Episode 381

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One of the biggest sticking points with agencies is establishing tried and true onboarding and training SOPs. Over and over, we find that new hires aren’t pleased with how their onboarding process went, despite agencies and larger companies investing billions into this one area.

Poor training and onboarding experiences can result in disaster and influence how long your new hire will want to stick around after the fact. It can be even more challenging for remote agencies to establish cohesion in SOPs when a team is remote or hybrid. That’s why it’s essential to have well-established training SOPs that are easy to follow and help your new hires understand their purpose within your agency.

In this episode, I’m interviewing Jennifer Smith from Scribe to teach us how to make SOPs that are quick, painless, transferable, and digestible. She knows what remote teams need to get everyone on the same page quickly, and she has a lot of knowledge on how to make that happen. Tune in to listen and learn great ideas from Jennifer to make a typically painful process seamless and much more organized.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.
Training SOPs

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The importance of having tribal knowledge in an agency
  • Where agencies often fail to have proper documentation
  • Establishing the why, the who, and the how of your agency to new hires
  • Creating proper SOP documentation to onboard new team members
  • Where agencies can improve on building a remote team
  • How to demonstrate skills and tasks to new hires with training SOPs
  • How to make SOPs and documentation pain-free and easy to share amongst your team

“No human learns best through a forced two-week onboarding, and no human learns best by just being handed a laptop and sitting by themselves trying to figure out what to do.” @scribeonline Click To Tweet “The best training actually happens within the course of real things that are going on.” @scribeonline Click To Tweet “Companies have spent billions of dollars investing in getting their onboarding strategies right, and 74% of employees say their onboarding experience was bad.” @scribeonline Click To Tweet “There are three really important questions you have to answer for a new hire – the why, the who, and the how.” @scribeonline Click To Tweet “You can predict with pretty high accuracy how long an employee's going stay with you and if they're successful based on whether they had an excellent experience in those first two to four weeks of getting onboarded to a company.” @scribeonline Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Jennifer:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back for another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super glad to have you back. Going to have a great conversation today. Before we do that though, one of the things I’m going to start doing on the podcast is I’m going to start talking about some of the speakers who are specifically going to be on the on the podcast. That’s not where they’re going to be. They’re going to be at the summit with us May 16th and 17th in Chicago. So one of the keynote speakers is a gentleman named Mitch Joel. Many of you probably know him. He is authored several books, Six Pixels of Separation and several others. So Mitch’s career has been varied, but mostly he was an agency owner. So he and some buddies started a small shop in Canada back in the day.

And it was, what many of you are doing is, it was a five, 10-person shop for a long time. And then some things started to happen, and I don’t want to give away his story, but Mitch is going to sit on the stage and tell us how he went from running a five-person agency to growing that agency, to getting the attention of one of the largest holding companies in the agency’s space and finally ultimately selling his agency to that holding company. So it’s an amazing journey, but it is a journey filled with moments and milestones that every single one of you could replicate if you wanted to. And so it is a story of surprise. It’s a story of good fortune. It’s a story of hard luck or hard work paying off. It is a story of luck. It is a story of tenacity, but there’s nothing fantastical about the story.

There’s nothing magic that happened, and everything they did that led them to getting on the radar screen of this holding company and then ultimately negotiating the sale, all of that is stuff that you could be doing. So Mitch is going to be one of the speakers at the summit. We would love to have you join us again, that’s May 16th and 17th. If you’re an AMI member at any level, so a silver, gold, platinum, virtual peer group, live peer group, you are eligible to attend Family Day, which is on Monday the 15th will come in right after lunch. We’re going to have three different speakers. We’re going to talk about some topics just unique to that group of people. And then we’re all going to go out to dinner together. And then the conference itself is Tuesday and Wednesday. So we’d love to have you join us.

