In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss the impact of the Great Resignation on organizations and how marketers should be thinking about preserving institutional knowledge. How do you anticipate and protect your organization from unexpected (or expected) departures, ensuring you can still meet your goals and create the kind of impact you need? Tune in to find out.
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What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.
Christopher Penn 0:17
In this week’s In-Ear Insights, we’re talking about organizational change and the great resignation, which is more like the great reshuffling, it’s not that people are just leaving the workforce never coming back, they’re just going to different places, we see this every week, you probably do too.
If you are processing, we’re looking at the number of people who unsubscribe to your newsletter, you’ll probably have noticed since 2020, it has been dramatically higher all the time, people just moving around.
So Katie, when we think about organizational change, and the great resignation, what’s coming to mind,
Katie Robbert 0:48
for me, what comes to mind is institutional knowledge and the processes that are likely not documented the way in which work is done the way in which things are delivered.
I was catching up with a friend over the weekend, and she had recently just started a new position.
And one of the first things that immediately happened was a breakdown in communication.
Because there was a lot of different people involved.
And she being the person, she knew the least about the situation, but she actually had the most experience in the particular context of the situation.
And so basically, long story short, things went sideways.
And it you know, was brought to light that there was no formal process for handling these kinds of things that would have prevented the breakdown in communication.
And so it was something that needed to be done needed to be revisited.
And it, it’s always a good thing to revisit process.
But the downside of it is that it takes time away from doing client work from serving your customers from, you know, doing other things that you know, bring more revenue into the company, it’s sort of that it’s the long play versus the short wins.
And so what I’m seeing as more and more people are moving positions, moving companies, you know, changing careers all together, there’s a whole new learning curve that has to happen both from the side of the new employee and from the employer.
And if you aren’t set up for success, if you don’t have your standard operating procedures, if you don’t have any of your training materials, or anything documented, this is how we do even the basic things, then you’re going to be essentially starting from scratch every time you have a new member on your team.
Christopher Penn 2:39
How do you deal with a case where you have just a whole bunch of institutional knowledge vaporize? Because we’ve seen changes in way people resign? I mean, in many states in the United States, which is where we’re based, it’s called at will employment where both the employer and the employee can say up, we’re done.
And then and, you know, the two weeks notice thing is, is, is customary, and it’s polite, but it is not required by law in most places.
So suppose you have a team, and you have a person on that team with a good worker, you know, they may not be a genius, but they’re not a dummy, either.
And one day, they like, I’m done, I’m out peace, peace out, and they’re gone.
How do you deal with that?
Katie Robbert 3:22
It’s an unfortunate situation.
And it’s been happening a lot.
But it’s also not a new situation.
And it’s the this is the scenario that companies don’t really think about, because there’s just this, you know, assumption that somebody will pick up the work and get it done and not realizing that, you know, let’s say, Chris, you decided to leave tomorrow.
And I had to pick up the slack, I would be scrambling to figure it out.
And John might be sitting there saying like, well, you have to figure it out.
I don’t care what happens.
It’s just got to get done.
What that does is it It damages the culture, it continues to breed more resentment amongst employees who are suddenly feeling overworked, burned out, underprepared not set up for success.
So that’s sort of the side effect of it, what you do about it, is you do your best to not get into that situation.
What I mean is, it’s not that people won’t leave that’s inevitable.
But from day one, there should be some kind of effort to be documenting things, even if it’s just recording a quick video, like, you know, every week, once a week, you know, each team member is responsible for recording one five minute video on how they do x.
So that you’re starting to build this library of this is how we do things, even if it’s really basic things like this is how we export data and bring it into our reporting system, whatever that might be.
Because then at least you have some kind of a record.
Now in the event that nothing exists, you have to start from scratch, then the first thing you need to do is prioritize and so take stock of what that person was respond.
Ansible for and prioritize the things that are the most on fire, the things that are that are most revenue generating the things that are the most dependent on by other people, by other clients by customers.
So prioritizing it by urgency to, you know, non urgent things is going to help you and then also, you know, secondarily, prioritizing it by difficulty to, you know, ease.
