While not as widely publicized as a government shutdown, the privatization of subs on the popular site Reddit.com this week is making waves online.
For the uninitiated, Reddit is a site that boasts it is the “front page of the internet” with threads containing content submitted by users ranging from funny pictures to thoughtful questions as well as shared content from other sites and discussions on topics from Rachel Dolezal to politics in nearly every country. There are 36 million users and over 850,000 “subreddits” or subs where these niche topics are discussed.
So what happened?
This long post gives the background but on Thursday, a key employee at Reddit was apparently let go (the terms of which have not be shared) and to avoid the massive confusion her absence created several subreddit moderators – who are not paid employees but volunteers – took their subs offline, making them private for all but a few users. Highlighting the communication failures between the moderators and site decision makers, many other subs followed leaving millions of internet addicts without their favorite pages which will immediately impact page views, readership, contributions and ad revenue.
Well, you should. Because, while it’s anyone’s guess how the site will move forward to fill this key position and manage relationships with their moderators, if you don’t learn from this then your business is similarly vulnerable. It does not matter if you have a huge community in the millions spanning the globe, the relationships you nurture with your employees and the plans you create for continuity can make the difference between smooth transitions and complete shutdown.
Do not underestimate loyalty – one of the conversations I assume is happening around the Reddit roundtable this morning is how the release of a single employee can invoke such outrage. Victoria, the employee who arranged interviews with hundreds of celebrities and supported their live, interactive interviews on the site (a process called AMA or “ask me anything”) was not just a person but a point of communication and efficiency. Having built a reputation to be responsive, fair, and supportive of the moderators across many subs, Victoria leaving did not become about Victoria leaving.
While you should hope that your team inspires such love within your community, it’s not really about if they stay with you forever – it’s how you deal with a departure.
Communication sometimes trumps privacy – Is it really anyone’s business why Victoria left Reddit? Nope. And you’ll probably think the same when one of your contractors or employees leaves their post. But people are curious and giving a PC answer is better than none at all and loads better than lashing out.
Remember point the first, loyalty is something you want and whether or not an employee leaving is your idea or not you need to have a plan. “Oh well, they’re just gone” is not going to cut it – especially if an employee is visible and integral to your processes.
And every employee should be integral. It doesn’t really matter to me if a copy editor at a magazine quits. Or the systems admin is transferred or the head of accounting retires. Unless I interact with that person every day and now have no idea how to get my articles edited, upgrades completed or invoices paid. While very few employees will have value to everyone who interacts with your business, if an employee has no value to anyone then you have a bigger issue.
Right there in your Operations Manual, alongside the job description I’m sure you wrote for every position, you should include what users, stakeholders, employees and clients have direct and regular interaction with this employee and a continuity plan.
Stop assuming people will stay forever. Pam Slim calls them Indispensables. Seth Godin named them Linchpins. These are the employees who are absolutely critical to your business and if they leave the company will shutter. And while it’s a very good idea to be that person when you’re an employee, as a business owner you want very few of these employees.
To me an indispensable is Oprah. You can’t have the Oprah show without her. But the producers, booking assistants, green room prep team, makeup artist, lighting crew, camera crew, etc. are all people who are replaceable.
The problem comes when you assume that Mike would never leave and now he’s retiring, taking a job out of state, has a terminal illness, won the lotto, got recruited by another company or has been stealing and just got fired.
Create a continuity plan, even if you will never use it. Flight attendants don’t tell you about the emergency exits because every flight uses them – but should an emergency come up you’ll be glad you know!
You absolutely need to have a plan in place for each employee or position to use in case of emergency. Now, this is where your lazy brain is going to convince you I’m wrong.
“Amanda loves Boston, she’d never move.”
“This is Chris’ dream job, he wouldn’t jump ship.”
“All my employees are super healthy and totally honest individuals who don’t play the lottery or plan to retire.”
If you care about your business ignore these excuses and create a plan. For example, here’s how (in my total inexperience) I might have announced a staff change at Reddit:
To the moderators: “I’m sorry to share that effective today, Victoria is no longer an employee with us at Reddit. While the details of her departure are confidential, we appreciate her time here and know that this change has some far reaching impacts on your subreddits. There will be a time of transition and we’re doing our best to ensure it’s smooth and doesn’t negatively impact the quality of the discussions or create more work for you. In the interim, your point of contact will be [dude/tte] and they can be reached directly at [email]. [New dude/tte] has received the upcoming AMA details from the team and is in contact with those who will be live in the next few days. Please reach out with any questions concerning moderation……”
In short, answer the questions you know will come up and if you can’t think of what people will ask then you’re not thinking hard enough.
Losing an employee shouldn’t be a hardship when you have a continuity plan in place and understand how the transition can work to reduce headaches. Don’t be lazy; don’t let your lack of planning create a shutdown or chaos in your community.
Your Action Step is to ask yourself of each team member “If [employee] left today, what would we need to do to ensure our clients and community doesn’t fall into chaos?” and write down what comes to mind.