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The Employee Who Knew Too Much

by Mike Esposito

Shared knowledge isn’t exactly a buzzword or something that many managers think of on a daily basis, until the lack of it causes chaos in your dealership. Have you ever had an employee who is exceptionally valuable because they have so much knowledge on a certain subject, are the only person who knows how something works or how to do something?

Without a process for shared knowledge, this situation will inevitably develop in your dealership. You won’t recognize it as a problem until suddenly it is; the employee becomes ill, leaves your dealership for another position or retires. Nobody else knows what that person knows, and everyone is scrambling to figure out how to do what that person did. In the meantime, mistakes are made and productivity drops. Deals can be lost, customers are unhappy and revenue is affected, all because of one employee who knew too much.

Fortunately, this situation can be averted with a little foresight and planning. If you have an employee (or two) that knows too much, your senior management team is probably aware of who they are. When these employees request vacation time it causes a stir of panic in the pit of your belly. You go to them personally to make sure they have all their ducks in a row and bases covered before they leave. You may even find yourself telling this person to check their emails or be available by phone while they’re out, just in case.

If this has ever happened to you, it’s time to set up a process for shared knowledge. Not just for this employee, but for every critical role in your dealership. As a manager, you never want to be in a position where a single employee can hold you hostage because of everything they know.

Establishing a process for shared knowledge is relatively straightforward.

Get Buy-In

Approach the employee who knows too much, let them know how valuable they are and that you’d like them to share some of that knowledge by documenting some processes. This has to be done carefully because you don’t want this employee to think their position or responsibilities are in jeopardy. Honesty is the best policy here. You can’t afford to operate without them. If something unexpected were to happen, you’d be in a bind.

If you don’t believe this person will respond well to this approach, there’s really only one other option: Set a mandate to document every process in every critical role in your dealership. That will take more time, but it may be a better solution in the long run because written documentation can also serve as a training guide for new employees.

Identify What You Don’t Know

The employee who knows too much knows things that you’re not even aware of. It’s critical to figure out what it is that you don’t know. The simplest way to do this is to ask the employee directly, and/or to interview team members.

Designate Recipients

Identify several team members with similar skill sets that you would like to designate as recipients of the shared knowledge. Give them their mission: “I want you to know everything that John knows.” The team members and John need to be aware and supportive of this mission.

Hold Employees Accountable

Hold everyone accountable for this mission. Set a timeline; e.g. before John takes his vacation. Ask for feedback and updates along the way.

It may be worthwhile to set up a cross-functional team to establish the process of documenting processes and knowledge for critical roles. Choose a couple people from every department to help you with this important project. Include the employees who know too much on this team. Once they see that you’re requiring this for all departments, it won’t seem as if they are being singled out.

Setting up a process for shared knowledge may require some delicate managing because you’re dealing with egos. But as a dealer, you have a right to establish processes that will keep your dealership running at maximum efficiency regardless of whether one employee is there or not.

Do you have a process for shared knowledge in your dealership? How do you avoid the potential chaos caused by the employee who knew too much?


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