Episode 381:

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 is that who, and it’s plugging in, just like you said, it’s almost like the API of the company. Who are the different people that you need to go to get different kinds of information? And so when we onboard new folks, we’re kind of half in person.

And when we are onboard people, regardless of where they are, we sort of have a set roster of, “Okay, someone who’s your dedicated boy person who greets you 9:00 AM on Monday, they send you the email on Sunday night telling you what time to show up and what does all the logistics and everything. You already have your lap.” All that kind of good stuff. And then they’ll walk you through, “Okay, here are the set of people that we have set up time for you to talk to. Here’s why these people are important. Here’s what we think might be interesting for you to talk to them about.” So you kind of get that lay of that land and in the first week you end understanding maybe it takes two weeks depending on how big your team is. Who are all the people that I need to know? Now I’m connected and in these people.

And then it becomes how. How do I actually do my job? Okay, you’ve told me what’s important, how do I actually go to do that? And there are different levels of that. Some of that is truly going to have to be apprenticeship. Let’s say you’re trying to teach someone how to manage an account and have an effective client conversation, maybe a difficult conversation with a client. That’s probably something that’s still best done, but a senior person sitting down and explaining to that person, right? Maybe you record a video or something in advance, but it’s really having that person kind of ride along. And so you want to try to replicate in a digital environment what you would do in a personal environment. And that’s where the fact that Zoom and Slack and others make it so easy to keep. But then there’s all the knowledge of like, “Well, how do I actually do those things now?” Right? Oh, I’ve got to go send that invoice to that client and I’ve got to go generate that proposal. I got to do all these other kinds of things. And that’s knowledge before that previously you’d kind of pop your head over and quickly ask someone, well now when those people are sending those one-off Slacks all the time, that is very disruptive. Because there’s a lot of those, that’s very disruptive to the people receiving it on the other side.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and oftentimes agencies are notorious for the, “Glad you’re here. We waited too long to hire you. Here’s your desk. I’m going to send you your email, I’m going to do whatever. By the way, you have a client meeting at 10:00.” And there is no time to do that apprenticeship, especially in today’s market, they’ve looked so long for this person as you said, that they want them to be productive as quickly as possible, but they don’t actually set them up to be productive by throwing them into the deep end of the pool and saying, “I forgot to ask you not to swim.”

Jennifer Smith:

And that’s why I think as much as you can bring stuff into the course of work itself, this is a big kind of theme of mine, think a lot of times when we think about knowledge and training, we think of them as separate activities that you go and do in your spare time at the end of the day or whatever it might be. And instead it’s how do you bring that into the course of your day? Okay, you’re about to have a client call where you’re going to demonstrate this kind of skill. Is there someone on your team that you could invite along just so they could watch and learn? Could you record the video and send it to them later if you don’t want to have them with the client, whatever it might be. But there’s sort of this stream of output as you are doing work where if you bring people along with you, are you able to train them in some way? And that’s what we think about with our software because documentation, writing down what you know how to do used to be the kind of thing that you said, “Hey, can you do this at 6:00 PM on Thursday night after you finish all your real work, and just write down everything so we can put it somewhere for hopefully someone to some look at it someday?”

Drew McLellan:

In a binder, right?

Jennifer Smith:

In a fancy binder, where it probably becomes outdated because you’re moving fast and you’re changing things. You hope someone looks at it someday. And we’ve instead said, “Well, what if we could just watch you as you’re working? And documentation automatically came out the other side, what if it was digital exhaust? It’s just the byproduct of you doing work.” And so the whole idea there is finding these leverage points where you’ve got all of these really valuable knowledge yourself and you almost have to figure out how to scale yourself. It’s interesting concept to think about it that way, but really it’s how do you scale what you know how to do and hand that off to other people, and where can you find those leverage points while you’re doing work where you’re creating that kind of insight.

Drew McLellan:

I’m thinking about the why, the who and the how. So when we look at the why, not only why does your job matter, but why does this company exist? Why do we serve clients the way we do? What are some of the ways you’ve seen people teach that from a distance?

