Maintaining the Customer Experience During the Great Resignation

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According to reports on NPR, more than 33 million people have quit their jobs since the spring of ’21. Some have moved to new positions; others have left the work force entirely. This raises all kinds of questions for organizations and hiring managers, but one question that has received insufficient attention has to do with an organization’s ability to keep its critical customer-facing systems up and running without interruption. If the Great Resignation is affecting your IT team, it’s not just that you may have fewer hands to perform routine tasks. Your critical systems and technology may be more vulnerable to disruptions that can affect your customers’ experience and even your reputation.

Consider: From an IT perspective, what are the key points of contact between your customers and your organization? Your website? Your order entry or automated replenishment systems? A cloud database? If the systems your customers touch are not highly available—meaning that they’re accessible 99.99% of the time—then your customers are going to have a diminished experience. If the diminished experience persists, your customers will eventually turn elsewhere for the goods or services they need.

Ensuring the high availability of your critical systems, then, becomes a critical consideration when you think about the Great Resignation and its effect on your IT team. There are both short- and long-term considerations, too.

Short-Term Considerations

The short-term considerations include understanding what IT skills and resources are critical to ensuring a high-quality customer experience. What skills, if lost, could compromise your customer’s experience? A short, non-exclusive list might include the following:

1. Cloud expertise and knowledge
2. Database Administration
3. Storage Administration and configuration
4. Tacit HA product knowledge
5. Emergency Coverage (Staffing)
6. Technical Leadership
7. Documentation

Understand the critical skill sets and the number of people your company needs in order to deliver the desired level of service and you’ll know how to prioritize your hiring practices if you find yourself with unexpected openings in your IT group. In the short term, this understanding will also help your IT team prioritize what needs to be done if any key piece of customer-facing infrastructure encounters a problem and there have been resignations from the IT team. You’ll need an interim plan of succession that identifies who is responsible for different aspects of your key systems until the vacated roles are filled with new people.

It’s also critical to understand the distribution of these skills across your IT team. If the responsibility for managing multiple aspects of your critical systems—say, cloud management and database administration—rests on the shoulders of one person, that creates a distinct vulnerability. If that individual resigns, that puts much more pressure on your IT managers to replace the multiplicity of skills that have been lost—and it may not be easy to hire one person who can bring all these different skills to the engagement. Until you can, that will put more pressure on those who remain to try to fill in the gaps. To keep all the critical systems online, your team still needs to perform security scans, updates, maintenance, backups, database optimizations, new application deployments, and much more. If the remaining employees do not possess the skills to perform the cloud management and database administration tasks well, that can take a toll on the mental, emotional, and personal health of those who remain. This can lead to further resignations and increase the risk that your systems may not provide the experience your customers are accustomed to.

Understanding how key skills and responsibilities are distributed within your IT organization may prompt you to reconsider the distribution of these responsibilities going forward. That could lead to greater job satisfaction for your employees while lessening the potential for disruption from a customer experience point of view.

Longer-Term Considerations

This larger question of burden, though, also raises questions about the culture of the company and the IT team itself. These are longer-term issues that tie into questions about the needs, motives, and goals of your employees. The question hiding in the Great Resignation is not only Why do employees leave? It is also Why do employees stay?

Clearly, some employees will leave for reasons that have nothing to do with your organization or its cultural dynamics. There’s an illness, a family emergency, a spousal relocation that prompts a resignation. But where the employee has a choice to leave or stay, what are the organizational factors that prompt them to choose one or the other? Who feels depleted? Who is burned out, confused, or on the verge of collapse? Just as importantly, who feels fully alive and excited about new challenges? Whose batteries are charged rather than drained by going to work? And why? Across all these conversations, it’s going to be important to catch both the verbal and non-verbal messages. What’s not being said but being expressed in some other modality? It’s also going to be important to empathize with team members — particularly if they’re experiencing a loss due to the Great Resignation. The loss of a colleague involves more than a shifting of duties, and are the emotions, concerns, and fears that you must understand both to stanch the flow of employees from your organization and to help those that remain find good reasons to remain.

You need to develop a deep understanding of the internal dynamics at work right now. What motivates team members to leave and to stay? These are the dynamics that affect your IT team’s ability to ensure the high availability of your key systems and to deliver the experience that will keep your customers satisfied.

These are also the areas where you can make longer-term investments that will lead to greater continuity of staffing, which can in turn lead to uninterrupted excellence where your customers’ experience is involved:

1. Build and distribute team roles and responsibilities
2. Update architectures and documentation
3. Evaluate opportunities for growth and alignment
4. Plan for new hires, including time for onboarding
5. Allocate time and resources to creating and updating onboarding materials
6. Focus on team health
7. Apply risk mitigation strategies for the near term and plan for the long term

The Great Resignation has forced everyone to take a step back and assess their relationship to their work and their organization. Two years of pandemic disruption have changed the way people look at their jobs. It has changed the risk/reward calculus, and it is our job as managers to understand how our organizations can both deliver the highly available IT services that customers expect us to deliver while simultaneously creating a working environment that makes current employees want to stay and new prospective hires want to join.

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