No company or agency ever stays exactly the same forever. New clients come, old clients go, young employees move up through the ranks, while experienced employees seek new opportunities or retire. When any employee leaves a company, his or her workload and clients need to be transitioned to a new account manager.
These times of transition can be stressful, especially when there are multiple people involved who all have different wants and needs. The new account manager is probably a bit anxious and eager to begin learning the new aspects of the campaign that s/he is now in charge of, the departing account manager is probably more concerned with wrapping up his or her work at the office, and the manager overseeing the process is probably consumed with making sure that the client whose campaign is in transition is satisfied with the work being done and not too concerned with the transition process itself.
Image: Monarch Butterfly Website
With all these different needs, wants, and expectations, it is not a matter of if issues will arise, but when. With the proper planning and communication, the process can be simplified and the issues that arise can be addressed before they exponentiate into vexing problems. In fact, these transitions, if executed efficiently, can have a positive effect on the campaign as new ideas and perspectives are injected into the campaign.
Without further ado, here are nine actionable tips for smooth internal campaign transitions.
1. Develop a Transition Plan
People generally like to make things easy on themselves, and might think that taking the time to plan up front is a hassle and not worth the time. Little do they know that planning now, and executing the plan later is so much easier than going into battle without a plan, and being forced to plan while you are under enemy fire. Transitions add work to everyone’s schedules, planning seems like even more work, and people are reluctant to taking on more work during transitions because of all the uncertainty and moving pieces.
Nonetheless, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. A transition plan should be developed and documented to ensure that the people involved in the transition are all on the same page and have a single resource to fall back on when issues arise.
The plan should be as detailed as possible to define the new account manager’s responsibilities as clearly as possible. It should include tasks already completed, tasks that need to be completed, people and contacts involved with each task, the tools one needs to be as effective as possible for each task, as well as areas for tracking the date that tasks are completed, and of course – a section for notes.
Vague goals and objectives lead to vague outcomes, and the last thing any business wants are vague results for their clients. Be sure to get as detailed as possible with every element of the transition to avoid as many headaches as possible.
Google Docs is an easy (and probably the most popular) way to share documents internally. The comment feature on the top right-hand corner is a simple way to temporarily add notes and reminders to spreadsheets and Word documents. Make sure that all documents being passed on to the incoming account executive have clear, descriptive file names. Important documents should be explained and reviewed to ensure that there are no missing pieces to the puzzle.
2. A Good Plan Today is Better than a Perfect Plan Tomorrow
As soon as the transition is eminent, don’t get overwhelmed by the workload thrown on your plate out of nowhere, buckle down and tackle the challenge head on. If a departing campaign manager puts in his or her two-week notice, the transition plan should be addressed as soon as possible – within 48 hours at the most. The more time it takes for a plan of action to be agreed upon and set in motion, the less time you have for smooth transitioning.
If an experienced employee announces that they are retiring in six months, start the transition process immediately. The more time and energy that gets invested into the transition, the easier it will be on everyone involved and the more beneficial it will be for everyone, especially the clients.
In the unfortunate situation that somebody quits without notice, or is forced to leave the company for emergency reasons, do not wait to begin the transition. Bad news does not get better with time. The sooner you tackle the issue, the less time it has to intensify and become more problematic.
Transitions will always produce a few issues, but the sooner you get to work on setting up the transition, the more time there is to….
3. Understand the Ins and Outs of the Campaign
Making sure that the new account executive understands the who, how, why, what, when, and where of the campaign is paramount to a smooth transition. Including the new account manager on emails, and introducing the new contact to the client will answer the “who”. Allowing time for the person taking over the campaign to see how the campaign has been, and is being, managed explains the “what”. Seeing the tasks involved and those tasks’ frequency shows the “when”, and knowing some common problems that are likely to arise will unveil the “what ifs”.
Understanding all these aspects will give the new account manager time to fully comprehend the ins and outs of the campaign, which will allow the “why” and “how” of the campaign to naturally come to light.
The person taking over the campaign should be allowed time to digest and reflect on his or her new responsibilities, and shouldn’t be rushed into the new responsibilities or forced to work on something s/he has not been properly introduced to. Client campaigns are valuable and should be treated with the utmost respect. You wouldn’t let a stranger take care of what is valuable to you, likewise, you shouldn’t let a stranger to the campaign take over its responsibilities.
Making the time to transfer the information and knowledge is only half the battle. In order to make sure the transition is going as smooth as possible….
4. Confirm that Information is Being Comprehended
Break up the process into digestible portions. Human beings’ attention spans have limits, and people need lulls in the action to prepare their minds to take on more information. Having a four-hour, sit down meeting on the departing account manager’s last day to go over thirty documents at once will result in information overload, is an inefficient use of everyone’s time and efforts, and most of the information will be forgotten or only partially understood.