Jennifer Smith:

It starts with the recruiting process. So from the beginning when you’re engaging with someone before they even join, hopefully you’re communicating very clearly, “This is why our agency exists. Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what our clients have to say about us. We’re at this moment in our agency’s journey, we’re growing in these ways and we’re looking to bring someone on to help us do this. And if we do that successfully, that means we’re going to be able to do that. And that means that our clients are going to be happier and are going to be able to accomplish this.” And so from those very early conversations, I would say even the first or second call with a candidate, they should be able to articulate that already because you want them to actually either raise their hand and say, “Yeah, that sounds like something I really want to help with.” Or self-select out and be like, “Nah, not me.

Drew McLellan:

“Not my thing.” Right?

Jennifer Smith:

And you’ve saved your time. So ideally by the time, if you’ve built that into the recruiting process and it’s part of your company culture where everyone they’re talking to is telling a similar story, their own personal story, but through the process, they’re hearing kind of same themes over and over again. “Our agency exists for this reason. This is what we’re proud of, this is what we’re building towards. Here’s how we think that you or someone you could really help us.” Then someone shows up on day one, really fired up about the why.

Drew McLellan:

I agree.

Jennifer Smith:

And then your job just becomes to live up to the thing you said you were going to do. So be truthful during your recruiting process.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. Right.

Jennifer Smith:

You want to tell the authentic true story.

Drew McLellan:

If you don’t save lives, don’t say you save lives.

Jennifer Smith:

Right. You want someone to really be signing up for what you’re about to do and be bought into it, and then you just want to keep reinforcing that. And the way you do that depends on the company systems and structure. For us, for example, we have all hands every week. That’s pretty common for most companies. We work with some kind of town meaning, and we keep coming back to our values. We keep coming. And one of them is it’s all about user love. And so we have designed our all hands where we talk about our customers and how they’re using our product and how they’re seeing value from it and why that’s important in them. And so that kind of storytelling is just reinforcing our why, and it’s doing it in a very scalable way that is five minutes, 10 minutes a week of our company time. It is reinforcing our purpose.

Drew McLellan:

That everybody is hearing and hearing the same story and hearing the same emotion behind the story.

Jennifer Smith:

And then they start perpetuating it to each other. When I look at our Slack channels, I might not be actively participating in one of them, but now people are talking to each other about user love and like, “Oh wow, here’s this really great story.” Or like, “Great job, you did such an amazing job. Users are going to love this.” And so if you do it right, the why really kind of perpetuates itself then it almost doesn’t feel like effort. It just feels like living out the thing that is the reason you probably do your agency anyways.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And have you seen anybody, so a lot of that is one-to-one storytelling or one to many storytelling. Have you seen any businesses figure out a way to capture that and have it be this living asset that tells that story? Or do you think it has to be told live?

Jennifer Smith:

I don’t think it has to be told live. We work with some companies who are entirely asynchronous, so they don’t have any live interactions at all. It’s pretty extreme, but it works for them. Again, I think I have not been part of their recruiting process, but I would imagine, in their recruiting process, they share, we have a very strong philosophy about a way of working. It’s entirely asynchronous. And you’ve got probably a small minority of people who say like, “Wow, that sounds amazing. That’s really great.”

Drew McLellan:

I never want to talk to a person.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, sure. But for the people that works for, that’s great. And so what they do there is they use technology pretty heavily. They’ll do pre-recorded videos, so their version of it all hands will be some pre-recorded videos that they put together and tell everyone kind of, “Hey, watch this sometime in the next 24 hours.”

Drew McLellan:

So it pushes out from the CEO or someone that says, “Here’s basically the town hall meeting.”

