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Friday, March 29, 2013

Document your tribal knowledge

from Dave Berkus





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.

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.

Then 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.

Dave Berkus is a noted speaker, author and early stage private equity investor. He is acknowledged as one of the most active angel investors in the country, having made and actively participated in over 70 technology investments during the past decade. He currently manages two angel VC funds (Berkus Technology Ventures, LLC and Kodiak Ventures, L.P.), is a partner in Trenchant Ventures, LLC. Dave is past Chairman of the Tech Coast Angels, one of the largest angel networks in the United States. You can read more of his blog posts at Berkonomics.com, where this was originally posted. Dave's most recent book is BASIC BERKONOMICS, which was just released earlier this year.


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