As a teacher, I learned that some people are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some people are interactive learners, and that everyone processes knowledge differently. One foolproof method that combines various learning styles is “IS, IS, US, US”. It stands for I say, I show, you say, you show.
Have the old account manager explain to the new account manager how to do something, then show that person how to do it. Next, ask the newbie to explain it back, then show how to do it. It may seem elementary, but if you have the time and resources to go through with it, the new information is heard, seen, explained, demonstrated, and really sinks in.
5. Ensure Transparent Systems and Procedures
Having all the important information in the back of the departing employee’s head will end up being useless information as soon as he or she is no longer with the company. Be sure to document every detail in writing (or typing, at least).
Image: One Big Photo
Logins, passwords, and important documents should be readily available, easy to find, and simple to comprehend. Passing on 25 documents containing two different master lists, one ultimate list, two and a half super lists, and a variety of other lists, all with very similar file names, will only cause the new account manager much grief and gray hair, and make him or her spend at least a few weeks just trying to find out where everything is, what everything is, and how the different pieces fit together and interact. Make sure that all documents being handed over have orderly, distinct, non-duplicate file names.
6. Bounce Ideas Off Each Other and Communicate
Teenage drivers have a learning period they have to go through before they can drive on their own, and although the waiting period may be looked down upon with scorn, it is a helpful transition period (plus most fifteen year olds naturally harbor some scorn and have no idea what is best for them). Similarly, a new account manager should be given some time to test drive the campaign.
During this time, campaign agenda and goals should be discussed as well. What has been working, what hasn’t, and what do we recommend moving forward? Communicate. Do this before the old account manager’s last day in the office. Being able to leave the office for a night and having the chance to sleep on all the new information might give rise to new questions or ideas that should be discussed with the departing campaign manager before he or she leaves.
7. More than One Person Should Be in The Know
Some Native American languages have only one person left who can still speak the dialect. If that last remaining speaker doesn’t share the knowledge and make sure that more than one person is in the know, then the language will go extinct.
Similarly, if the new account manager has a question that arises a few weeks into taking over the campaign, he or she should have someone else available in the office to discuss the issue with. They shouldn’t be the only person who has any idea of what’s going on, isolated in their knowledge. Emailing the departed account manager might take a week or more to get a response, far too long for a client’s question to go unanswered. Whether it is a manager or peer, there should be more than one person in the know. God forbid the new account manager has a doctor’s appointment, the client calls, and nobody in the office has any idea about how the campaign operates, or how it is performing.
8. Pay Attention to the Finer Points
People are busy, transitions are stressful, and people generally like to make things as easy as possible for themselves. Pay attention to even the smallest of details. It may seem like a small insignificant piece to the puzzle, but when you add all the small pieces together you get the whole picture.
The smaller details may seem insignificant, but what good is a six-digit phone number, or an email address without the @domain? Pay attention to details, take notes and tackle issues immediately. Figuring out the root of the problem now, instead of later, will save time, energy, and stress. Look for inconsistencies, and iron them out before moving on.
9. Clarify Expectations
If you just give the new account manager all the documents and say, “let me know if you have any questions”, without clarifying expectations, he or she will soon have thousands of questions and won’t even know where to begin asking. You might think things are going well because there haven’t been any questions asked, but in all reality, the work that gets done may or may not be essential to the campaign.
Clarify internally, clarify externally. As mentioned, everyone learns differently, likewise, everyone processes information differently. What was considered a minor detail could be one of the most important aspects of the campaign. Or, the new account manager may initially devote a ton of energy toward a task that is much lower on the totem pole than previously thought. The only way to make sure that everyone is on the right track is to talk about the campaign’s goals and clarify these goals. Clarify, reclarify, re-reclarify, and so on.
What should be reported on? Who should the reports be delivered to? How often should they be generated? Which metrics should be included in the report? The new account manager should have daily, weekly, and monthly expectations that are communicated clearly, and clarified on a regular basis.
Regular meetings should be set up for the new account manager to report on, and discuss the campaign to see if any inconsistencies are identified, or if any problems have arisen. After a few days on the campaign, clarify. When a question or issue comes up, talk about it and clarify. Expectations can never be clarified enough, as campaign goals can change with time and fluctuations in business. The clearer the expectations are, the clearer the results will be, and the more satisfied your clients will be.
There are a number of measures that can be taken to ensure smooth internal campaign transitions, the ones discussed here are just a few of the many. What else has helped you or your company in times of transition?
Image: Monarch Butterfly Website