Jennifer Smith:

Right. And then maybe ideally you’ve got within teams, people will sort of be sharing up as well. Probably not in an all-company way because that gets to be a little difficult to manage, or at least I haven’t seen that. Maybe someone does do that in an async way, but then you can sort of say, “Hey, within teams, everyone’s kind of sharing more bottoms up in group settings.” So I think it’s entirely possible. All that’s changing is the timing of the communication, right? And maybe the forum, although we’re still kind of talking about video, which is similar, the core part of it is still the same, which is it’s storytelling and messaging. “Here’s why we’re doing this. Here’s why this is important. Here’s why I care. Here’s why I think you should care. Here’s why our users care.” And then having a dialogue, and you can at least do that in smaller team settings in an async way.

Drew McLellan:

And again, the who, the team, the connecting people, not only to people who are going to be meaningful to them from a work perspective, but also meaningful to them from a culture perspective. How are you seeing remote teams do that successfully?

Jennifer Smith:

When you do it right, actually it can be great. We’ve got folks on our team who are separated by continents, big oceans, and some of them have never met in person and there’s some of each other’s best friends. And it’s because they’ve built in a set of things that you need to be part of a team. They have a shared purpose, they’ve built in some rituals together, they’ve built in some inside jokes. They have kind of a common pattern of working now. We do stand up every day at 9:00. I see you before you log off at 5:00. We will have lunch together if we’re both kind of bumming around. And you can leave teams to find their own ways and what works for them. It doesn’t have to necessarily be dictated by the CEO, we must all now have lunch together as part before socialization.

Drew McLellan:

Right. You will like each other.

Jennifer Smith:

Right. But what you want to encourage is kind of similar. Your Zoom meetings don’t have to all just be on topic. If you were in all in person together, you can take time to talk about personal stuff too and build those relationships. I’ve seen companies do that entirely asynchronously. I have seen it work really well when they’re able to bring people together in person or call it a two-day, three-day offsite. And ideally you do it sooner rather than later, earlier in someone’s working relationship because what you’re trying to do there is build a foundation of trust. It’s less about what you talk about and it’s much more about, I meet you Drew, and you know what? We just have a more relaxed interaction now because we’re in person. I get a better sense of who you are. You tell me about your dog.

We share a beer and I build this mental model of, “Oh, drew is the kind of person who blank, blank, blank. And I can trust him to blank, blank, blank. And so next time I’m uncertain about an idea rather than not telling him because I’m afraid I’m going to be judged, I’m just going to call him up because he’s my buddy Drew great, and I’m going to share with him what I’m thinking and he’s going to tell me candidly. And we’re going to have a good brainstorm together.” So you kind of want to build that trust and that foundation, you can do it remotely. I’ve seen companies do it successfully remotely. We have done it successfully remotely. If you have the luxury of being able to do an offsite, and there are some really great activities you can do at offsites to encourage that. We did one called how are you really? Which is everyone goes around and shares how are you really doing? And if you kind of set the tone and do it right, folks will get pretty personal and vulnerable. Sort of leave understanding that person as a person, not just a face across Zoom.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think the idea of bringing people together physically, I think a lot of agency owners look at that expense and go, “Oh, we can’t afford that.” But I’ve seen a lot of agencies that have gone completely remote that start talking about the disintegration of culture and that the connections, even people who used to be in an office together, the connections get more tenuous and all of that. And when they’ve invested in bringing people together, as you say, for two or three days, and there’s planned activities and there’s interactions and they’re mixing and matching people without exception, people go back to the remote work environment feeling very different about the agency, about the agency owner, about their coworkers and the connections they make. When you hang out with somebody for a couple days, you get a pretty good sense of who they are. And so the connections they make just are the lubricant that allows them to work better together and give each other grace when somebody makes a mistake and they’re just more invested in each other. And so it’ll be interesting to see if we see as the remote model becomes more the norm, if we see a normalization of that expense to bring everyone together and let them have that face time.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, I certainly see it in tech quite a bit. And it’s a hard thing to build an ROI model for, right? This is very intangible, but my bet is it ROIs out most of the time, if not, all of the time.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt.

Jennifer Smith:

And there are things you can do to make it ROI out more. So if you have to go travel to meet a client and a couple people are going to be traveling, maybe you build it around that, right? When some people are going to be in a location anyway, or you have a luxury of picking pretty low cost locations, so you can take anyone anywhere, you could get a good rate because the point is just to have everyone be together. Where I’ve seen it be most effective is when you plan it around a particular kind of change or project or initiative you’re trying to do.

