Marvin has been with the company for 30 years. As a sales representative and then a sales manager, Marvin worked directly with our customers, helping them to create new approaches in how they stored and accessed what was important to them. He has been a Certified Records Manager for over 15 years and became Improve Group’s President and CEO in 2000. Marvin is dedicated to helping our customers understand the value of what good processes can do to improve their business.
It’s the Friendly Ones You Have to Watch Out For!
I spent a few wonderful days in an unnamed town in the southwest a couple of weeks ago. Beautiful rock formations, awesome hiking and biking trails and some of the friendliest people you’d ever hope to meet. That’s how I learned an important lesson about the friendly ones.
You see, my wife and I visited a quaint little museum in town and found one of the nicest guys we had ever met. Treated us like we were long lost cousins or something. He told us most of his life story, recommended a few local restaurants and generally acted like a one man welcoming committee. However, things began to change when he asked if we’d ridden the local sightseeing train. It’s one of those old trains with the fancy dining car that takes you places a car can’t go.
“You can’t leave ***** without talking the train ride!” he said. Never one to pass up a train ride, or chance to move on from a long conversation I said, “well, we’ll have to check it out.” That’s when the conversation took a sinister turn.
“What if I could get you first class tickets on the train for free?” Now my mom told me years ago that nothing is free, so it’s becoming obvious this conversation is heading somewhere fast. Many of you have probably caught on by now, much faster than I did, that this was a time-share sales guy.
All a person has to do to get the free first class tickets is listen to a short, no pressure, one month presentation on buying a vacation condo. (OK, he said the presentation would take an hour and a half, but experience tells me it feels like a month)
So there you go, I thought this was just one of your occasional friendly citizens; when the whole museum was just a front for a time share sales office. When the other guy knows more than you do it can lead to trouble.
That reminds me of a potential problem we all have in our businesses. There are workers walking around with lots of undisclosed, un-catalogued information in their heads. It’s called tacit information, or knowledge that’s not spoken.
It might be the admin who knows that if you kick the copier just under tray one it will start up again, or someone in finance who knows just who to talk to at that slow paying customer to get things rolling.
Either way, if they win the lottery and are gone tomorrow, who is going to carry on with the same efficiency?
Business today faces real challenges as the baby boomers and lottery winners retire with all that tacit information between their ears that makes the business run smoothly.
So what should we be doing to protect ourselves? Well, if you can’t buy a time share and fade off into the sunset I’d recommend conducting a “Tacit Information Inventory”.
Here are four steps to get you started.
1. Review the job descriptions of all key team members. Why? Because it will help you categorize the information in a way that makes it useable. You will also probably find that some staff’s positions have evolved into areas they were not originally tasked with. That evolution is often what produces tacit knowledge. During the review ask yourself three questions.
1. Does the job description accurately reflect what this person does every day?
2. Is it just a task list or is it outcome based? In other words, does the description itself define success for the position?
3. Why in the heck are we paying someone to do this job? (just kidding)
2. Review the companies written task procedures for that position. Hmmm…you don’t have written procedures? That’s a common problem, an obvious birthplace for tacit information.
3. Interview the team member with the procedures and job description in hand. Ask how their real world day differs from the description and procedures. This is a great time to confirm we are all spending time on the things that bring the most value.
4. Watch them work. Now I know some of you are saying that’s what we pay our supervisors to do, just walk around and watch the real producers work. But, it’s important to watch the admin person un-jam the copier and see if the real world process matches the written procedure. Chances are nowhere in the written process will it say “kick the copier just under tray one.” We recommend that a member of a different department observe the work and compare it to the documented process, looking for differences.
5. Document, document, document. Create a repository of real world processes for your company that reflects what people really know and do. Assign someone to keep them current and do regular audits like step three above. This gives you a terrific resource for training and protects the organization from in the event a key person moves on.
At Improve Group we have lots of process experts who would be happy to help your organization dig out all of that unspoken information your team knows. If you call in the next 24 hours you just might get free tickets to something.