Documentation: How to Save Your Organization Time & Money

I met an industry colleague for coffee a few weeks ago. He was in a tough situation and was looking for guidance.

He’s a VP of Finance and like most senior leaders, hasn’t been in the weeds of his internal finance systems for a while. He’s been with the company for 20+ years and as he climbed the ladder, he passed the baton of System Administrator/super-user to his team. If he ever needs data pulls or a specific report generated, he calls Susan. Susan is a very savvy mid-level person and has an incredible ability to go-in, work with the data, and generate whatever his heart desires. She knows the internal nuances of their key systems inside and out (she’s been with the company for about 6 years) and is the one person who can “make the data work.”

Unfortunately, Susan gave her notice and that’s why my friend reached out. How is he – and his functional team – going to survive after Susan departs?

In consulting, my friend’s story is an all-too-familiar-oh-my-god-what-are-we-going-to-do-tale. We know that talent isn’t staying at jobs for ten years, let alone 20 anymore. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that people born in the 1960s -1980s averaged two job changes by age 32. Millennials and Generation Z’s see an average of three to four jobs in the same time span.

And it is those people, those early-to-mid career professionals, who are often required to be the ones in the weeds. Their eyes and ears are in there daily and like riding a bike down the same path every day, they know how to get around and which potholes to avoid.

So, when your “Susan” leaves, would you – or anyone else on your team – be able to step right in and query the data? Write a report? Fill those critical shoes?

Knowledge transfer, cross training, overall training, and usable documentation are vital to an organization’s success. Here are some ways to avoid this trap:

System & Process Documentation

An internal finance application is often a large investment of both time and money. Most of these systems are robust and involved, they require hands-on detailed training efforts for new & old users to ensure they use the systems as intended and use them effectively.

While a strong training program is essential to a successful implementation, companies also need to ensure that they have been provided adequate system documentation to facilitate the knowledge hand-off when and where they need to.

  • Don’t let the documentation collect dust. Technology continuously updates (whether we welcome it or not) and someone must be responsible to keep reference materials current and updated. By performing regular reviews and planning scheduled update sessions, you can ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. I recommend looking over and updating documentation every six months through both a systems and process lens.
  • Save money with regular updates. Part of my role is to come in and partner with organizations when they are considering new systems or making enhancements to current ones. Perhaps they want to go through an overall process or technology road-mapping exercise to identify gaps and areas of improvement; either way, my team strives to find the most value-add solution for them. Without fail, one of the first things we ask for is the documentation behind the current process or system. As shocking as this sounds, many companies don’t have this information readily available or even available at all and they end up repaying for the discovery. This is something your organization already invested in and paid for when they selected the initial system. By not regularly updating documentation, you are repaying for something you should already have – something no financial professional ever wants to do!
  • Partner with HR early. New employees will need to learn their new organization’s systems and associated processes from the get go. Partner with HR and pinpoint the proper place during the onboarding process to incorporate this type of training. Create quick reference “cheat sheets” for all your systems. By having this process in place with multiple stakeholders across the organization, the benefits behind strong and updated documentation won’t fade.

Good documentation will only help HR. A 2017 survey by Training Magazine reports that employee training and development programs have disappeared:

  • 39% [of respondents] will see a training budget decrease of 6-15%
  • 29% will see a training budget decrease of 1-5%
  • 32% will see a training budget decrease of more than 16%

On top of that, companies in 2017 spent about $65,000 less than they did in years prior on training. When companies have inefficient systems and processes, the misalignment can wreak havoc on their financial performance. You will help HR close the training gap by having good, up-to-date documentation in place.

Even if you don’t have a seat at the boardroom table, you are the one working within the system daily. It will be up to you to figure it out and operate it at full tilt. As a result, you can help keep the documentation fresh and useful.

  • Be proactive. Many of us use mnemonic devices to remember how to follow instructions. If one aids you and increases your productivity, share it with the team. The most referenceable materials are the ones we remember with ease.
  • Tune when necessary. A guitar will work if its tuned. If the current internal system seems to “snag,” your expertise will help drive decisions. Can you tune this? Or will you need to have an entire system overhaul and bring in something with more features? While many people opt for the latter, tuning can work –it is worth exploring!

When change occurs, updated and detailed documentation will save your organization time, money, and emotional distress. By avoiding having just one “intellectual property/go-to” person on staff and having navigation reference materials ready, anyone can step up no matter what query or report your team needs.

Need help training your team? Read our blog: How to Create a Culture of Training.