Have you ever dreaded the day your administration officer Michaela would go on vacation to Saskatchewan? Not because she might come back with a new twang in her voice, or a penchant for gravy fries with cheese curds (and stink up the office)!
Perhaps you just have a sneaking suspicion that things at the office will start to come apart at the seams while your colleague is away. Her work might seem like a cloudy mystery to you; a strange alchemy only Michaela can perform.
And should a new apprentice of the magical arts, aka a new admin officer, join the team, would you worry about how long it will take them to learn the ropes?
There should be absolutely no mystery about what is happening, whatsoever, not ever. Everyone’s jobs should be broken down into easy-to-follow steps. Business transparency should be the norm. Business process documentation should be a basic requirement in all offices. Let’s say that again, and again. And again.
What is business process documentation?
Business process documentation records the steps for every process within a business. It sounds simple, but it does require frequent reviewing and updating. It takes time and effort, perhaps even an appointed person to carry out the task, but it is really helpful in the medium to long term.
It involves things like creating a process flowchart, and writing down where every file is and what it’s used for. It could be a checklist for invoicing, or things to ask someone visiting your office.
In essence, it’s literally about writing down what you do in your job and how, in detail, so that if someone else reads your instructions, they could carry out the tasks in the same way you would.
So why do you need it? Because…
No one should be indispensable
In other words, a process shouldn’t exist solely in one person’s brain. Sometimes people will deliberately avoid being transparent about how they perform tasks in order to maintain job security. Or perhaps they’ve been in the company for so many years that the job has become synonymous with them as a person.
They are THE administrator, rather than they are performing the administrative tasks. But then what happens when that person goes to Saskatchewan for a week? Or decides to go off the grid forever? Or, you know, retires?
Your company has a right to know how everyone gets their job done, because if that person leaves for any length of time, you have to be able to fill in for them. You might find it useful to use workflow management software to help in those kinds of situations, but ultimately, you also need to know what it is people do, step-by-step.
It’s possible to be someone’s manager or supervisor and not quite know what they do, even if you are a kickass female entrepreneur with a great business. While it’s wonderful that people are efficient and find unique ways of doing things, you need to have an overview of your business processes at all times.
A clear path for new recruits
When you hire someone new, you don’t want them bolting after day one when they realize that there is no clear structure for them to follow. You also don’t want them needing to ask the ‘knowledge holders’ in the team thousands of questions. This can take up a lot of time in a workday and keep people from getting important tasks done. The answers to those questions should already be written down in a clear and structured way.
Being asked thousands of questions is also a massive time and energy drain for your experienced colleagues. There should be no knowledge holders, the knowledge should be shared (and shareable) by all. This basically comes down to power – you don’t want an imbalance between new and older colleagues, or between colleagues working in different areas.
A new recruit will likely learn faster if the processes are clearly documented, and they can be more autonomous in their learning. They can also help colleagues faster if they can be gotten up to speed more readily.
Staff turnover costs companies anywhere between 30% and 400% of an employee’s salary. 26% of that cost is training. Documenting your processes, however, should reduce training time and costs. This in turn could reduce the cost of turnover should anybody leave.
And, if the employee’s tasks have been properly documented beforehand, then their colleagues will find it easier to fill in for them while waiting for a new recruit.
A coherent process
Documenting your business process, policy and procedure means that people are more likely to do things in the same way, rather than making things up as they go along. If people have similar working styles and follow the documented process, they can more easily pick up for each other and work as a team.
They’re literally on the same page—of the documented processes! This makes problem solving easier as everyone is speaking the same language, so to speak. Team task management just got a whole lot easier!
Having to wade through the incoherent filing systems of your colleague who is off sick is nightmarish. Whether you’re an accountant using QuickBooks or QuickBooks alternatives, everything is made harder with so many people working remotely these days. Even a brief conversation with a colleague becomes a more disruptive phone call.
Standardizing these processes is something you can work on once you know what everyone’s doing, by documenting it.
Creating room for improvement
Business process mapping allows you to create a visual representation of your business processes. It’s similar to documentation, but it’s more of a blueprint with an emphasis on visualizing your core processes.
Both mapping and documenting allow you to find clarity within the fog of your own work, make processes clearer across departments, and find opportunities for improvement. If you can clearly see where you are and what you’re doing, you can see what needs to change.
An unmapped or undocumented process has too much space for repetitions, unnecessary tasks, and illogical steps. By simply writing everything down, you can then begin to see how to improve your processes, and which steps to get rid of altogether! Imagine, fewer spreadsheets to update!
Nicer work environment
Clarifying your procedures also leads to clearer communication between colleagues and departments, whether they’re communicating over the phone or meeting virtually. Better communication usually leads to a nicer (as well as more productive) work environment.
With only 15% of people feeling engaged at work, streamlining that work might improve how people feel about the tasks they do on a daily basis as well. One thing people want is meaningful work, and by eliminating unnecessary tasks, the work defacto becomes more meaningful.
With the added autonomy of being able to refer to a document whenever someone has a question, employees are less likely to experience imposter syndrome. They don’t have to ask colleagues all the time and worry about asking too many questions this way.
Following the rules
Clarifying your processes also makes it much easier to see whether you’re complying with legislation. Your industry might have a set of requirements for you to adhere to, or there could be privacy laws which you need to take into account. It might seem really basic but it can be easy to make mistakes when your processes lack clarity.
Running any kind of business means keeping excellent records. If you’re dealing with customer information, or working with the public in general, you need to be aware of how your processes do or don’t adhere to rules and regulations.
With 56% of people feeling that employee awareness of data privacy policies is insufficient, and 24% stating that there is a lack of data privacy policies altogether, there needs to be greater clarity around mitigating risks in the workplace.
There are many reasons why you should consider documenting your business processes, especially if you’re just starting out and have a relatively clean slate. It might seem painstaking to do this, but you will save yourself and your colleagues a lot of stress in the long run.
The great thing about starting from day one is that you won’t have as many mistakes to learn from as your business grows.
Making sure that you’re adhering to rules and regulations, that you’re covered in case anyone leaves, and of course that your employees and colleagues are happy at work are all important outcomes of good organization.
And documenting your processes is the first step of good organization. From there, you will have much greater clarity about which direction to move in and how to improve processes. Some companies hire a specialist to carry out the documentation task. It‘s something that needs to be regularly updated and reviewed as time goes on and people come and go.
Some organizations will assign this task to a member of the team. This might be a cost-efficient and simple way to do it. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as the saying goes.
Alister Esam is the CEO and Founder of Process Bliss, a business process management software that is reinventing how businesses execute day to day tasks. He is an expert in strategic planning, business process management, and business process optimization. With more than 15 years of experience in helping businesses run at peak efficiency, Alister has dedicated his career to make work easier, and more motivating for managers and employees alike. Here is his LinkedIn.