On Employee Turnover

First off, let me say that I am just venting here, and this is not an overall picture of the deep love that I have for my job and the people who are helping to train me right now. Everyone is doing their absolute best in a very difficult (in fact, the nightmare) situation. I am so happy to be part of such a team.

Not at all briefly, I will say a few things on my current experience with taking over a job that was vacant. I have done this before, and it has been painful. I have also designed jobs that had never been done before, and then stepped into those jobs. These experiences have been intensely difficult, and that is why I think it is important to talk about–not to complain about what a pain it is, but to explain why poorly managed employee turnover is one of the single most unproductive (and expensive) situations for any business or organization to face.

Most of my peers tell me that it takes about a year to learn how to do your job well. I have had bosses tell me that it takes at least six months to properly train an employee so that they can work independently and produce good work without extensive supervision. Why, then, is it acceptable for employees to be trained for a few hours at a time over the course of a week? Or for a few days intensively, and then nothing at all? Or perhaps not at all? Additionally, why is it acceptable for employees to never document their own work, or at least give some contextual clues about how an organization or program is run? Why is learning a new job like a scavenger hunt or the reinvention of a wheel than it is like a learning process?

To me, high quality employee training and its corollary, the excellent documentation of one’s work processes and related data, is absolutely required. I know how to use Quickbooks, but not with certain entries that need to be done the “specific organization X way.” At the museum (shudder), I was trained on how to use any number of pieces of software, but only on the most general level, leaving me searching for guidance on how to use, for instance, the finance software, as someone who could approve bills. I had been taught only how to enter them. There was no context. I recently found instructions about how to update a website that were simply wrong on a couple of key points.  I don’t have access to a specific piece of marketing technology; nobody knows how to get it for me. The list goes on, and it has happened at every job I have ever had. Every single one.

One of my strengths as an arts administrator is my ability to document and codify process and operations, and to improve on them over time.  I have big goals for marketing, financial management, program development, fundraising…but I have little information to work from and, right now, little guidance. I am mired in history, but I have little “actionable intelligence” that I can use to solve the problems I am hearing about every day.

If I have learned anything in the last year it’s that the next time I take on a new role, I pray to every god there is that the person vacating that role will overlap with me so that I can actually ask them questions to their face and pick their brain while the information is still fresh in their mind. It is absolutely the best. On some level, managers don’t make good trainers because they only see the outcomes of the work, not the process. New employees, I think, need to know about process. Not an estimation of a process, or a concept, but the actual step by step. This intimate, detailed, granular knowledge is crucial.

One of our first big projects in the coming months, I have decided, is to begin to create an “employee manual” or a Bible or something, some comprehensive document that tells a new person everything they need to know about how processes function. We are recovering from a huge lapse in knowledge, and it will take months to get to full speed again.

The other thing I will say is that hiring a new employee and then immediately being too busy to interact with or train that person is wasteful and not a good use of that new employee. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s true. I am learning first hand about why employee turnover is so expensive for organizations. The lost knowledge, the lost productivity, the painful adjustment periods, the uncovering of errors and problems that had been swept under the rug.

I am venting frustration, but it’s only because I am so eager to move on from these procedural issues and get to work on more long-term goals. I also spent 10 hours at the office today, so I am crabby.

Time for salsa and old episodes of 30 Rock!

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