All the speakers are amazing, but Mitch is going to be one that you do not want to miss. Okay. All right. So with that, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So when I was actively running my agency, I did not like the S word, and the S word for me was systems. I like many of you that came up through the creative ranks, bristled at the idea that you could systemize creativity, that you could systemize a lot of parts of agency life. But when I owned my own agency, which I still do, but when I started the agency and started realizing how much tribal knowledge we were all walking around with and how everybody was sort of doing the same thing but in a different way, it was Bob’s way and Mary’s way, Drew’s way, I learned very quickly that process and systems are not prohibitive, but they actually are freeing and they actually are a serious CYA to cover your rear end in case something happens in case someone leaves.

Lots of reasons why it makes sense to have systems and processes. But recording systems and processes and capturing them, super hard. And one of the systems and processes that we as agency people sort of suck the most at is onboarding new employees and training employees. And so all of that said, our guest today is going to talk about how we can do that more efficiently, more effectively, less painfully and better. So Jennifer Smith owns a company called Scribe. She has a really interesting career path that I’m going to let her talk to you about. But basically Scribe is a software that helps capture systems and processes and keep them in a way and in a place where your whole team can access them. So with that, I want to introduce you to Jennifer because we have lots to talk about. All right, let’s get going.

Jennifer, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Jennifer Smith:

Thanks so much for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So give everybody a little sense of your career trajectory and how you came to have all of this insight and knowledge about what we’re going to talk about today, which is really remote onboarding, remote training, how that all impacts culture in today’s environment?

Jennifer Smith:

So it’s a pretty non-linear path, which I often think the most interesting ones are. So I’m currently the CEO and co-founder of Scribe. We are a enterprise software company based in San Francisco. When we make software that automatically creates documentation on your processes, I can talk more about that. I started my career as a management consultant at McKinsey working in the organization and operations practices, which is kind of a mouthful and sounds fancy. What it practically meant was I flew around the country and would go to these big op centers, I think like Salt Lake City where there would be hundreds of people sitting in a center. And I would go in cubicle surf and find the best people in that op center. And I would sit next to them and I would look over their shoulders and I’d ask them questions, “Why are you doing things that way?”

What is this? And what they would all say to me is, “Hey, this is all the stuff I was trained to do.” And I’m going to date myself. They’d pull out a really thick binder, this was 15 years ago, now I assume it’s digital. “Okay, dunk it down on the table.” And they’d say, “I had to memorize everything here, but you know, I found these 30 shortcuts instead. And this is really what I’m doing.” And my team would have to watch what they were doing on their screens and write that down in PowerPoint and then give that back to our customers. And I always thought, well gosh, that works. If you’ve got a 28-year-old overpaid Jennifer sitting with a Lenovo ThinkPad watching you like, “What would you do otherwise?” And this doesn’t really seem very scalable, does it? How you fast forward and I’m living in Silicon Valley in Venture Capital and spent a lot of my time talking to buyers of enterprise software.

So folks at companies large and small. And I would just get curious and ask them, “What are some of the biggest problems you’re trying to solve?” And this was even pre COVID. And they would say, “Well, my company runs on processes.” It’s people who show up every day and have specialized knowledge on how to do things. And that walks out the door every day at 5:00 PM and I’ve got to hope that it comes back. And I try to capture it from people, but it’s really hard to do. I mean, my only choice is to either hire the 28-year-old Jennifer or ask them to take time away from their job and write down what they know how to do and that’s expensive and unpopular. And so I found this [inaudible 00:07:38]-

Drew McLellan:

That type of knowledge is scary. I mean, you’re right, the knowledge literally walks out the door every day, and also mutates over time. Even if the person comes back, their memory and how they do things and how they describe it is going to evolve over time, whether it’s accurate or not.

Jennifer Smith:

And then you have something like a global pandemic and that knowledge now not even in the same place, but it sort of distributed all over. It really struck kind of home with me what we were doing. We started building a company be before the pandemic. And I think now this remote world has really accelerated a problem that was hiding in plain sight when we’re all sitting next to each other. You sort of took for granted that you could just ask the person sitting next to you. But I had the dad timing of closing on my mortgage the first week of COVID. And I won’t call out the bank because this doesn’t make them look very good. But it was one of the really big banks, and they couldn’t perform on my mortgage, because the people who knew literally how to send the documents and wire the money, they couldn’t reach them because they had gone remote and they didn’t have anything set up.