So if you’re trying to change the way that you work or change this really important process, or you used to work with these kinds of clients and now you want to expand to those kinds of clients too, those can be great rallying moments to bring people together in person and sort of collectively imagine what the new future looks like that you’re trying to create. And the value of having your five people, 10 people, 30 people, whatever, all together. Collectively imagining something you’re trying to create in the world is really valuable. And by the way, it’s just super energizing for them.

Drew McLellan:

And it is a completely different experience than doing it on Zoom or fill in the blank. There is something that is irreplaceable about the human connection of actually being together.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, our tech is amazing as things like Zoom, they have not evolved to the place where you can build that same kind of relationship. And I think there’s something about the mindset of just being in a place and being fully immersed in it too. When you’re on Zoom with your colleagues, your notifications are coming up, your dogs walking in the door, you got to go do your laundry. I don’t know, whatever you’ve got going on in your life, you’ve got other things in your head. Versus when you’re in an offsite, you’re like, “I am here for the next three days and my sole job is to solve this big meaty problem and connect with my teammates.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you’re right. There is power in being away from your norm for sure. All right. I want to talk more about some of the best practices you’ve seen around teaching the how, but first, let’s, we’re going to take a quick break and then we’ll come back and chat about that.

Hey there, just a quick interruption. I want to make sure that you are aware that you are cordially invited, not just invited, but cordially invited to join our Facebook group, our private Facebook group. All you have to do is go to Facebook and search for Build a Better Agency, and you’ll find the Facebook group, you have to answer three quick questions. You have to put in the agency URL, you have to talk about what you want to learn from the group, and you have to promise to behave yourself. And that’s it.

And then we’ll let you in and you can jump into the conversation with over a thousand other agency owners and leaders. And there’s a robust conversation happening every day. People are sharing resources and best practices and discussing everything from work from home policies to maternity and paternity policies, to biz dev strategies. So come join us and jump into the conversation. Speaking of conversations, let’s head back.

All right, we are back. I am chatting with Jennifer Smith about remote work and how do we onboard and train effectively in this new work environment that we’re all still trying to figure out. So before the break, we were talking about how do you teach why. Why your company exists? Why you serve clients the way you do? Why their role is important? And the who. Who am I working with? What’s the culture? Who’s my team? Who’s my go-to for this? How do we teach all of that? And as we roll around the bend of the interview, I want to chat a little more about some best practices that you’ve observed around teaching the nitty gritty of how do I do my job?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, there’s say two kinds of how do I do it? There’s sort of the sort of in skill based or implicit. So the how do I gracely navigate a difficult client conversation? Is very different than, how do I enter my time in our timekeeping system? Or how do I submit this new design that I worked on? And so I split out those kinds of pieces of knowledge.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt.

Jennifer Smith:

And one has to come from watching a skilled practitioner, trying yourself and getting feedback from that skilled practitioner on how you did that. So that’s kind of like the core apprenticeship piece. The second one, you can solve with technology or in really scalable ways that don’t take time away from that skilled practitioner. So on that first piece of knowledge is going to be kind of dependent on your business and what you think are the core skills you’re trying to teach that person.

But I would say one, it starts with intentionality of what are those core skills? I’m trying to teach that person. So I hired a junior person, what should they be able to do in one year from now? We have a conversation with them, here’s what we would expect. Here’s what we think a great growth trajectory for you could look like. We think within a year you should be able to do this and this. We want to make sure we carve out opportunities for you to do that. So you’re going to join me on… Similarly the way you would’ve done in an office, right? You’re going to join me when we go to these client pitches, when I am working on this proposal, we’re going to have a Zoom running while I’m just going to kind of narrate to you what I’m thinking as I’m doing this work. But it’s ideally within the context of doing work, right? Because I have to wait-

Drew McLellan:

I’m literally watching you do it.

