Can Your Business Survive an Information Meltdown?

  • Introduction Recently, a business owner I know was faced with a near-disastrous situation. A key employee left abruptly, after stealing thousands of dollars from the company’s customers. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the employee’s unexpected departure meant there was no one left to manage crucial everyday operations. The knowledge of how to do so had disappeared along with the stolen funds. As a result, the chaotic office atmosphere virtually crippled the owner’s ability to maintain his business.Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario (though few involve theft or embezzlement). Many employees wake up one day and decide, unbeknownst to their managers, that their goals and the company’s goals are no longer compatible, and move on elsewhere. This is a point I strongly convey to business owners who are convinced that certain key personnel would never leave their company.To the RescueThe good news is, an owner can protect against a devastating loss of functioning office management. An Office Information Management System (OIMS) plan outlines in precise detail the way different types of information flow through your business and how this information can and should be handled on a daily basis — while ensuring that you stay in control of, and have access to, all the knowledge you need to effectively manage the business.

    The existence of an OIMS plan becomes especially valuable when key personnel quit or leave due to termination or a medical emergency. The OIMS plan:

  • Offers structure and flexibility for other personnel when the office is understaffed
  • Enables anyone to locate, process and communicate information in an organized and effective manner
  • Prevents time wasted on repeatedly training new personnel
    Also, with an OIMS plan in place, temp workers can be more fully utilized, rather than left to read the newspaper because no one’s available to instruct them on proper office management.                                         Creating an OIMS PlanAn effective OIMS plan takes an outsider’s look at your business, covering all aspects of how information (telephone, fax, mail, e-mail, computer data, files and storage) gets transmitted through your office environment.The creation of this plan should be the responsibility of a person with strong organizational development skills and in-depth knowledge of how information flows through the business. The ability to work well with owners, partners, management and support personnel is also important, since some resistance can be expected from individuals who feel that not sharing knowledge is the best way to “guarantee” their job security.Every business operates differently, so each OIMS plan will be different. I would recommend bringing in an outside consultant with experience in this area to create the plan. Its effectiveness hinges on focusing on relevant business processes and identifying and “handling” employees who are reluctant to divulge crucial information.

    Elements of an OIMS plan include:

  • Description of company’s goals
  • A chart outlining the flow of communications
  • Sections identifying potential problem areas (with recommended solutions)
  • Anticipated changes in business operations within the next three to five years
    Prior to being finalized, an OIMS should be tested by bringing in either a temporary employee or someone completely unfamiliar with your business operations. This person should have limited contact with the individual(s) currently assigned to these responsibilities, in order to properly test the proposed system’s effectiveness.The business owner I described learned too late that the cost of preparing an OIMS plan is substantially lower than what he had to pay to regain information about his company’s daily operations. The question to ask yourself: “If key personnel left tomorrow, would I lose the knowledge of how to effectively run my business?” If you answer yes, you should explore the OIMS option right away.Donna Johnson is a Vistage associate and president/CEO of DJ Consulting Services, Inc., providing business/personal coaching, professional organizing, motivational speaking, workshops and seminars for businesses and individuals.

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