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Our key person has left us (with a train wreck). What do we do?


There’s nothing quite as unsettling as walking into a new role, only to find your predecessor has left everything in disarray – piecemeal information, no documented procedures, just a whirlpool of confusion. You’ve found yourself in a mess not of your own making, and you have to make sense of chaos while you’re trying to show your new workplace that you’ve got this.

The sad part is, this isn’t an uncommon scenario, particularly in organizations where longstanding employees depart abruptly, or without leaving any handover notes behind. I met someone recently who had been directly affected. After joining a team in a non-profit organization, a key person in the team left and their responsibilities had fallen to her. While she stepped into the role full of optimism, she soon questioned her judgement as she came to realize the extent of the mess she’d been left with.

The cost of such disorganization can be staggering. Not only does it consume time and resources to make sense of the tangled webs, it can derail the organization’s goals. Important tasks and deadlines can fall down the cracks, opening the company to all sorts of risks.

Way We Do is the ounce of prevention you can take to prevent the proverbial tonne of cure, but what happens if you’re still in your early stages and you find yourself in just the dilemma I’ve described? Well the first thing is not to panic. Read on for what we recommend you do next to clear away the wreckage, and get yourself back on track.

Step 1: Stay calm

It may sound twee, but take a few slow, deep breaths. This tells your brain and body to slow down, and helps you get clarity so you can make more effective decisions. See the situation for what it is – a challenge to overcome, rather than what it isn’t – a reflection on your capabilities.

Step 2: Triage

Look at which tasks are the most urgent, and which can wait. Structure your days around this principle and start chipping away. This will (hopefully) help you feel less overwhelmed.

Step 2: Put the pieces together

A scattered organization is like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle: The pieces are all there, they need to be put together.

Start by identifying where information lies and being assembling a coherent picture. Ask questions, engage with team members, use existing documentation – even if it’s sparse, it can still give you clues to get you moving in the right direction.

Step 3: Document everything

As the knots start to unravel, keep a record of each step. Not only will this serve as a reference point for you moving forward, but it will also be incredibly beneficial for future employees.

This is where using a tool like Way We Do can be hugely beneficial. Way We Do is an online standard operating procedures (SOP) tool that offers a simple and efficient way to document step-by-step processes and procedures. Way We Do can be your organization’s digital playbook, helping you record tasks, actions and workflows. And that’s just for starters.

A resource like Way We Do helps you stay on top of your workload, with easily accessible procedures that keep your business streamlined across all your operations, every day, year round. It’s easy to keep details up to date, with everyone able to access the information they need as they need it, reducing confusion and inefficiency.

Documenting your processes, particularly using Way We Do, will prevent this situation from happening again. Plus, it will give future team members the confidence to transition smoothly from role to role (and reduce your stress in the process), knowing they have a clear roadmap to guide their way.

Step 4: Engage the team

It’s vital you get your team members on board in this process. Ask them for support and guidance as you piece the puzzle together – they could hold valuable information that will help you get a clearer idea of the overall picture. Even those who might not seem directly involved might have insights from their interactions or observations.

Once you’ve documented all the processes and procedures, walk through them with your team. Confirm what you’ve captured makes sense to them, is accurate, and that it makes sense. Their perspective might capture aspects that have eluded your sleuthing, or may even shed light on better methods.

With that milestone achieved, teach your team how to document their own processes and procedures using Way We Do. This way, you’re making sure they understand how to document their own processes and giving them a part to play in building a better organized, more efficient work environment. It also promotes a culture of knowledge sharing and fosters better communication and collaboration, which can lead to a stronger, more resilient organization.

Step 5: Develop a contingency plan

No, this action plan doesn’t just end at Step 4. Even though you’ve got everything sorted out, and you’ve got Way We Do covering your bases, you want to make absolutely sure you don’t lose critical knowledge the next time a long-term staff members resigns or retires. So, we need a contingency plan.

Keep developing your knowledge base on Way We Do, and create a system where knowledge is shared – for example, by having employees shadow each other, or rotate responsibilities – and documented. Most importantly, make sure that documentation is easily accessible to all those who may need it.

Remember, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. Patience, perseverance and a consistent, methodical approach will help turn even the most chaotic of situations around. With these principles in place, you’re able to grow your business from a more stable foundation.

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