Protecting Institutional Knowledge In the Age of Hybrid Work
I’m sure you’re well familiar with onboarding. There are hundreds of articles, lectures, and guides like this one sharing the key to an effective employee onboarding strategy. But what about offboarding employees? Why is it always an afterthought? In the age of hybrid and remote work, having employees scribble a checklist or prepare a handover manual is not enough.
This issue has just become more pressing than ever. A record 4 million Americans quit their jobs in April, twice the number who quit in April of the previous year. An additional 3.9 million quit in June. Leaders are realizing that upwards of 40% of their teams might be leaving their jobs in the next year. The term ‘The Great Resignation’ coined by Anthony Klotz, a business professor at Texas A&M University, has caught fire among managers.
Some of the stages in the employee lifecycle have gotten a lot of (justified) attention as companies shifted to hybrid work – from onboarding new team members to maintaining engagement and harnessing learning. However, one critical stage has been forgotten by most. It’s the very bookend of an employee’s time at your organization: Offboarding.
Offboarding is the process that leads to the formal separation between an employee and a company through resignation, termination, or retirement. It encompasses all the decisions and processes that take place when an employee leaves.
Here are a few reasons why your offboarding strategy matters:
• Helping the remaining team/replacement overcome productivity gaps
• Strengthening your employer brand through your company’s “alumni network”
• Highlighting pockets of tribal knowledge and adjusting your knowledge preservation strategy
But as you know, the challenge facing managers in the age of hybrid work isn’t just copy-pasting strategies from offline to hybrid work. Rather, it’s motivating your about-to-be former team member to share their knowledge, and then make sure that you can share that knowledge with the rest of your team in a way that’s easy and intuitive to consume.
In This Guide
01. Why saying goodbye the right way matters
02. 3 critical areas of your offboarding strategy
03. Using video to preserve knowledge
Why Saying Goodbye the Right Way Matters
Over the last decade, it seems like virtually every stage in the employee’s life cycle has been dissected, studied and upgraded. Managers – not just HR – are well aware of the fact that training an entire new hire costs the organization as much as six to nine months of the departing person’s salary.
Yet, the connection hasn’t necessarily been made to the way we offboard employees. Remember, in today’s knowledge economy, skilled employees are the asset that drives organizational success. According to HBR, this is why “companies must learn from them—why they stay, why they leave, and how the organization needs to change”.
“Retaining knowledge in a company is one of the biggest challenges for modern companies. In tech startups and growth stage companies, it is a daily issue as employees switch roles and groups often, get promoted or leave.”
The challenge that Hila Lauterbach is describing is often called tribal knowledge, which Six Sigma Experts define as any unwritten information that is not commonly known by others within a company. This term is used most when referencing information that may need to be known by others to produce quality product or service.
When this information is locked within a person or a group – it poses a threat to an organization’s institutional memory, the ability of people in the company to pull and use past information and make sure the organization is a living learning organism. Let’s dive a little deeper.
The 3 Critical Areas of Your Offboarding Strategy
When it comes to the price that organizations pay for dropping the ball on coordinating knowledge preservation and offboarding, there are 3 main high-risk areas when employees depart: Your employer brand, your customers, and your existing team.
1. Employer Branding
"Offboarding is a tremendous missed opportunity for most corporations. Everyone who walks out the door should be a brand ambassador for the company." Taking care of people on the way out should be a natural extension of the employee experience journey. Taxin Nemiroff is not alone in saying so. In fact, a 2019 report by PeoplePath (formerly Conenza) and Cornell University indicates that about a third of corporate alumni maintain connections with previous employers as clients, partners, or vendors—and that 15% of new hires come from alumni rehires and referrals.
"Offboarding is a tremendous missed opportunity for most corporations. Everyone who walks out the door should be a brand ambassador for the company. Taking care of people on the way out should be a natural extension of the employee experience journey."
“The tighter the competition and the tougher the battle for talent in your industry, the more imperative it is to have dedicated and thoughtful offboarding effort,” said George Sample, the human resources business partner manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in an HBR report.
2. Your Customers
Knowledge-based businesses are often also relationship-based businesses. Not having continuity, such as awareness of the clients needs, circumstances, history with your product, pet peeves and even some basic personal information can prove critical to their relationship with your organization.
This is another symptom of tribal knowledge, which can be alleviated by practicing healthy and always-maintained knowledge-sharing combined with an offboarding strategy. “The best thing you can do for knowledge and skill set preservation is to create an open knowledge base that is available to all employees,” says David Leitner, Adjunct Lecturer at Bar Ilan University.
3. Your Existing Team
Lastly, Nemiroff recommends that we always remember to think about the team that stays behind. "Invest in messaging for the people who are left, to make sure they feel engaged and that their output does not suffer.” It’s important to set expectations with the team that stays. They might be concerned that other organizational changes might be on the horizon.
