The cost of relying too heavily on one person is not something that many of us takes the time to consider. As the saying goes, if “Knowledge is Power” then it may be that you don’t even realise how much of the power in your business is held in the hands of one or two key employees.

Try these five quick questions:

  • Who is the person who has the key information about how things get done?
  • Who interacts with the clients with the most ease?
  • Who knows the suppliers’ number off by heart?
  • Who is your most reliable staff member who you tend to delegate to get things done right first time?
  • Who is the go to person in the business when you need to find out something in a hurry?

You’d hope you answered with your name more than another’s, but even that can lead to issues.

Business owners don’t necessarily need to be the person who knows it all

When the knowledge stays at the top this can create its own problems. Staff can feel micro-managed, never good enough to be trusted to get the job done without having someone hovering over them. Staff training never quite hits the mark and ends up with new team members running to you every five minutes to ask the same questions, or worse, you repeating their work to get peace of mind your standards are being maintained.

Why do we end up over relying on a particular person

Perhaps you have grown from a start up at a faster pace than the team could keep up with (or so it felt some days), or the business is evolving from your key base of clients and deliverables. If, even now, your business is developing organically rather than in a focussed structured fashion, maybe you should take five and consider who is it who knows the most about your business,

Being the go-to person for everything sucks after a while

The key downside is that if you are relying too heavily on one individual, that puts an untold strain on that person, no matter how much of a team player they are. At some point, they may realise they aren’t being paid commensurately with the knowledge they hold and the responsibility being placed upon them.

So, if you don’t get them to write down what they do, they may walk at a moment’s notice. Poof! Knowledge of (and Power in) your business, gone. Just like that.

And as night follows day, once a long-time loyal member of staff goes, others may realise that they don’t have a voice about how things are done, or about how they can improve things too.

Taking people for granted in a business is risky

It’s an easy habit to slip into when everyone is busy, but you should keep your eyes and ears open. As the business grows, make sure you provide your team with the tools to grow their own roles and themselves. You will be rewarded many times over, not least with the longer turnover of your staff.

Entrusting your team to carry on with business at the same pace as before, when they are left trying to pick up the pieces of losing key knowledge of the business, is not sustainable. At this point, the astute business person would realise this is an opportune moment to write things down, to avoid this pretty unpleasant set of circumstances arising again. How long can it take, right? Not as long as you think.

Replacing an employee can be costly in more ways than one

Then on to the next step: after trying to download everything your loyal employee had in their brain before they left, what did you do with that information? Wrote it all down diligently, one would expect, with the hope that things can continue as they were before.

The team knows this situation cannot occur again, to avoid the pain its currently bringing to meet deadlines with one less person to share the workload, whilst trying to recruit a replacement at the same time.

The benefits of getting this information out of their heads and down on paper are immeasurable. It can:

Indicate how you function as a business;

Identify sticking points which you can then work on in turn to improve efficiency;

Act as a basis for a future quality management system such as ISO9001, a bonus if this crops up on pre-qualification questionnaires prior to being selected to bid for work;

Show future investors that you are serious about what you do and have the information at your fingertips when they ask: “What do you do and how do you do it?”;

When recruiting, you have a ready-made checklist of items that you need in your business that can be cross-referenced with interviewees skills and knowledge;

Use the mapped processes of work flows in and out of the business as a training guide for new staff members. Then…

Everyone can relax, knowing that the new team member would be up to speed in a matter of days rather than weeks.

The business owner can have peace of mind, knowing that not one person has the lion’s share of the knowledge about how the business works but this knowledge is widely shared. Everyone is confident about how to tackle each other’s roles interchangeably and they are more able to contribute to how the business processes can be improved. And if staff do leave, it’s not going to hold the business to ransom while the rest of the team bridges the gap.

If you find your eggs are all in one basket…

You need to work out who in your business you rely on the most, make sure you support them, and as soon as you can, devote some time to capturing what they do, not what they say they do. Writing your business processes down is worth spending the time on initially, for the long-term gains it brings. May be collate them together, et voila! you will also have a manual for the business to show off to others. Here’s to your greater peace of mind.