Of Course We Have a Process

How undocumented processes hurt the business

Having processes that everybody is aware of and follows is a key factor driving business success. If a process is not documented, is it still a process? Is there anything wrong with having undocumented processes if everyone knows and follows them anyway?

Firstly, a process is a process, documented or not. People who work together on a daily basis will adopt the same way of doing things and will generally follow the same steps each time a new job comes in, so they are following a process of sorts.

The Oxford dictionary describes a process as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”, so by definition, when you log a call, work on it and then close it, you have followed a process. So where does the problem lie if these processes are not documented?

A modern issue

Twenty or thirty years ago, undocumented processes were not a huge concern. People left education, took a role in an organization and planned on staying there for the foreseeable future. You learned the way of doing things from your co-workers and passed this knowledge on to new colleagues.

Workforces were generally stable, leavers and starters were exceptional events and the organization functioned very well on the retained knowledge of the people who worked there. But things have changed.

Today’s millennial employee expects to stay in a job for no more than two years. A recent report from Gallup revealed that 60% of millennials are open to new job opportunities and 21% of them had actually changed jobs in the past year – that is three times higher than non-millennials. This job hopping culture is estimated to cost the US economy around $30.5 Billion per year.

The costs of new staff

I don’t have to tell you that new staff are not productive on day one. It is pretty widely accepted that just to break even on the costs of hiring a new staff member takes around 6 months. This is just the point where they are producing around the same value as they are costing. To get them to a point where they are positively contributing to the organization to any appreciable level can take a lot longer. Some reports estimate that this next step can take as much as two years – so how does a business cope if their employees are only staying for two years?

This is where the value of clearly documented processes can make an appreciable difference to the bottom line for an organization.

Who tells the stories when everyone has left?

It is unlikely that we are going to suddenly change the behaviors of this new working generation. What we need to be able to do is to get them up to speed quickly and accelerate the journey to value. If we are relying on new hires learning from the current workforce, we will lose a huge proportion of our retained wisdom as the ratio of millennials increases in the workforce and the average tenure of our employees consequently faces a dramatic reduction.

In this situation, without well documented processes, time-to-value for new hires will rapidly grow, to the point that they may only just reach that break-even point before leaving for their next role at another company.

Documentation is the key

There is no point complaining about the lack of loyalty we perceive from this new generation workforce; it is very unlikely that this is going to change. We need to embrace this way of working, take the best from it and find a way to speed up the time-to-value lag.

The most effective way of doing this is to provide comprehensive onboarding documentation to your new hires. This will include clear and concise process maps, giving unambiguous instructions on how you expect your new hires to work.

Your undocumented processes will damage your bottom line, if they are not doing this already. If you cannot quickly show your new hires how things are done in your organization you face a long road to realizing the value from that employee, and the chances are that their value will not be realized before they leave and offer the skills they have learned from you to a new employer.


• Posted by Cecile Hurley on Oct 11, 2016
• Filed under Articles
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