Losing a team member can also mean that they have considerably more on their plate and they would want to understand what that means for them in terms of available resources, compensation and possible promotion. By communicating transparently, managers can take this situation from risk to opportunity.
"Invest in messaging for the people who are left, to make sure they feel engaged and that their output does not suffer. Remaining employees will likely have to take on a heavier workload and it is important that they understand what other organizational changes might be on the horizon. For example, are there more layoffs coming, will they be losing more resources, can they still be promoted, and so on."
Using Video to Preserve knowledge – From Hiring to Offboarding
At this point, we can all agree with Yosef Sukeinik, Product Owner at Ex-Libris, who told us “Creating an institutional memory that is not in people's heads can be critical.” While successful offboarding starts at the moment of hiring, there’s a reason many companies aren’t investing enough in creating and maintaining this practice
"Creating an institutional memory that is not in people's heads can be critical in the unfortunate events that someone stops employment unexpectedly and with no off boarding."
It’s simply tedious. Think about the amount of checklists, documentation and platforms this will require – and your head might start spinning. In fact, many managers are so overwhelmed they don’t even have a simple checklist for asking departing employees to follow.
The solution? As in many cases, it’s going back to the basics and communicating the way humans communicate best – with visuals. According to Kaltura’s State of Video in the Enterprise report, 91% of professionals already use video in learning, while 69% prefer to learn via video over a document. Over every employee’s term in an organization, they should organically build a library of bite-sized videos. This is the easiest way to capture knowledge, share it – and also to consume it and learn from it, in our roller coaster attention-deficit world.
Moreover, videos can help provide a more informal feel – helping employees overcome their “stage fright” in sharing their knowledge, and in turn helping their peers or new hires receive a less filtered “behind the scenes” look with visual context.
Here are our recommendations for preserving knowledge throughout the employee’s experience – and how to upgrade them with video:
Work With Organized, Shared Cloud Folders
“There’s a large chunk of documents in the organization which aren’t documented in JIRA or Confluence, such as training materials, work processes and procedures,” says Hila Lauterbach, Director of Product Marketing at SpotOn Transact. Make sure there are read privileges granted to other groups so the knowledge is accessible to all.
“There’s a large chunk of documents in the organization which aren’t documented in JIRA or Confluence, such as training materials, work processes and procedures. Make sure there are read privileges granted to other groups so the knowledge is accessible to all.”
Record, Assign and CC
“Implement everyday practices that encourage sharing and collaboration. Recording every client meeting is a common practice in Product Marketing,” says Lauterbach, which should be applied to other departments as well. “In major, complex projects, change the requirement from ownership on execution to ownership for leading project & process management,” she further recommends. Taxin Nemiroff proposes that every email regarding a client should be also cc'd to a general team email address in order to preserve data.
Make it better with video: Make the meeting recordings easy to find by adding descriptions that will make them easily searchable. Bonus point: Copy important demo videos and team meeting recordings into your onboarding folder – to make it easier for new hires to jump right in and learn by watching.
“Implement everyday practices that encourage sharing and collaboration. Recording every client meeting is a common practice in Product Marketing. In major, complex projects, change the requirement from ownership on execution to ownership for leading project & process management.”
Utilize the Power of Questions
"You should have a checklist ready to go for employees when they leave. This includes priority files, key customer notes, and other critical business information,” recommends Taxin Nemiroff. The lack of a standardized checklist means you’re free to create your own!
“You should have a checklist ready to go for employees when they leave. This includes priority files, key customer notes, and other critical business information.”
Lauterbach recommends making use of knowledge preservation tools on a daily basis – even before the employee leaves. Stack Overflow Teams (documentation through questions), Sharepoint, Wiki, and Confluence (for teams using JIRA) are her favorites. Having a prepared set of questions instead of a daunting form – can make it easier for employees to share knowledge.
Make it better with video: Use the following questions as video prompts – ask employees to record a 1-3 minute video answering each of the questions. Save the videos in a folder dedicated to their team or to onboarding the new hire replacing them, but also save each video in other relevant libraries where other people in the organization can make use of them.
Get started with this set of questions – or rather, video prompts – from the California Polytechnic state University’s Offboarding Toolkit:
The Time is Now.
Kickstart your Offboarding Strategy
Even if you’re not planning to say goodbye to anyone on your team in the near future, it’s a good idea to dedicate time to asking yourself and your team some tough questions about how transparent and collaborative your knowledge-sharing practices are. You’ll find some really interesting insights regarding how those practices (or lack thereof) affect your employer branding, customer relationships and of course – your team.
Using video to better preserve and communicate knowledge internally will serve you to reinforce your team’s engagement, sense of belonging and productivity - even as people shift and move. To learn more about how video can boost your team collaboration and communication, book a demo now.REQUEST A DEMO