Sunday, April 11, 2010

Engaging an "On the way out" Employee

After I wrote my last blog entry, "High Value at Low Ranks," I started to think more about what should happen to retain knowledge, if the employee decides to leave.

Preferably, the best route to take would be to require, as a part of the job description, all employees to input work and knowledge as related to the position, into a knowledge base, an interactive tool or database that maintains rules, procedures, contacts, and any other documentation necessary for continued uninterruption of business. This information is readily accessible at any point to anyone in the organization, given the correct permissions. A knowledge base can take many forms, including full-blown information systems or even as simple as a notebook full of instructions.

Unfortunately, not every organization has the time and money to document certain or all aspects of each job, and many employers scramble to tap into a departing employee's knowledge via a series of KT (Knowledge Transfer) meetings during that employee's final days. Trying to reclaim information from a "checked-out" employee who is only doing a customary two-weeks notice can be about as entertaining as baby-sitting your neighbors' 2 year old son for four hours. You may be mentally up for it, but the kid is not.

What do you do when work wasn't documented, and the idea of a back-up was merely that, just an idea? You must successfully reclaim the knowledge that is about to leave with the employee, but your confidentiality and noncompetes don't help you. Those signed documents may prevent the employee from passing the trade secrets and personal knowledge of the business on to other organizations, but they do not help you recapture what is walking out the building and boarding the #121 bus.

You can't be left hoping that you will get a stand-up employee who will give his or her all in the final two weeks with your organization. That employee, especially one you denied a promotion or raise, is few and far between. You need actual extrinsic incentives. You need a two-week strategy.

Here ae a few suggestions for what you can do during this time.
0. No New Projects. Why did I start with zero, not one? The answer is that zero is significant here. It means absolutely no new projects. I've heard stories of managers asking their employees to start something new. This won't work because your employee is no longer engaged, and the level of work will not be what you would get if you would just give it to someone who will remain and is willing to prove himself or herself. Addtionally, by not giving new projects to the future ex-employee, it allows you more time to obtain the knowledge you seek.
1. Start Later. Begin with offering the employee shorter days during the final weeks. You need to consider that while this person is officially still working for you, he or she is no longer mentally working and is already moving on. Don't force the employee to begin working at 8am. Relax the time and don't even attempt to subtract hours or PTO if the person is late. You won't get anything from the employee if you play hardball.
2. Shorter Days and Smart Planning. Don't schedule TK meetings early in the morning, right after lunch, or right around end of business. The employee is bound to come in late (see #1), take longer lunches, and leave early. Find the right time in the morning that works. Odds are you already know when you get the best work out of your employee. Find that time and use it to your advantage.
3. Lunch meetings. Get the employee away from the office distractions of surfing the web and saying bye to fellow co-workers. You can do this and make it fun by treating the employee to lunch. Keep it professional and distraction-free by offering up places that don't have plasma tvs, pool tables, or dart boards. It should be relaxed, but the emphasis here is still on business. And use this time to butter them up by thanking them for the time they gave to the organization and team.
4. Money. You can't go wrong with offering up more money. Sure the person shouldn't get paid anything extra for doing the job he or she is supposed to do, but don't forget to remember these two words: "money talks." Money is a great motivator; use it if you need to, but make it contingent on the level of knowledge you obtain.
5. Stay connected. In case the employee decides to use up his or her vacation time, or in case you anticipate you may need this employee's services after the two-weeks, you should keep the lines of communication open. Ask the employee about his or her stance on contracting for the organizations when issues or questions arise. You'll need to make sure you get legal involved here as the details of the contract can leave you open to potential ligitation problems. Here are a few pointers: make sure to draw up a formal contract with specific start and end dates. Also note that any level of work is not guaranteed. You don't want to be responsible for paying out a month's salary when the person never worked during the contract period.

This may look like a skeptic's list of incentives, but in reality, these suggestions can be useful. It all depends on the employer-employee relationship, the circumstances behind the employee's departure, and the importance of the knowledge the employee holds.

Let's see what the professionals have to say.

1 comment:

  1. Mike, this is great! I am going to pass this along to my mother who is in outplacement. I will be putting my two weeks in about two weeks and can assure that my boss will not follow any of your fabulous suggests. Would it be appropriate to include this with my resignation letter? Probably not.


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