Jennifer Smith:

I’m literally watching you do it. You’re narrating to me while you’re doing it, then I can practice doing it myself. So when I reach a point, okay, we’re going to be on that client meeting together and you’re going to run these three points and I’m going to call you afterwards and give you immediate real time feedback if that fits within your culture for how you did that. So it’s translating a lot of what you would’ve done when you were in person, but really trying to emphasize how do you do this within the flow of doing work. Because time is money. You don’t want to be taking time away from that. And the best training actually happens within the course of real things that are going on. For the how, this is actually where it’s a huge time suck. It’s one of the biggest time sucks actually. Where I think a lot of companies think quite a bit about that first piece. You’ll go through the training and maybe they’ve even created these great training videos and all these materials, whatever, and you sort of go through that. And then-

Drew McLellan:

It’s sort the tangible versus the intangible, right?

Jennifer Smith:

Right. And then you sit down at your computer and you’re like, “Okay, but I need to register for my 401k.” How do I do that? I need to do these things. And so you get one of two responses. Either the person just starts pinging the person they think is going to be the least mad that they’re asking and most likely to give a response, which is not always the same as the person who actually knows the correct character.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. That’s right. Great.

Jennifer Smith:

So I call it kind of trading in a gray market of information where there’s all these people asking each other all the time and it’s not clear they’re necessarily asking the best person or they’re sitting there on their own not knowing, feeling kind of disempowered and clicking around and trying to figure it out. And the cost of either of those scenarios is really high. McKenzie did a study and estimated that one in five days, 25% of a knowledge worker’s time is spent just trying to track down the info they need to do their job.

Drew McLellan:

That’s crazy.

Jennifer Smith:

We work with customers who do really detailed time studies of how they spend their time very interestingly. And they have found they spend anywhere between 9% to 15% of their time just asking and answering these kinds of questions for each other. “Hey, can you show me how I add a new client in our CRM? Hey, do you mind quickly just showing me this?” And each individual question feels pretty innocuous, right? But then you start to add them up over time. And then there’s all the non-questions that didn’t even get asked. And that person sitting in their basement by themselves feeling pretty disempowered in their new job. And so there I think a lot about how do you create that kind of documentation or knowledge transfer in a way that doesn’t take time from your best people who know how to do that work, but gets the people who have just joined or frankly have been there for a while, but maybe this thing is new to them, they don’t do it for real.

Drew McLellan:

Or they forgot they did it once three years ago and they haven’t had to do it again or, yeah.

Jennifer Smith:

Bingo, bingo. And that’s the space that we really play in as Scribe. And what we think about a lot, and I say it’s often the most overlooked part of knowledge management. People think a lot about building these great wikis and training videos and all these and doing these Zoom sessions, all these kinds of things. And then you sort of forget. They’re like, “Okay, but now my things are on keyboard.” And I’m just literally about to go do the work, and what is it I’m supposed to do, and what am I supposed to click? And so our software will watch someone automatically do work. You click the record button and you just do what you normally would do and it’ll automatically generate a step-by-step written SOP, user guide, whatever you could call it, with screenshots that shows how to do that process. And so what we always encourage people to do is just do that while you’re working and you’re almost getting this output of you’re not spending any special dedicated time. And now when those people go to have questions on how to do something, they’ll just go find that documentation that you’ve created. They’re not going to go bug you with that one-off slack question, which becomes kind of complicated and expensive over time.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m curious, there’s a software question now. So you and I work at the same company, we have the same role, so we do a lot of the same things. So we each use the tool to watch us do to how do you enter time? But you and I don’t do it the same. So then how just this is a curiosity. How does the software reconcile that Jennifer and Drew do not do this in the same way? You list all the things you did and then you go back down and you list how much time you spent on each thing. And I do the, “Here’s what I did, how much time.” And then my note, and then I go to the next thing. I’m just curious how the software reconciles that.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. So it would create two different guides for our two different processes. And it would sort of say how to create your time sheet by Drew and how to create your time sheet by Jennifer. And it’ll say how many steps it is and how long it takes. And that is actually a really interesting thing that we will see. It becomes more pronounced over much bigger teams. Because you just have a higher end of more people doing it. But what you’ll see is Nancy and Drew both did the same process, but Drew did it a lot. Drew’s my best employee. Andrew’s process was 30% faster. So I’m going to take a look at how Drew did it. And what a lot of our users in those instances will do is they add kind of a verification layer where a manager will sort of star it and be like, “This is the [inaudible 00:43:54] surprise.”