So you may be able to get some quick wins, and there may be some things that you just have to completely reinvent, but you have to be committed to okay, this person left, they left no documentation, this is where we start doing that.
So don’t keep repeating those same mistakes.
Christopher Penn 5:42
How do you deal with it with the the institutional knowledge loss? So, for example, with one of our clients, we’ve been with them now, almost since the start of the company, three years and change.
And at this point, we actually have more institutional knowledge than the client does.
Because they’ve shuffled people internally so much, there’s been so many people dropping off.
And so when we create a report for them, we will often say, oh, yeah, I remember that, you know, two years ago, this happened.
And you know, three years ago, this happened, and you had all these issues and things? And should they choose to stop working with a someday? A lot of that casual institutional knowledge, which makes processes faster, and which makes them more efficient? And which gives you correctness? That someone just coming new into the data would not know, would be lost? How do you? How do you account for that? Because being like a corporate historian, is, I think it’s important, but it’s not important enough to devote full time resources to if you ask most managers.
Katie Robbert 6:44
It’s funny, it’s funny, you say that, because a couple of jobs ago, I was that person who had all of the institutional knowledge about the product line that I was running, because I had been there, since it was a, you know, NIH grant before it was even a commercial product.
So I’ve, I had seen it through every single iteration, I had, you know, all of the variables memorized backwards and forwards, I knew the history of what it worked, what we tried what we hadn’t.
And, you know, in that case, when I decided to leave that company, they didn’t ask for any of that institutional knowledge.
And I was like, okay, that’s fine.
I’m just going to do my two weeks and move on.
And what had happened after that was about a month out, I started getting questions and emails, and depending on the circumstances of the employee who has the institutional knowledge leaving, it is an opportunity for you to maybe, you know, bring them back on as a contractor to share some of that institutional knowledge.
That said, the circumstances of that employee leaving may not allow for that option.
And both parties may decide, okay, we don’t want this.
So the records that you have might be email history, it might be going through that employees documentation, you know, talking with other people on the team, who worked with that person who has the institutional knowledge to say, tell me about the kinds of conversations you would have about this thing, walk me through some of the history of, you know, the software releases or something like that there may be other people who have versions of that institutional knowledge, maybe not as complete, but you can start to piece things together.
So it’s almost like, and I apologize if I sort of like bungle this analogy up a little bit.
But it’s almost like how, you know, generations ago, the way in which we learned about what we have going on today, was through that storytelling, and it was people, it was that documentation, whether it started with, you know, crude drawings, and just writing down like little bits, like, one of the things that my dad does is, every time I see him, he shares some sort of our family history with us, so that we can keep passing that information on, so that he’s not the only person who knows it.
And the institutional knowledge of a company is very similar to that kind of a thing.
It’s, you have to keep telling the stories to other people, so that it doesn’t just live and die with one person.
Christopher Penn 9:26
How do you deal with though with processes where there’s a there’s an unpredictable element, I’ll give you an example.
At our last company, I mostly wrote the company newsletter, and it had a certain set of processes with it and things and when we left obviously, to start Trust Insights.
We took that process with us and what that product has become in our absences really, very disappointing and sad.
It’s like watching your child grow up and become like a couch potato.
When we look at the Trust Insights newsletter there is a big chunk every week called Data diaries.
And that process is repeatable, hey, we’re gonna have some unique data every week.
You haven’t already subscribed, go to trust insights.ai/newsletter.
And the process of creating that though, every week is, huh, what do I feel like playing with this week? So it’s not a, okay, this week, we’re gonna do this, this, we’re gonna do this.
It’s not a repeatable process in the content creation portion.
It but the, you know, the section is repeatable.
So in a case like that, we have something that a morphus How do you replace that knowledge? Like if say, I go on vacation to Europe for a week? And I said, I’m not writing the newsletter this week? How would you tackle that saying, Okay, I need to create this part of the newsletter, assuming, let’s assume that, I don’t know.
It wasn’t done in advance, we didn’t plan ahead properly, etc, you’ve just got this gap? Or in your scenarios, the person’s left? Who did that part of the newsletter? How do you replace something? So a morphus?
Katie Robbert 10:59
Well, I mean, there’s a couple of different options.
