything requiring data entry, decision processes, and even seemingly routine activities.

                It is important to ask yourself, what happens if one or more key personnel is not in their normal role tomorrow and a replacement steps in?  It is a false sense of security to think key people in the organization will always be in place.  Changes can occur in an instant and overnight.  Consider how the most prominent Franchise’s maintain their successful positions in the marketplace.  They have routine tasks and activities well documented and ensure training is performed consistently.  In your own business, every new employee should be given the business processes pertaining to their specific role.  This should be the living document that dictates how you conduct business from day to day.  It compliments and supports the transition of a replacement for the role.  Ask the question if certain people changed roles; would things continue with minimal affect or would certain processes in the business stumble?  It doesn’t take a lot of effort to document the activities being performed in your business.  The time spent now, can greatly offset potential failures later.

O.M.E.M., LLC – Helping Businesses Improve

Stay Well

Scott B.


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