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Protecting ‘Hidden’ Intangible Company Assets

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Every family has its stories, legacies and details known to no one else; those oftentimes undocumented secret recipes for favorite cookies and cakes, the tales of how grandma got her nickname and how it was passed down through the generations. Unless families make an effort to document and archive those legacies, they are too often lost when a family member passes away.

The same is true for your business — while you may be insuring your tangible assets such as equipment, buildings and inventory, what about protecting those ‘intangibles’ that make your business what it is? How do you document and protect the less public, hidden things that would hurt your business if gone, such as repair expertise, archived client histories, even notes on what’s in the storage room?

Following are several suggestions for protecting and archiving your company’s legacy:

1. Figure Out Who Knows What: A good first step is to actually poll your employees, especially your longest tenured ones, to find out who specializes in or knows what. Is someone on your IT team always the one who fixes server problems? Is the receptionist who has been with you for 20 years the one that always organizes birthday celebrations? Before doing anything, get a handle on what is out there in your employee expertise.

2. Examine Non-Documented Information: As you talk with your team, also try and get a sense of what is ‘known’ but not documented. Do you have a piece of equipment with no known manual? Are there wonky steps to getting your email blasts to work but that are not part of any instructions? In addition to figuring out who knows what, also start making a list of ‘procedures’ that are not in any known documentation and also a list of missing or outdated instructions or manuals.

3. Get Updated: Go through all of your equipment, technology and tangible assets and make sure you have the most current documentation and manuals and devise a central filing system or online organization tool if not already in place — Place PDFs of all manuals for example into a central Google Drive accessible to all who may need it.

4. Embrace DIY Manuals: Here’s where the ‘hidden’ assets are really important — What information is not in the official manuals or documents? As you review everyone’s role, embark on a project to supplement any official materials with do-it-yourself add ons, tips and tricks. For each system or business element, talk with staff and write down a “what’s not in the instructions” guide that highlights tips or lessons learned along the ways; important time saving hacks or shortcuts. Once created, also add these documents as PDFs to your online records so if that employee leaves, the knowledge passes on.

5. Use Video Archives: A great tool, especially when it comes to explaining how equipment works or repairs are made, is a video archive. Faster and easier than documenting step by step instructions in a written manual, spend some time with your seasoned employees having them walk you through how a common repair is made or their favorite shortcuts for getting something to work more efficiently. Oftentimes these team members are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to little tips and tricks and you don’t want to lose those if an employee is no longer with the company. Create simple instructional videos even just using your smartphone, and upload them categorized by product or line of businesses in the same Google Drive with your other official and DIY manuals. This way, when a new employee needs some quick information on why the printer keeps jamming or your intranet portal keeps kicking you out, they can easily scan for a video and solve the problem themselves, saving a pricy service call.

6. Examine Your Officers and Directors Insurance: Many companies think of officers insurance as potentially just a way to protect against liability if an officer conducts business in an unethical or illegal way. However, you want to make sure if you have an essential officer vital to your operations and his or her loss would be a huge hit to operations, there are policies in place to potentially lessen the blow. If you are attempting to replace someone where their skill set is highly valued you may face a large financial commitment to secure the right person or train an existing employee to fit the need. Examine options to protect financial impacts of officer departures.

7. Review and Revise Your Systems: It’s not enough to just document these procedures and instructions once and forget about them. As part of your annual review process, be sure to take some time to review these ‘intangible’ assets and whether they also need to be updated due to equipment, policy or company changes.

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