business systemsThis is a true story about business systems walking out the door. For the past fourteen years, our friend Michelle had access to exclusive business systems containing critical and sensitive customer information.

She had worked at the top level in telecommunications for a company that does business with the medical industry. It was logical to assume this type of company would be well- organized, with very sophisticated standards of operation.

As my wife Susan and I were having lunch with Michelle, waiting for our Panera Bread sandwiches, Michelle shared this shocking story with us.

She told us about Human Resources summoning her, to inform her of her layoff, “effective immediately”. Moreover, given little explanation, other than the fact the company had lost a major piece of business and needed to “drastically” reduce staff.

As a result, she was one of many that day that received notice, and was at first devastated by the news.

Business Systems & Customer Information was Exclusive to Me!

She said, as she was sitting in Human Resources trying to make sense of it all, decided to talk to the HR Manager who delivered the shocking news to her. “How will the company continue to service the remaining customers who have relied on me and my department?”, she asked. Michelle informed the manager that most of what she handled for the company was exclusive to her.

Over the years, Michelle had obtained specific information that no one else knew how to process. More importantly, she had access to (i.e. internal access codes and other knowledge the company would need to continue serving their remaining customers). In fact, no one in the company thought to ask her for that exclusive information before the layoff. In fact, no one thought to have her train someone, before letting her just WALK out the door.

Michelle, not bitter nor angry, just surprised that management had NO knowledge of the business systems and information she processed. Moreover, they didn’t understand the critical importance of her position.  After the HR meeting, Michelle went back to her office to clear out her desk and finish out the day.

Company was Informed by Employee of a Pending Disaster

About an hour after the meeting, the HR Manager stopped by to inform her that management wanted to meet with her.

The general manager opened the meeting by touting how much they appreciated her, and her fairness, given the fact of her layoff.  Additionally, he said, “You’re the only one given a pink slip who showed any concern for our customers or regard for the company.” Therefore, if you are willing we would like you stay on for a couple of weeks, to train other.  As good sport, she willingly agreed.

My GUT reaction to Michelle’s story?   I commented to Michelle, “Are you saying, that NO written operations manual, procedures or policies existed?  Were you asked to write down your work processes, or setup a checklist?”

She said, “NO”! In fact, she had no knowledge of a written operations manual for the company or asked to create one.  Surprisingly, what she had learned about her job over the years was in her head.  So, if she walked out the door, that part of the system to operate their company would ALSO, walk out the door.

Why Would a Company Make this Kind of Mistake?

Why would a company do that to itself?  More importantly, why wouldn’t they have systems in place to ensure retaining and securing key customer information?

Michell mentioned having exclusive possession to password-protected documents and systems to secure the access codes. Whereby, if Michelle was a vindictive sort, real pain could have been caused for this company.

Sorry to say, I wasn’t surprised or shocked that this company. Although they operated at elevated levels in the medical field and we that negligent, I’ve witnessed this behavior before.  In fact, companies flying by the seat-of-their-pants are all too common even in critically important industries.

For this reason, I’ve spent years encouraging, prodding, coaxing and sometimes persuading companies to build an operations manual. All to avoid people walking out the door with exclusive process knowledge of how a business operates. Sadly, there are countless owners with managers who contain sensitive, exclusive and critical knowledge.

In conclusion, with many small businesses, most of the knowledge obtained over the years, of how the company operates, remains in owner’s skull. And not surprisingly, in the heads current or former employees.

Did I mention? Great System Work!

(At least, until the system—in this case the employee—walks out the door!)