ch-ch-ch-changes: out with the old, in with the new employees
September 2, 2013 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I run a small-scale but pretty profitable business (5 employees). Entertainment agency. I'm very fortunate to both love my job and really really like the people who work for me. I feel positive about our company and the work we do. We're growing all the time. One of them - the administrative lynch-pin/office manager/keeper of all knowledge is moving abroad to join her long-distance boyfriend. I'm gutted and feel she's going to be really hard to replace. Can you help me?

My current assistant started with us 2 and a half years ago, at the time when I made the switch from sole trader to listed company with employees. She's been amazing and a really vital cog in our small hardworking team.

I want advice on
a) having her write a detailed job description that will serve as a guide for her future person
b) hiring the right person to replace her
c) working out what it is I need in a person to fill this job perfectly
d) working out how to identify that in an interview!
e) possibly involving the other people who work here in this recruitment process, without it becoming confusing
f) having a really smooth changeover where the new person feels supported but can also hit the ground running performing what is a pretty fast-paced job.

Would love to hear about your experiences about being the old employee/new employee or indeed employer/manager in this situation.
Would love to hear about any useful resources you've come across which deal with any or all elements of hiring. Any anecdotes or tips useful and welcome.

One thing I'm concerned about is finding someone who is keen to stay in an adminstrative role for a good while at least, and is not lusting after the sexier elements of this industry. We want a keeper!

thank you all in advance metafilter
posted by stevedawg to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
She sounds like a perfect ally in this process. How much time do you have before she leaves? If possible, she should help give guidance on a-d. And ideally it would happen before she leaves, so that there can be some personal training by the best person there is!
posted by barnone at 11:02 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you're based in New York, you could give me the job; I'm an admin who's got the professionalism of corporate america but the smarts of a double career in entertainment as well (I was a secretary AND a stage manager for 10 years).

Failing that - I think having her write the job description and letting her do some of the interviewing/screening is very wise, because she probably knows about stuff she does that you don't even know about - because that's how good she is at her job.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:04 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You could also keep her employed on at least a part-time basis from her new location, communicating by email, Skype, Facetime, etc., to assist with the transition.
posted by yclipse at 11:18 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Barnone, I have 10 weeks till she's out of here, and ideally there will be a cross-over of two weeks with both her and the new hire. Empress, we are based in London sadly! Would you actually have her ask set questions in the interview?
posted by stevedawg at 11:18 AM on September 2, 2013

When I started my job, I was pleasantly surprised that there were all sorts of specific, written out instructions for me for the various responsibilities I have. Also, a few months after I started while I was planning for our big event of the year, the individual who I replaced called and talked to me for about an hour about how she did things. She went above and beyond the call of duty and I'm really grateful.
posted by kat518 at 11:39 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is it possible to have her be a remote employee for ~10-15 hours a week for a few weeks?
posted by barnone at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

'Keeper of all knowledge'--having been a few places that went through this, ask her to start, now, writing down literally everything she can think of that she does, including everything she has/needs to be able to do that. Like passwords, website links, bank account numbers. Locations of files on her hard drive. Even if things are supposed to be written down somewhere else, operate under the assumption that they're not. It's so easy for stuff to fall through the cracks.
posted by Sequence at 11:45 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having been in your assistant's replacement's position, the advice I'd give is to keep your expectations realistic. Your amazing assistant grew into the position as she grew it; please give her replacement the same chance. There's nothing quite as demoralizing as knowing that even if you know all the procedures that former assistant knew, people can't stop reminding you both overtly and subtly that you are not her (and are therefore inadequate).
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Agreeing with the posters above to have the current admin write down everything about her current day-to-day, as she does it. Also think through the year - are there specific busy times or big events for which someone would need special prep or instructions?

For the interview process: absolutely have the current admin interview candidates, preferably one-on-one. Meet before interviews start to create an agreed-upon list of skills and expertise you are looking for; develop questions based on that and decide who will cover what (no harm repeating some questions, but ideally not too many of them).

Also agreeing with rtha that you need to set expectations realistically. Part of the magic of good admin work comes only after you get used to everyone's expectations and preferences and can intuit their needs.

Ideas for retention: prioritize admin experience over entertainment background/education. Give the best salary and benefits package you can. Be respectful and appreciative of the admin's work, even if most of it is less visible than in other roles. Once you find a stellar person, be on the lookout for opportunities to grow them within the role (Examples: great job on the office holiday party? Look for a way for them to coordinate professional events as well. Did they kick ass implementing a new payroll system? Maybe they can become the office process guru and be in charge of coming up with new office efficiencies or cost savings in other areas. Etc.)
posted by hilatron at 12:09 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was the "keeper of knowledge" a few times. To keep this short and sweet and not in any particular order (but happy to flesh out):

- I wrote down every function I did during the day for about a week. This way I was able to catch both the "every day" things and the "one-off," "once-in-a-blue-moon," and "oh yeah I forgot I do that!" stuff.
- I made a LOT of cheat sheets.
- I trained with my replacement for about 3 days and then we worked side by side for 1.5 weeks. Over this time, I gradually turned over more and more responsibilities to her.
- I made sure she knew who to ask if she had any questions (I left her my contact info as well).
- I set her expectations appropriately as I could. The job requires someone who will wear a lot of hats, can turn on a dime, can manage a lot of balls in the air without dropping them. They need to be someone who can be satisfied with the endless minutiae and the big sexy stuff.
- I worked to integrate her into the group as much as I could before I left - so, having her work on stuff with other team members or having her ask other people questions through my unavailability or suggestion.

That's all I can think of!
posted by sm1tten at 12:12 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was an office manager/keeper of all knowledge, and when I left the job, I wrote the job ad and the interview questions, participated in the interview, and gave my employer my thoughts on who to hire. You may not want to go quite that far, but I would suggest having her participate in writing the interview questions and giving the interview. She knows what it takes to do her job.

If there's any possibility for the new hire to overlap with her for more than two weeks, do it. Have her work side-by-side with the new person for the first week, then spend the second week finishing off her detailed procedure manuals in another room while the newbie does their job (but with the ability to ask questions at any time), and then for a third or third and fourth week have the woman who's leaving work part time, so the new one is completely alone for a few days but still has a chance to ask questions after those first few days. The phaseout worked well for everyone in my situation. I got to make sure everything was in great shape with all loose ends tied up, and I was happy with the instructions I left behind. Being part time for the last two weeks was super convenient as I had personal stuff to do in preparation for leaving the country, and I know it was really helpful to my replacement to go it alone for a few days and then have a chance for "I should have asked...."
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I too was once the keeper of all knowledge and wrote a how to manual when I left the job. One thing that would have made the manual writing much easier and more efficient was being given the time, away from my normal duties to write it. Having a temp in for a week to answer the phones and do the easy small distracting work while your admin person works on the manual would have been a boon.
posted by Kerasia at 3:31 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yep, definitely have her write a manual and make sure she has some quiet time to write it.
posted by radioamy at 9:43 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had an overlap of 4 weeks when our amazing keeper-of-the-knowledge admin assistant went on maternity leave. This helped because so many things (bills, deliveries, maintenance) run on a monthly cycle.

Even with that much lead time, we find ourselves lost for a few specific things. It's okay, no one will die or go hungry because it takes us longer to locate a contractor, but definitely expect some wrinkles.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for some amazing answers which have given me a lot of food for thought.
posted by stevedawg at 10:33 AM on September 3, 2013

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