Documentation Is Insurance

The cause

Brain drain has become a bigger and bigger problem at insurance agencies in recent years. The Baby Boomer generation is retiring, and new faces, without the same level of experience, are stepping in to take their place.

The new hires are different. Often, they will not stay with a company for as long as their predecessors did. So we are left with a double whammy of retiring, senior employees, along with incoming, new employees who may not stay as long.


The problem

Knowledge is the life blood of any agency. Without it, there is no business. So this departure of knowledge, which is getting faster and faster, can kill an agency. The fact that more Baby Boomers are retiring, creating a need for more hiring, just makes the problem worse.

Think about the employees that work at your company. If your administrative assistant was suddenly gone, or whoever handles your commercial lines contracted a serious disease, would someone know how to do cover every key aspect of that employee’s role at your company?


Common remedies

There are ways to address these issues, especially at larger agencies. If you have two employees working on the same segment of commercial insurance, you will probably be okay if one of them leaves. The remaining employee can teach a replacement what to do.

If an agency is part of a well-connected network, that also makes the problem smaller. If your expert in such-and-such aspect of insurance is out, but you know just whom to call, you should be in decent shape. And if you have an office manager who has a good grasp of what everyone is doing, then all the better.

Certainly, many insurance providers offer online training to new hires, or employees who are moving into a new role in the agency. The documents and other learning items that are provided can help offset the loss of an employee.

Also, doing a good job when interviewing candidates is critical. If you ask the right questions, you can have a better idea of whether a person wants to stay with your company for a long time, or if they plan to use your company as a temporary stop.


When those remedies don’t work

These responses to employee turnover can be very helpful. However, there are two circumstances in which these methods aren’t enough:

  • When the agency is small, without much overlap in job duties
  • When key employees have work processes that are not covered in generic training


It’s great to have multiple people covering the same exact area of your business. But what if you just have one person doing commercial insurance? If someone has to fill in for them, will the replacement know the steps to take to get their work done? Will they know exactly whom to call for help?


And what about your key, high-ranking employees? They are responsible for tasks that are not covered in any generic insurance training. If another employee steps in after they leave, will the new employee know about those unique tasks, and how to complete them?


How to make sure you have the right information

There are ways to fill in these gaps, and to prevent so much information from leaving your business. Think of it as taking out an insurance policy on your company. If there is a problem (and there always is), you will be better prepared if you follow these steps:

  1. Identify your critical business information. Spend some time brainstorming your most critical processes.
    During a given week, or year, what has to happen to make your business go? What information is in the head of just one employee?
  2. Plan to capture the information. Once you know the information you need to capture, you should prepare your resources. Make sure that your key employees know that they need to devote time to developing this new “insurance policy.”
    You should also make sure that your employees aren’t afraid of being replaced. Really, you think they are extremely important. So important that you’re trying to reduce the risk that would come if they walked away.
  3. Get it written up. If someone in your company has a good sense of your needs, and how to get everything written down and distributed, have that person get the information together. Otherwise, look for outside help from someone trained to capture the information that is critical to your business.
  4. Update the documents periodically. Businesses are always changing, and you will need to update the documents on a regular basis. The intervals for reviews may vary, depending on how much your key business tasks change in a given year.


If you follow these steps, you will be much better prepared should you lose a key employee, or if you need to train an employee on a particular aspect of your business.

What I Learned About Technical Communication from a Nonagenarian


My great Uncle Jack is my model for how spry I want to be in my 90s. At 92, he has (mostly) good health, and a very healthy determination to keep moving along in life. He’s always trying to learn, and he tries to make it to every community and church event possible.

Uncle Jack uses his computer to keep his brain running on all cylinders. All day long, he’s typing articles, sending emails, and checking Facebook.

But …

There’s a problem. Even though he works hard to keep up with technology, Uncle Jack has a harder time learning new things than someone in my generation. A while back, Uncle Jack’s old computer broke down, and he had to buy a new one. It was a blow for him – with a new operating system, and new software, he was lost.

This isn’t a totally unique situation. In the past, the majority of computer and internet users were comparatively young. But as time goes by, more and more users are older. This block of our society represents a great opportunity for software and internet-based companies. But there are some big challenges, too. Older people may:

  • Have a harder time learning how to do new things
  • Forget what they’ve learned more quickly
  • Use older technology

The solution

Here’s what I did to help Uncle Jack:

  • I decided to put together a simple Word document (“How to Use My Computer”) for him to use when I wasn’t there to remind him how to complete tasks.
  • I only focused on how to do things. I was just trying to teach him how to complete certain tasks that he wanted to know how to complete (such as how to save to his A: drive). I wasn’t trying to make him a good computer user.
  • I wrote the manual as simply as possible. I had to include every possible screenshot, and avoid combining even simple steps.

The results

Here are some of the lessons I learned from developing Uncle Jack’s manual:

  • Good documentation will (eventually) triumph. If you’ve written the right content for the right audience, it will work for them.
    When he first began trying to use the document, Uncle Jack would click screenshots of programs, expecting the programs themselves to open. But he kept trying, and eventually learned how to use the manual. Now he praises it.
  • Content really is king. Uncle Jack didn’t care about fancy formatting – though you shouldn’t design a document in a confusing way, either. Even typos didn’t matter as much. It was much more important to have clearly written, correct steps.
  • You can’t be too simple. This may be the lowest-level audience available. I had to write with a level of detail to match.
  • Expect some follow-up. Even with the document, Uncle Jack needs periodic “tech support.” And I add on to the document from time to time. But “How to Use My Computer” has saved us both a lot of time and headaches. And that’s what all good documentation does.