So it could be an opportunity to, you know, take a look at the data behind that particular section of a newsletter and site, was it working? You know, have we just been doing it the same way, because that’s how that person did it.
You know, and it’s very successful, or, you know, what, nobody really pays attention to that section of the newsletter.
So it’s an opportunity to evolve it into something new.
So there’s definitely that version of it.
Now, that said, if it’s just sort of a, you know, this one week, you know, somebody who isn’t Chris is going to cover the data diary’s, then it’s okay, that it’s not the exact same thing.
So in that scenario, it would be either myself or John, you know, saying, you know, what, we both have enough skills, to do some kind of data analysis, it doesn’t have to be the same deep dive course that you do with machine learning and code.
But we can say, you know, with the disclaimer, hey, one of us is pinch hitting for Chris, here’s our version of the data diary, and then sort of setting the expectation with the readers and subscribers like this will return next week, the other thing that you can do is reach out to your audience and say, hey, the person who was doing this thing before is no longer with the organization.
What, what were you getting out of it? What do you want to see, and we want to just maybe do a series of guest analyses, you know, over the next few months, while we figure this thing out, so there’s definitely ways to handle it.
The one thing I will say that I see a lot of organizations get wrong is, you know, to put the person if somebody leaves the organization, immediately start blaming that person for everything that is now going wrong.
And also doing that publicly.
Don’t do that.
Do not drag any of your internal drama out into the open publicly, your audience, your customers, social media, we see everything.
And that is a kind of misstep that companies will not recover from, because we will say if you can be that disrespectful to somebody who you invested in, how are you going to treat the rest of us? So that’s my little soapbox.
Don’t do that.
Christopher Penn 13:18
So so then in a case where you do have people resigning and leaving, and you’re losing actual skill sets, do you reevaluate whether those skill sets are necessary? Still?
Katie Robbert 13:34
I absolutely would.
I absolutely would.
And so, you know, again, having worked at a few different organizations in different roles and seeing that turnover, the first thing that I was always encouraged to do was to to evaluate, you know, the team that I currently have and say, you know, what’s working, what’s not working, but also to look at the data to say, what do we need? What do we don’t need? And so, you know, Chris, let’s say we go back to that example of you used to write the company newsletter for a different company.
When you left and that newsletter was no longer getting written by you, the company should have said, is this how we want to keep doing the newsletter? Do we need a newsletter? Does it need to be done this way? Can we do something different? Is it an opportunity to, you know, stand up a new marketing automation system and simplify the newsletter? You know, those are the kinds of conversations that should be had versus well, this person left and we’re in the lurch, and now we’re screwed, and nobody knows what to do.
Like that’s not a productive use of time.
A productive use of time is thinking through what are some different solutions? And let’s look at wasn’t even working.
Christopher Penn 14:48
How do you deal with the person in an organization who does not want to share their institutional knowledge? They’re insecure, they like I want to be the only one who knows this thing.
So you can’t fire me.
Katie Robbert 15:02
To be quite honest, that person isn’t, at least in my organization.
And I can only speak for myself, I can’t give advice to how other organizations should operate.
But I can only control the way that I would operate an organization and I would operate my team.
And for me, that doesn’t fly at all, I understand where the insecurity comes from, because it’s sort of that same idea of will AI take my job, the more people who know how to do the thing, the less valuable, I feel like I might become, and therefore my job might be at risk, it might become redundant, I might be furloughed or let go, or whatever the thing is, that should be a real concern.
If you are also not simultaneously, building new skill sets, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, trying to find other ways to add value, deepening the relationships with the other employees and the customers.
So you may be the person who has the most institutional knowledge, you are the only one who will know it, the way that you do, by sharing the information that you have does not make you less valuable, it means that you then become that source of truth for other people to come back to.
But then you should also be looking at other ways say, What can I do with this information? How can I make this information, work for the company help move them forward, help other people learn from my mistakes, help other people learn from the company’s mistakes.
And so using that information, as training as teaching, that is, what will ensure that you continue to stay valuable to the team and to the company is by sharing that information.
Because the more you close it off, and the more you try to just keep it to yourself, it actually gives this idea that you have something to hide.
And trust, you know, it’s a two way street.