And the people who were still working were answering the phone for me, but saying, “I literally don’t know how to wire the money. I’m sorry, you’re going to have to wait until we can bring these people back.” And so that’s an extreme example. But I think we can all relate to this idea of there’s some just really critical knowledge that lives in some people’s heads. And usually it’s your most valuable people who have that info. So they’re probably the busiest. It’s probably the hardest asset. So this was kind of, as you can tell, a problem I got really obsessed with and just sort of sought it time and time again. And so decided to build a software company that could do this automatically, could watch these experts do the thing that they’re great at, send that wire transfer, whatever it might be, and automatically create documentation that you could now use to scale when you’re onboarding someone new, when you’re training a new client, when you’ve changed a process, when you’re buying new software, whatever it might be. Any of these moments where you have to execute on a process in your business, which is every day.

Drew McLellan:

And well, multiple times a day, right? Many, many times a day.

Jennifer Smith:

Multiple times a day. Most of the day, depending on, you’re either sort of doing creative generative work or you’re executing on processes.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I have to think that now that you’ve been around for a few years and you’re watching how the best of the best are doing some of these things, you’ve spotted some patterns. What we were talking before we hit the record button, the way agencies hire and train has been completely tossed on its head, because agencies were notorious for two things. One, when they hired someone they hired someone super junior because they could afford them. And they knew that having practical expertise in your own agency was sort of hard to beat in terms of the training. And so not only did they hire them young, thinking they would have to groom them and grow them, but two, the way they groomed and grew them was to say, “You know what you’re going to sit next to Babette. Babette is the best account manager at the agency, and you’re going to follow her around and you’re going to learn from her.”

And there was this knowledge transfer by osmosis. They went to meetings together, they overheard conversations. And within six months or a year, this new hire, this kid, was pretty competent at the job because they had observed other competent people. And now to your point, we are scattered across the globe. We are not sitting next to each other. We’re not eavesdropping on each other’s phone calls or going to meetings with each other because a lot of people aren’t going to meetings physically. And we have a lot of agencies that have people back in the office. But nonetheless it’s shifted. Pre COVID, most agencies had a remote employee. Today remote agencies, probably 25% to 50% to 75% of their staff is fully remote, meaning they never come into an office.

Jennifer Smith:

What a wild change.

Drew McLellan:

I know, it’s what’s crazy

Jennifer Smith:

In just short period of time.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I always think it’s fascinating. It’s a change we would’ve never made if we weren’t forced to. I mean some people had sort of played with the model and all of that, but very few people were like, “We’re going 100% remote.”

Jennifer Smith:

And I think what companies are finding now and agencies are finding, the cat’s out of the bag. It’s really hard to put it back in. Employees are now saying, “Well, I’ve been doing my job remotely for the last two years. Why do I have to come back to the office?” I mean, I see it living here in Silicon Valley. A bunch of the big tech companies said, “We’re all going back to the office now.” And employees said, “Ha ha. Not coming.” What are you going to do about it?

Drew McLellan:

So you have that reality of people have been doing their job remotely for a year or longer, and you have the employee crunch, where employees could simply look at their employer and go, “Yeah, I’m not doing that.”

Jennifer Smith:

It was such a tight labor market

Drew McLellan:

Because they knew either the boss would fold or they could find a job tomorrow. So those two things have put agency owners in this very strange vise grip of, “Okay, at some level my people are going to be remote, even if it’s a hybrid situation, I may hire them without ever meeting them, whatever that is. But I have to onboard them, I have to make them feel part of the team. I have to connect the team to this new person and I have to train them.” And so how are people doing that? Well, because honestly I think a lot of agencies are really scratching their head around this.

