People tend to think of business continuity only when it comes to major catastrophes. The head of the company dies, a natural disaster shuts down operations indefinitely, a fire burns down the warehouse. However, planning and preparing for these types of events can be just as useful for smaller, and more common, situations, like going on a vacation or taking a sick day.
No business should be on the brink of faltering because any one person is away from the office for an extended period of time—and that includes you, the business owner. You and your staff should be able to step away and know things are covered while you’re gone.
Here’s how you can accomplish this.
Know your work
If you and your staffers are clear on all of the work that keeps your business running, you’ll be well-positioned to maintain business continuity. Getting on the same page about everyone’s duties is a two-step process. First, identify what you’ve already done—all the work for which there’s already a documented process in place. Make sure everyone knows where these process documents are, and identify the people who should be trained on these processes. (More on that below.) Then move on to the processes that aren’t yet documented.
The second step is to document any process that only one employee knows. This is the work that’s typically held in someone’s head, not written down, and if that person needs some time off, the work just doesn’t get done. The person who knows that process must document how to do the work, so your operations don’t miss a beat when they’re out of the office.
Now, some people aren’t the best at explaining or documenting a process. If anyone like that is on your team, try having them train a backup person, and ask the backup person to document the process while they’re being trained. Once the process document is created, the trainee can review their documentation with the trainer to make sure they got it right.
Videos can be a great way to document company processes, but they’re not foolproof. They can become outdated very quickly, putting your team in a position where they have to constantly update them. That’s why it is sometimes easier to document things in written form—changes can be made much faster. However, video is terrific for a physical process, where describing the activity in words just doesn’t capture how the work is done. (Think of all those fix-it videos on Youtube as an example of great how-to videos for physical activities.)
If you do decide to go with video instead of (or in addition to) written documentation, do it in a way that’s convenient for you and your team. Record your videos in the simplest way possible—for instance, with your webcam or cell phone, or using a screen capture app for computer work. A fast, easy video that can be updated at a moment’s notice will be more effective than one with a lot of production value. When the highly produced video inevitably becomes outdated, you’ll likely have to film it all over again—is that something you’ll have time and budget for?
Your video doesn’t have to be beautiful, just functional.
There’s no time like the present
It’s very easy to push non-client work off to “another time.” Who has time for internal process documentation when there’s revenue-generating work to be done?
Yes, it can be tough to hit “pause” on work that brings in money, but it’s critical for your company’s overall well-being and future success to work “on” the business and not just “in” it. The easiest way to make time to work “on” your business is to schedule it, even if it’s just 30 minutes or an hour every week. Gather everyone involved in a particular process together and map it out. The 30 minutes you dedicate to documentation now will seem like nothing compared to the time your team would spend trying to figure out someone’s process if they were suddenly out of the office and there was no roadmap to turn to.
The amount of time you spend on documentation isn’t as important as just setting aside time to get it done. Doing even a little at a time will pay off, if you prioritize the most important processes first. Think of it like exercise—if you don’t work it into your schedule, it’s probably not going to happen. You’ll keep putting it off because it doesn’t feel as urgent as the client work and other tasks that you have to do. So build in a bit of time each week, and just like exercise, you’ll gain a lot of benefit from that small but consistent action over time.
Show your work
There are a number of ways to document your business’ processes. Larger companies are very formal about it—every detail is noted in a Standard Operating Procedure Manual. Smaller businesses don’t have to be quite as formal. Keep the process documentation somewhere where the people who need it will have access to it, and if it’s electronic, name each file clearly so that it’s easy to find it when you need it. Any directions should be able to be easy to read and understand. This is where screenshots and yes, videos, can be helpful.
What if a process requires expertise in a physical skill? Process documentation might not be appropriate – apprenticeship might be a better approach. Take a landscaping company for example. The business might have their best tree pruner train a few other crew members and oversee them as they do the work. Even if they don’t become as skilled as the top pruner, they’re going to get better with each attempt. If your company has this type of work, just look out for the expert who doesn’t want to train others, as a type of job security. Help them see that as your company grows, the skilled expert could become the head of a crew, all trained by that expert to do their specialized tasks. That way the skills are shared among multiple people, and if the expert needs some time off, your operations don’t screech to a halt.
Get coverage in place
Every role in a business should have some backup in place. How much backup depends on the position’s importance to the company. Take payroll for example. You need more than one person who knows how to run payroll and can do it on their own accurately. Otherwise, your lone payroll person can never take a long vacation – and what happens if they get sick that week? It’s just too important of a position not to have backup for because it involves your team’s money.
You don’t need every person in the company to know how to do all of their colleagues’ jobs, however. Training everyone for everything is not an efficient use of anyone’s time. Instead, try to find someone who would naturally fit as a good backup for each role. Don’t forget your own work, either – train up a deputy for yourself too!
Training people to be backups will also pay off if your company is growing quickly. An employee who’s wearing three hats now might only be able to handle one a year from now because that one role will take up more of their time as the company grows. The sooner you can train employees to handle that person’s other roles as backup, the more prepared they’ll be when they take over those roles permanently.
Just take action
This all might seem like a big undertaking, but you don’t have to do it all at once. A little bit at a time is much more effective than not doing anything. You can start with the processes that would cause your business to shut down if they didn’t get done. Pick one and document it. Then do the same next week, or next quarter, and so on. Before you know it, everyone will know what to do when someone’s out of the office, even if that someone is you. And you’ll sleep better at night, knowing your company’s success doesn’t ride on any one person’s shoulders.