Drew McLellan:

This is the approved way.

Jennifer Smith:

Drew was on it. This is the approved way for doing this.

Drew McLellan:

Fascinating.

Jennifer Smith:

But it’s been an interesting way to see how people use it because they’ve also used the guides to find inefficiencies. So we had one customer who had a Scribe, it was a 15-minute Scribe, which is very long. The average Scribe takes 56 seconds to create. It’s very kind of straightforward. This person spent 15 minutes and it was on how to book a meeting room.

Drew McLellan:

Holy buckets.

Jennifer Smith:

And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at that and say, something is wrong. And it turns out their software was terrible and buggy and they just needed to fix the process from booking a meeting room. But that became really obvious as soon as you had it written down somewhere.

Drew McLellan:

I mean, that would be one of the benefits of using the software though, is to identify those, “Okay, something’s broken here if it takes this long to do this task.”

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. I used to do, and there are many people who still do this as a consultant, like time studies where you literally have a stopwatch and you are sitting and just watching someone and we’re doing what they’re click, click, click, click, click. How long is it taking you? Which is kind of just a really sort of disempowering experience for everyone involved. But that work happens, still happens today. And sometimes people will use scribes now as a replacement, not in a disempowering, I’m sort of watching you way, but in a, “Oh, now I can understand. Here’s where it takes the most time. Oh, it’s because you were waiting 20 seconds for the buggy software to load.” That’s interesting. It’s good for us to know that we have buggy software.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. So as you observe all your clients sort of trudging down this path, what do you think best practices are around? I often think that we build an onboarding or a training and we’re so eager for the person to get to do the work that we sort of plug them with a fire hose and we give them all of the stuff in 35 seconds and we expect them to be able to drink all of that water and retain it. So what do you see about best practices around duration of time and how much time every week should someone be onboarded and versus doing the work? And I know some of those questions around just sort mental capacity and bandwidth and also the balance of this person, I have to pay for this person, so they need to actually get to their job. So I can’t dillydally around with the training forever.

Jennifer Smith:

You’re so right. I think most people’s inclination is to try to fire hose and see if [inaudible 00:46:32] stuff as much info as possible in your head. I would think about it in set. So I’d break it up into the why, the who and the how. Okay, so we’ve already talked about the why and the who and that you want to spend time on. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Soon as you get to the why, okay, you need to do your job. I would think about it not as giving everyone all of the info they need, but almost like an orientation or a tour for where they can go find that info later.

Interesting. The short answer is documentation. It’s not surprising. I say that I believe very strongly in documentation. And then what you want to do is give the person a sense of, “Here’s where you can find this information when this question comes up.” We’ve all been part of those kinds of orientations. Even think about someone giving you directions, I mean, before we had smartphones, you’d ask someone like, “Where am I supposed to go?” And they’d give me 10-step directions, and I would remember the first three steps, and then I’d be like, “I’ll figure out the rest when I get there.”

Drew McLellan:

Somewhere along here, there’s a yellow house, right?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. That’s all I remember. Now imagine you’re just getting a fire hose of that as you’re getting started. That’s not helpful, right? What would be helpful is [inaudible 00:47:40]-

Drew McLellan:

Well, in fact it’s probably disheartening because you feel like-

Jennifer Smith:

You feel very overwhelmed.

Drew McLellan:

… you should be able to retain it all, but you don’t. And then you think, well, “God, am I going to be able to do this job?”

