“If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” How many of us have heard this before – most likely from a lawyer?
Cliché, but true, this concept has been proven true time and time again in courtrooms all across America. Documentation has become only ever more key to proving one’s case in court in an era with dozens of documentaries and podcasts informing our jury pools about false convictions and DNA testing. Juries today are more hesitant than those in the past to find defendants guilty unless there’s overwhelming scientific evidence – a problem that has more root causes than just a few Netflix series, but a problem that can be applied to other areas of legal concern; specifically, the constant struggle of risk management. Let’s move beyond the scare-tactic of ghosts of litigation past and discuss some of the more practical reasons to keep accurate and updated documentation.
While one could most likely list hundreds of benefits to keeping accurate and comprehensive documentation of processes, policies, and procedures, we will examine only three of those benefits in this article.
1) Documentation creates continuity of business operations and processes;
2) Documentation makes up the roadmap for all employees to follow in the future with regard to how something should be done, reducing the need to “reinvent the wheel” every time an issue or event comes up that has come around before;
3) Appropriate documentation can even reduce stress and workload on staff and encourage them to be more forward-thinking and use their creative skills instead of spending time on rote tasks.
Continuity of process cannot be underestimated when it comes to increasing productivity and maintaining quality. Let’s say a common task in your office is assigned to the newest person to join the team. Expecting that task to be done correctly and efficiently the first time would require documentation of how that is done, which each subsequent task-assignee adding their own comments and knowledge to improve the process along the way. This is true for any new employee in your office, and often, the seasoned ones as well. In fact, seasoned employees are the most likely ones to be running purely on knowledge inside of their heads. When that employee retires, that knowledge can be lost. Ask your staff to think of one thing they do on a weekly basis that someone would have to take over for them were they to become ill – ask them to document that process, and start there! It may seem like a monumental task to get it all down, and the urge to attempt to do it all at once will cross your mind – ignore that thought! Slow and steady wins the race to full process documentation.
You may come across some hesitancy to adopt this “new normal” of making sure everything is documented – especially if that’s not something you’ve emphasized to your team in the past. That’s ok! No one likes change. You must overcome the idea that you are making sure everyone is replaceable by asking for process documentation. Many employees will keep knowledge specifically to themselves so they feel irreplaceable, and need to understand the “why” of what you are doing beyond the idea of being able to slip someone else into their role with relative ease.
When it comes to this situation, focus on the third benefit above – that of increased productivity and time for more creative thinking and work. If a task is rote by nature, perhaps it can be delegated. That would free up more time for a senior employee to do more advanced and creative work. In order to delegate the task effectively, documentation of process is required. Documentation can also directly affect your productivity by leading to the “reinvention of the wheel” every time a certain task needs to be done. We’ve all been in those meetings where everyone sits around a conference table asking each other, “what did we do last time?” like we are trying to solve an Agatha Christie mystery, and that can all be avoided!
No doubt we have all spent time over the past year and a half examining how we do things in our offices, mainly because we’ve been forced to by outside circumstances. However, becoming proactive in making sure your office is ready the next time a major (or not-so-major!) disruption occurs can only reduce stress and anxiety for your staff. Knowing that everything is documented, backed-up, and duplicated makes for a sound night of sleep and a happy work environment!
Get beyond the scare tactics, and share good practices!