In every organization there’s at least one expert or guru. This person may be a jack of all trades, or a specialist but they’re the first person you go to when something goes sideways. Though it’s fantastic to have these people on your team, the reality is someday they won’t be there. Some organizations have accepted this fact, but go about handling it differently. Some simply choose to ride out their time, while others are tapping into the knowledge that resides with their experts to share with the future of the company. Though we obviously side with the latter, there’s one common problem you should look for to help make the most of your guru’s expertise: assumptions.
“Experts are fantastic at knowing how. It’s explaining it to others that needs work.”
I was recently working with one of our clients, specifically an expert from their office, let’s call her Brittany. Brittany is a standout performer. She’s highly specialized in the day to day operations of the office, such as handling customer communications, scheduling appointments, entering order information, and so on. Her team also relies on her to document her expertise so that everyone can follow her lead.
In the past, her office utilized programs like Google Docs to create how-to instructions and Brittany was no exception. However, since they’ve moved over to HowFactory, I was able to gain access to a few of those documents to help get her started…this is where the issue arose. Because Brittany is so proficient and familiar with what she does, her instructions are full of assumptions about the audience.
At first glance the instructions provided are orderly, complete, and helpful. Take a deeper look though, and one will quickly see that anyone not familiar with the process will soon be overwhelmed with information gaps, amplified by assumptions, that lead to more questions than answers. If these issues aren’t addressed, the instructions leave much opportunity for failure.
What are they? Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The Common Assumptions
You know where to start
Something as simple as getting started is critical to success. Especially when creating process documentation or training materials, it’s essential to make sure you tell the audience exactly what they’ll be learning, what to prep, materials list, etc. Making assumptions right off the bat is practically a surefire way to ensure failure.
Clarify to the audience what will be covered in the training session or documentation. Ensure that the goal they’re looking to achieve matches up with the content you have provided. Then make sure you equip them with all of the information necessary to get started.
While we’re at it…
You know where to find that
An extremely common assumption is that providing a materials list is good enough, it isn’t. If it’s my first day on the job and I’m asked to get something from the supply cabinet, there’s a good chance I have no clue where that is. If there’s more than one cabinet, then you really get to have some fun. Think about it. Simply providing a location, file path, a treasure map, whatever is necessary helps the audience minimize search time and frustration.
Want the user to open up a web page? Path: Start at computer-> open specified web browser -> enter “https://www.website.com”
Is a special tool required? Path: Go to the red tool box located on the north side of the shop -> open the 4th drawer from the bottom -> locate the tool (images help)
You know what I’m talking about (YKWITA)
This is one of the biggest productivity killers out there. Our world is full of abbreviations, acronyms, and technical jargon all designed to make communication more efficient…except for those who aren’t in the loop. I’d venture to guess that nobody would’ve gotten the “YKWITA” example above if the the “spelled out” version didn’t precede it.
Training and process documents are no place for this, unless you’re taking the time to explain every instance. Clearly state every direction, provide definition for all industry specific vocabulary, and please provide fully written acronyms at least once prior to using the abbreviated version.
That’s common sense
The funny thing about common sense is that it is subjective and usually isn’t very common. Surely there are examples out there but remember, when it comes to training and process documentation, no assumptions. Don’t jump over steps or instructions because it’s second nature to you, odds are it won’t be to your audience…if it was, they wouldn’t likely be looking for instruction.
Eliminating as many assumptions increases the potential for your experts to help guide others to success. In the spirit of clarity, we’ve created a short checklist below for you to use.
𝥷 Provide an explanation/purpose of the training or documentation
𝥷 Map out a clear path to success
𝥷 List out prerequisites, prep work, materials list (and where to get materials)
𝥷 Limit technical jargon/define when necessary
𝥷 Improve clarity with media such as images, videos, etc.
𝥷 When in doubt, don’t assume common sense