Jennifer Smith:

And the company says, “Ooh, I just spent a bunch of time training you, so you better know what to do.” What would be more helpful is if that person said, “Hey, at some point you’re going to have to go down this path. You’re going to have to get to the yellow house. Just so you know, there’s some directions that live here where you can find directions to that yellow house. And then next time you have to go to this place, you’re going to look over here, and here’s where this lives. And I’ll give you kind of the quick overview right now. But the goal is not for you to remember all of this. It’s to know where to go to find these answers when you go to do this later.” And that is a much more reassuring message, because the message there is, “Hey, I’m going to tell you what you need to know right now at a high level, you have the resources you need at your fingertips to be able to go do this on your own. Like you are empowered. And by the way, if you come across something and it’s not in these resources, great, let us know. And you’ll create that resource as you are doing that work for the next person who comes along and has that question.” That’s just a really different experience and conversation.

Drew McLellan:

And do you see marrying that with still having some humor? “Okay Drew, here’s the resource library, and it’s organized in a way that you can find the tasks you need to do, but you also have your onboarding buddy, Babette. And if you can’t find it or you don’t understand it, or it doesn’t work the way you thought it was going to, she’s your go-to person to help you sort that out.”

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, absolutely. To me, that’s a big part of the who, and we didn’t talk about that. I’m glad you brought it up. Having an onboarding buddy is critical. And maybe you have a couple of, maybe there’s an onboarding buddy for the first couple weeks who’s just your person. But then there’s also, here are the people you go to over time when you have these kinds of questions in the future. And what you’re trying to do is keep the questions that a person needs to answer. “What tone of voice should I have when I’m having this? How should I handle this kind of difficult circumstance? Whatever it is. Right? What’s the way we do pitches here? Do we lead with this or that? Or what’s our way of doing this?” Versus the like, “Hey, how do I just find this information? I need to know where I can go to use this new software. How do I reset my password?” You don’t want anyone bugging other people for those kinds of process-based knowledge. And so separating those two and being clear who you go to for what is really time efficient and empowering for that person.

All about the end. Where do you find end, if it feels like you have to do a trade-off between things, usually not the best way, right? The best things you’re actually, it’s a great use of that person’s time and it’s really valuable.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s a fascinating new world that we’re in, but I guess the point is that it is all doable. It is very much a measure twice, cut once sort of a thing, really being thoughtful about it and then probably iterating after every new hire, or every new training to go, okay, how could that have been better? How could that have been more efficient? We didn’t anticipate these four questions. How do we bake those answers into whatever we already have?

Jennifer Smith:

You should be soliciting feedback, by the way. We do this internally after someone goes through onboarding, we will then solicit feedback. How could we make this? What was helpful? What was not helpful? There’s a set of questions, how could we make this better for the next person coming through?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, makes sense. This has been fascinating, it’s a brand-new world for everybody and the things that we have done a certain way for a very long time are really being challenged right now. So this was, I think, a good conversation and I love how you broke it out into pieces because I do think everyone goes, “Oh, okay. All the trainings should be in video or all the trainings should be like this, as opposed to.” All right, these are very different things and they can be translated and shared in very different ways that are best for both the organization and the person who’s taking in the information.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, a lot of it comes down to educational theory for how to humans learn best and no human learns best sitting and being marched through, some forced two-week onboarding or something, and no human learns best by just be handing a laptop and sitting by themselves trying to figure out what to do. The answer is somewhere in between.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. This has been great. So if people want to learn more about Scribe, if they want to track you down and have a follow-up question, what are the best ways for them to tap into you?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, so you could find me easily there. Jennifer Smith, you can also check out.

Drew McLellan:

You’re probably the only one there, right?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. Good luck. You have to put Jennifer Smith Scribe. That should narrow it down. And then you can go to our website, scribehow.com. Scribe H-O-W.com, and you can actually use the product. We have a very generous free tier. The majority of our users are on the free tier. Our most common users are agencies and small business folks who are trying to either train or onboard their employees or their clients. And I’ll also share-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s why we didn’t even talk about this, but that would be great for clients too.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, because, I mean, clients are moving to the same model. We’re talking about a remote or hybrid world internally, but your clients are going through the same transformation on their end.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt.