So if the company doesn’t trust you, if you don’t trust the company, it’s probably not a good fit long term.
Christopher Penn 16:56
So how do you answer the manager who says we don’t have time for this? Like we’ve we’ve got like 22 things on, everyone’s To Do List, clients are banging down the door, we’re late on 40% of our deliverables.
We don’t have time for this.
Katie Robbert 17:11
I mean, it’s a very, that’s a very real answer that we’re given all the time.
And so the best that you can do as the person who knows that this is something that needs to be done is to help the decision maker understand the consequences of not doing this thing and help find a way to prioritize it.
So you know, Chris, let’s, let’s say I came to you and said, We really need to start documenting everything you do, you know, as part of our business continuity.
And you say to me, screw business continuity, I have six clients who need reports, and they need them yesterday, and I’m already behind, I hear you.
So what I need to do is I need to help you understand as the person who needs to do the thing.
Okay, so let’s get these things off the plate first.
And then we need to make space and time to start doing some of this and break it down into a manageable plan.
But not just say this is what we have to do, but also help you understand the consequences of not doing this, you know, so Chris, if you always and forever want to be behind on client reporting, be underwater, then great.
Never document what it is that you do, and never share with anybody else, how these things are made.
However, if you would like to go on vacation to Europe for a week, if you would like to see your family before eight o’clock at night, if you would like to eat dinner with them, then let me help you get some of this stuff documented.
And then I can find some help for people who can then take some of this off your plate, it doesn’t make you any less valuable.
It makes you the person who knows the most and is also sharing that information.
Now I’m painting this in a very sort of lightweight like, oh, well all I have to do is talk to you reasonably.
That doesn’t always work out.
So there’s more that goes into it.
And that’s where having someone who’s really good at people management, handling a situation like this is going to help you.
So just having a manager says we just have to do it.
They told us we have to do it.
It’s not going to get done.
Christopher Penn 19:10
It occurs to me as a side note that we probably should actually document some things that go into our client reports because like our SEO report, which is a very thorough and comprehensive report is actually composed of seven different pieces of code, and they’re not linked together.
So it’s not there’s not a script, you can run that it just does it.
You actually have to do like seven different things to build that report.
It provides a lot of value for our clients, but it’s not documented anywhere.
What goes into it?
Katie Robbert 19:36
Well, it is as we started documenting it at one point, the challenge is that it changes and so what we need to do as an organization is find a more efficient way.
Whether it’s, you know, some sort of a service that records you know, how the code is being put together, how its assembled.
You know, it’s automatically exporting snippets of code that other people can run And, like there’s, there’s 1,000,001 services out there that do that kind of a thing for companies that need to document, you know, those kinds of things.
So we, our challenge is just finding those software packages that will help us document those things, you know, and whether or not you know, I’m the one who could ever take it over from you is up for debate.
But I could also just go out and say, hey, who knows how to run our scripts? Can you help us out for like the next three weeks or something?
Christopher Penn 20:29
Right? Well, the other thing I think might be an opportunity is that this is something that we’d have to plan for.
But we are in the midst of reengineering a lot of our code, because we and the rest of the world are or should be moving to Google Analytics 4, which is the primary data source for a lot of these things.
And if, as we read, because a lot of this stuff, like we talked about in previous episodes of the show, GA three to GA four is not just an upgrade in place, it’s not like installing a new version of Word is a new piece of software from the ground up, which also means that everything that connects to it has to be rewritten, essentially, from scratch.
It’s a new API, new everything.
So what’s the process? Or what’s the recommended process? If you know, you’ve got to rebuild the thing from scratch anyway? How do you build this sort of continuity into it so that the next version doesn’t have all the flaws of the previous version?
Katie Robbert 21:28
Well, what you’re talking about is standard software development.
And so, you know, it’s encouraged but rarely ever done to document and take snapshots of the current status of something.
And then sort of doing that, you know, for lack of a better term, the post mortem of, you know, this approach is to say, what worked, what didn’t work.
And so if you’re looking to upgrade the software, if you’re looking to make it more efficient, you first need to know what wasn’t working? And what was taking the longest, so that you have that baseline to say, is it working better? And so, anecdotally, yeah, I think it’s faster, it might be like a couple minutes faster.
