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Document your tribal knowledge.

It is not common for the CEO of a rapidly growing company to think of slowing down the furious pace enough to have each manager (including the CEO) document the job process managed, as well as see to the documentation for each process managed below.

And it is even more of a challenge to consider documenting the tribal knowledge of a company’s key employees.  Examples include forcing the entire sales and customer support team to use a single database such as SalesForce or Sugar or Act to document the interactions with prospects and customers, or using “REM” statements liberally inside software code to notify future coders of critical information contained and reasons for making code branches, assigning variables with unusual names or more.

[Email readers, continue here…]  As CEO, have you made a list of your critical chain of advisors, including bankers, accountants, industry advisors, and more?  Do you have a “secret spot” for critical information someone might need if you were incapacitated or worse?  Especially when we are young, we feel invincible, and documenting tribal knowledge seems a chore with no reward.

ProtectingThen inevitably a key employee gives notice and we begin to worry over what knowledge we will watch walk out that door, wonder how we will recover in the short term and grow out of the problem in the long term.  We worry that asking our subordinates to document their processes will look like the first step in removing them from their job. And we worry over lost productivity during this effort.

But if we make this a part of the culture of the corporation starting at the top and from an early point in the life of the organization, this process becomes an accepted way in which managers learn and leave behind, able to move up the chain with minor disruption both in the job left behind and the job assumed.  It makes for a smoother process for seeking outside hires by providing a model for the job specification to be written.

And it allows everyone to better appreciate the organization, understanding the limits of each position and the duties performed, avoiding conflicts between managers when in the future changes are made in the organization and in personnel during periods of growth or even downsizing.

Tribal knowledge is an asset of the corporation, to be protected as much as cash in the bank.

  • Some organizations put their retirees by way of a process that
    involves the transfer of knowledge in a period of time.
    In today’s world while using technology boom and also the internet, we have been given an incredible number of
    new methods for creating wealth and prospering in life.

    It is only human beings who live lives of scarcity,
    extreme competition, and imbalance, seemingly
    against the laws of nature.

  • Excellent timing and excellent advice for my hoped for iPad app business Dave. At the end of the month we hit the App Store…and with some luck we will make some money. Thank you! This article made me sit down and think hard about a number of things that have taken the back seat to development and now could (we hope so) become very important. Springing to mind are software code escrowing, key man insurance, state of our documentation, Sweat Equity agreements that need to be formalized, Corporate Structure, Accounting practices, trademarks, etc. etc. All of which could bite hard if not thought through. Good wake-up call!

  • Agreed in principal, but unless the painful truth emerges from the mix, then it may lead to the wrong conclusions and therefor becomes meangingless, like so much of the current trend in obvsecure diversity training, anger management and advanced communications. Like one of my peers said at a recent seminar conducted in Qatar: “Why have a contract, when the owner tosses it back at you across the conference table and says: “Don’t give any of that.. I am the owner and I can do anything I want ” and attorneys on both sides nod in agreement, “Yes sir, yes sir.” If you speak even one more word or consider publishing what happened, you are terminated. Where does that fit in the tribal knowledge?

  • As a long-time professional software engineer, I can tell you that the comments in the code are more important than the code, although intelligent naming of variables and methods can help avoid extra commenting. Undocumented code is incomplete code.

    As a professional scientist for a couple of decades, I can also tell you that the laboratory notebook is crucial to the advancement of science and must contain EVERYTHING that you do each day no matter how trivial.

    For my three years in sales, I kept a bound notebook with every single contact time and notes along with a special column on follow up (no online in those days). This notebook was critical to my success and was passed on to my successor.

    People who do not do these things are cowards who believe that they can make themselves indispensable by keeping secrets or are very lazy people. You should have neither in your organization and should not be one yourself.

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