Jennifer Smith:

And the way you’re working with them is changing in pace too. And so a lot of the stuff we’re talking about, how do you a knowledge transfer with clients? How do you answer questions when they’re asking you like, Hey, how do I do this? I’m trying to set up my ads account. What am I supposed to be doing again?” That’s not valuable use of your time. And so if you can send them some documentation that you have off the shelf that feels really white glove and special for them where they feel like, “Wow, you spent all the time.” And you spent 56 seconds or whatever it was to send it over to them, that’s a win-win on both side.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt.

Jennifer Smith:

So folks, you can use the free product. I’ll also include a promo code for our paid product as well, that’s of interest for folks.

Drew McLellan:

Great. We’ll put that in the show notes. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise, and one of the things I always find fascinating is when people talk about their jobs or their companies, you think, “Huh, how did that happen? How did they start that?” Or sometimes I’m like, “Really, you can make a living doing that?” But that really, your company was born out of your own frustrations and observations of this recurring problem that we absolutely know. I mean, we talk a lot about documenting systems and processes in the agency world, and you’re right, it is nobody’s favorite thing to do. So there’s a fascinating evolution of your own experience that now I’m sure is helping many, many people. So-

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, we’re on a mission to change that and make it from, “Oh God, I have to create documentation.” To, “Wow, I did that so fast and it looks so beautiful.” Like that. That’s amazing. And it’s been fun to see it grow. I mean, I think everyone who has been in any kind of knowledge working role before has experienced the pain of either having to create documentation or not having it on the other side. And so we’ve grown over 300,000 organizations in under a year, and it’s just [inaudible 00:55:21]-

Drew McLellan:

That’s crazy.

Jennifer Smith:

This needs quite universal, actually.

Drew McLellan:

No doubt. Yeah, no doubt. Well, this has been fascinating. Thank you. Thank you for your time. Appreciate you making the time to be on the show and sharing your expertise.

Jennifer Smith:

Thanks so much for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right, guys. So here, as you know, and you probably hear me say this more often than you want to, I want this podcast to be actionable. I want you to listen to these episodes and go, “I need to go do that, or I need to stop doing that, or I need to do that different.” And this episode is packed with things that you can do. Again, whether you go check out Scribe or you do this on your own or you make videos, that’s not the point. The point is having a system and a process around onboarding and training, especially if you’re not sitting across the table from that employee anymore. So I hope that you take some of the best practices from this conversation, start to experiment with them. This’ll be a great time of year to sort of start playing with all of this and just make ’23 the year that you actually get things documented.

We’ve talked so many times about the danger of keeping everything in everybody’s head and the risk of that tribal knowledge being lost, and so I think this was a really pragmatic conversation that can help you avoid that crisis before it becomes a crisis. All right. Couple other things. One, remember that we have our next workshop for agency owners is calling, Running your Agency for Growth and Profit. That is March, I think it’s the 9th and 10th. It’s a Thursday, Friday in March. It is in Denver. You can go to the website and check it out, go under the How We Help tab, scroll down to workshops, and you’ll see it there. We’d love to have you. It’s really built for owners and high level leaders. So this is not an entry level thing. This is not something you should send your people to. This is something you want to come to if you’re really ready to rev things up, make more money and keep more of the money that you make.

All right. So we’d love to see you that of course, I will be back next week with another guest and a huge shout-out and thanks to our friends at White Label IQ. They’re the presenting sponsor of the podcast and they make it possible for us to hang out every week. So check them out at whitelabeliq.com/ami, and you know that they’ve got a special promo code there for you to get some free hours from them. They do White Label design, dev and PPC, and they are for many agencies, they’re complete outsource web dev or app building team. They do amazing work. They’re good people. I’ve known them for 20 years, so check it out if you haven’t done that already. All right. I am grateful for you. Thanks for listening. As always. I’ll be back. I hope you’ll be back and I’ll talk to you then. Thanks.

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.