But unless you’ve actually done that documentation, and done that analysis of what it was, you’ll never really know.
And again, these are the things that people want to skip over, because they take time they take away from doing client work.
But what you end up finding is, the more of these activities you skipped over, the less time you have for yourself, the more you’re just continually underwater, the lack of governance, a lack of documentation, the lack of process, the lack of institutional knowledge, all of those things compounded mean, you have a culture of people who are burnt out, people who are constantly reinventing the wheel, you as an organization are probably wasting a lot of money where you wouldn’t necessarily need to.
So it’s you have to make it a priority, you have to make it a priority for the success of your organization, period.
Christopher Penn 23:00
So, from a practical perspective, would a starting place be like, you know, for example, to pull up a report and say, Okay, in this report, what is this piece? Where does it come from?
Katie Robbert 23:11
And maybe you just take, you know, a most recent report, make a copy of it, and then literally mark up, slide by slide.
These are the, you know, three places where I get the data.
So even starting with the data sources is probably a helpful thing.
And so, you know, I would look at this and go, Okay, I’m assuming that the data sources for this particular slide are Google Trends, your SEO software, and then are to run, you know, the, the code.
And so we would just start by listing out, where did where do you get the data? Where’s the data go? And then the next step would be, what is the actual process? So you could do the report, slide by slide, that’s a very straightforward way to do it.
So then you have that record? And when you go to modify it and say, Okay, what’s changed? Then you can do that delta between the two.
Christopher Penn 24:07
How do you work in if it’s the appropriate place to do it? Because I find this happens a lot to me, when you’re doing that sort of stuff to almost go down rabbit holes of, oh, by the way, I’ve been meaning to fix this forever.
Maybe we should just do that now.
Katie Robbert 24:24
It’s it depends on how big of a change that fix it.
So if it’s just like a one line of code, you know, what I would recommend is taking a snapshot of before and after.
So as we’re going through, so let’s say you know, we wanted to just, you know, mark up this deck with a bunch of documentation.
So you could say okay, on slide 22, here’s all the data sources.
Here’s the process.
While we were doing this, I took a snapshot of here’s how the code looks today, and then just sort of like annotate to say we found this issue Whew, we resolved it on this day, and then take another snapshot of it.
And this is what it’s going to be moving forward.
And so there’s never such, there’s no such thing as too much documentation.
And so I would just proceed that way.
Now, if it’s something that’s going to take you a couple of weeks to fix, and it’s going to completely distract from, you know, the activity that you’re doing and documenting that I would say it has to wait, get through the get through the documentation first, then you can start to go back and make those edits.
And that’s where having a team of people, one person whose sole responsibility, a project manager is keeping things on task is important, because it is easy to go down those rabbit holes, you’re always going to find room for improvement.
But until you get the thing done, start to finish first, you’re never going to get to the end result of having at least one complete set of documentation.
Christopher Penn 25:49
So when someone is what’s next time for someone to do the thing.
It’s easiest to turn on a screen recorder and just have them talk through it as they’re doing it.
Katie Robbert 25:58
Yeah, that’s a great place to start.
There’s obviously going to be questions that come up, but at least you then have some kind of a record starting with some kind of record is great.
It doesn’t have to be perfect.
It doesn’t have to be exact, but then at least someone could go okay, I see that Chris had open AR.
I see he had an SEO software.
I see he had this Alright, so at least we can start to work backward and say now I know the different components.
Even if I don’t know the exact steps I can at least say I know all of the different pieces that are involved in this
Christopher Penn 26:33
sounds like I know what we’re doing for our MAE reporting.
Katie Robbert 26:37
I love giving you more to do.
Christopher Penn 26:40
So if you’ve got comments or questions about anything that we’ve talked about, in today’s episode, pop on over to our free slack group go to trust insights.ai/analytics for marketers, where you have over 2300 other marketers talking about asking and answering each other’s questions all day long.
And wherever it is you watch or listen to the show of this platform you’d rather have it on.
Chances are we probably have it go to trust insights.ai/t AI podcast.
Thanks for tuning in.
I will talk to you next week.
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