Jennifer Smith:

And it’s so important to get right. There’s been a bunch of really interesting research on the importance of the first couple weeks in a job in overall employee satisfaction and tenure. And they attribute, you can actually predict with pretty high accuracy, how long an employee’s actually going to stay with you? And if they’re successful based on whether they had a really good experience in those first two to four weeks of getting onboarded to a company. And Gallup studies have said that, I can’t remember what statistics, but companies have spent billions of dollars investing in getting their onboarding strategies. And 74% of employees say their onboarding experience was bad. So there’s this huge disconnect and I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum and companies that we work with everything from, you talk to employees who say, “Hey, I was handed sort of a laptop and a list of people to call.” And they’ve sort of said, “Good luck.” I actually think we’re seeing a lot less of that end of this pendulum because so many companies have woken up and said, “Oh my goodness. Remote onboarding, I have to crack this nut.” And so what I’ve seen is that-

Drew McLellan:

Well, employees are so hard to find that you want to get it right.

Jennifer Smith:

That’s right. The stake stakes are much higher. Because maybe it took you a long time to find that person. Maybe you had to pay a bit more for them than you were comfortable at the time. And so you’re really invested and you want to make it work. And then I’ve seen companies as a result go to the other end of the pendulum where you talk to the hiring manager, the employee, and you say, “How is the onboarding experience?” And they say, “They sent me two weeks’ worth of videos and I sat at my computer and I watched prerecorded videos or Zooms for two weeks.” How to do it? And that was really disengaging too. And so the right answer obviously lives somewhere in the middle, where you’re trying to replicate parts of that apprenticeship experience, which especially when you’re in any kind of creative industry or craft industry. The way you learn your craft historically was by popping your head over, looking over someone’s shoulder and just watching what they were doing, as you were saying, kind of learning osmosis.

So okay, how do you replicate that in an online world? And the answer is you do it in some ways, but you don’t do it in all ways. Because I think one of the… This will be a little maybe surprising to hear from a tech software CEO, but I think sometimes we use technology too much. And what I mean by that is communications technology in particular. So Slack and Zoom and others have done really an incredible job in reducing the barrier to communication. It’s literally one click for you and I to chat right now. We both just clicked on the Zoom link and boom, here we are. We tend to Slack really, really easily. You brought that barrier down to nearly zero. But what that now means is we spend a lot of our time communicating with each other. And there’s been some really interesting research during the pandemic about how much communication increased when we went remote, but it wasn’t a corresponding lifting output, it was just time we spent talking to each other about things.

And that has real consequences. I mean I talk a lot about collaboration overload, and I feel like it’s something we all intuitively hear where you get that Slack ping coming in of someone just asking that maybe it’s that new hire who’s got a question like,” Hey, can you just show me how to do this?” Previously they tap your shoulder, now it’s Slack pings that you’re getting, or a request for a Zoom, that turns into 30 minutes because you exchange pleasantries and it becomes this whole thing, right? And so you can end your day saying, “Oh, I spent a lot of time talking to my colleagues, I talked to that new hire a lot, man, I must have really successfully onboarded them. I must have done good.” But did you actually get your core work done?

Drew McLellan:

Or did you teach them how to do their core work?

Jennifer Smith:

So I think that the areas where I’ve seen companies do this really well is break out the different kinds of things that you’re trying to teach. Either a new employee or someone you’re trying to up level, and for different kinds of knowledge or skills you’re trying to impart, you’ve got different tactics. And so you actually have to be quite intentional about, “Okay, is this a fundamental skill I’m trying to teach them? Is this a piece of knowledge transfer? Is this a process or procedural knowledge?” And those have different channels of communication that you would use. You deliver the message in different timing in different ways.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and even I think about so much of onboarding is about plugging the employee into the culture of the organization and making them feel like it’s a good fit and that they’re welcome and they start to meet people and make connections. And that’s stuff to do remote.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, I say there’s three really important questions you have to answer for a new hire. You have to answer the why, the who and the how. The why sort of like, Why is your job important? Why did we hire you? Why does this matter to the company? Why do your efforts matter? And if you’ve done a really good recruiting process, actually someone should show up on day one with a pretty good sense of that why. And you want to make sure that all their kind of interactions with everyone else reinforces that why over and over again. So then I think the next thing that becomes important