What leaves when your employees leave?

I left more than a gig of email at Microsoft. And that was after deleting all the crud out of it. What knowledge was in there? Tons of stuff about Channel 9 that would have been awesome for someone to use to learn about how things get onto Channel 9 and how it evolved. Gone. Deleted.

Jeffrey Treem talks about this on his blog “Inside the Cubicle.”

I hope this is the last job where I have to throw away knowledge when I leave.

I’ll probably open an internal blog and see if I can get all the good stuff outside of email and onto the intranet so that if I get hit by a bus someone can step in and learn everything I was doing in email and continue.

How much stuff did I delete from Microsoft? Well, all sorts of emails from people all over the company. All sorts of resources (I got lots of emails from coworkers saying things like “get the latest build of Vista from XXXXX server.” Those kinds of things don’t seem important, but I’m missing them already.)

42 thoughts on “What leaves when your employees leave?

  1. Why would you be missing emails that say which internal servers to find new Vista builds?

    Do you still have access to internal resources at Microsoft?

    If so, why? I’ve never heard of this being done for any other ex-employees.

  2. Why would you be missing emails that say which internal servers to find new Vista builds?

    Do you still have access to internal resources at Microsoft?

    If so, why? I’ve never heard of this being done for any other ex-employees.

  3. I may have a lot of email as well. I tend to store everything and elete nothing and then use Google desktop search to find what I need from current or past projects. This is a change from my last job where I deleted email if I felt at the time it was not important.

    Anyway, I am of the opinion that if an employer is paying you then any email in your mailbox is theirs after you leave and I know some people will disagree with this but we are paid for knowledge so that knowledge is owned by our employer wheile we are employed there. Anytime I leave a project or a position I dump all of the email from the project into a pst file (we use Outlook on exchange) and then give it to the guys supporting the app. I get calls about this stuff later anyway (are you still getting calls from your successor Robert?) but at least this gets rid of a lot of the questions about what havppened in the past from the people that get dropped in to support apps.

    Email is really usually more unofficial then the documentation around it but is often a lot more useful to the guys doing support.

  4. I may have a lot of email as well. I tend to store everything and elete nothing and then use Google desktop search to find what I need from current or past projects. This is a change from my last job where I deleted email if I felt at the time it was not important.

    Anyway, I am of the opinion that if an employer is paying you then any email in your mailbox is theirs after you leave and I know some people will disagree with this but we are paid for knowledge so that knowledge is owned by our employer wheile we are employed there. Anytime I leave a project or a position I dump all of the email from the project into a pst file (we use Outlook on exchange) and then give it to the guys supporting the app. I get calls about this stuff later anyway (are you still getting calls from your successor Robert?) but at least this gets rid of a lot of the questions about what havppened in the past from the people that get dropped in to support apps.

    Email is really usually more unofficial then the documentation around it but is often a lot more useful to the guys doing support.

  5. @16

    microsoft has a policy for email retention – for email/documents/etc required to be stored for legal reasons there is an obligation to do that. for email/docs/etc relating to a short term project/etc there is a different retention duration. i would think most large companies have similar policies and do not require their employees to keep email forever – esp if those companies also have legal departments looking to minimize risk exposure :)

    @17

    microsoft acquired groove a couple years ago and it has been rolled into office 2007 – i don’t think groove has penetrated the mass audiences at microsoft as many groups still rely on sharepoint but i would imagine with its inclusion in office 2007 there will be much more use internally over the next 6-12 months and when office 2007 releases more used externally.

  6. @16

    microsoft has a policy for email retention – for email/documents/etc required to be stored for legal reasons there is an obligation to do that. for email/docs/etc relating to a short term project/etc there is a different retention duration. i would think most large companies have similar policies and do not require their employees to keep email forever – esp if those companies also have legal departments looking to minimize risk exposure :)

    @17

    microsoft acquired groove a couple years ago and it has been rolled into office 2007 – i don’t think groove has penetrated the mass audiences at microsoft as many groups still rely on sharepoint but i would imagine with its inclusion in office 2007 there will be much more use internally over the next 6-12 months and when office 2007 releases more used externally.

  7. What a waste.

    Didn’t you have a good groupware app, like for example a Lotus Notes database, where you could put it to share it with others…?

    Hmmm, probably not ;-)

  8. What a waste.

    Didn’t you have a good groupware app, like for example a Lotus Notes database, where you could put it to share it with others…?

    Hmmm, probably not ;-)

  9. I thought they were legally REQUIRED to store all emails…

    Since when does Microsoft follow the law?

    You’re lucky you got out of there when you did, Robert, because the people you left behind are on a sinking ship.

  10. I thought they were legally REQUIRED to store all emails…

    Since when does Microsoft follow the law?

    You’re lucky you got out of there when you did, Robert, because the people you left behind are on a sinking ship.

  11. Capturing the knowledge before it walks out the door is important, yes, but isn’t it also important to keep it–i.e., the employee–from walking out the door in the first place? I’d like to see companies pay more attention to creating a work environment that their employees don’t want to leave. Granted, even the best company isn’t going to have zero turnover, but virtually every company has room to improve.

    Regardless of how well an employee’s knowledge is captured, when the employee walks out the door the company has lost an expert in applying that knowledge. That’s as much of a loss as the knowledge itself.

  12. Capturing the knowledge before it walks out the door is important, yes, but isn’t it also important to keep it–i.e., the employee–from walking out the door in the first place? I’d like to see companies pay more attention to creating a work environment that their employees don’t want to leave. Granted, even the best company isn’t going to have zero turnover, but virtually every company has room to improve.

    Regardless of how well an employee’s knowledge is captured, when the employee walks out the door the company has lost an expert in applying that knowledge. That’s as much of a loss as the knowledge itself.

  13. At my last place of employment, I was the annoying guy who demanded that everyone put everything into our internal wiki, and I was the king of adding pages and orgazining information. When I left there were well over 1000 pages, and I’m guessing I created or touched 75% of them.

    Of course they might have felt much more comfortable getting rid of me after I documented every single project I ever worked on. :/

  14. At my last place of employment, I was the annoying guy who demanded that everyone put everything into our internal wiki, and I was the king of adding pages and orgazining information. When I left there were well over 1000 pages, and I’m guessing I created or touched 75% of them.

    Of course they might have felt much more comfortable getting rid of me after I documented every single project I ever worked on. :/

  15. Oh! There is no policy regarding Knowledge Management in a company like Microsoft? :-)

    With e-mail the story seems to be very much the same everywhere. There should be an option to mark e-mail as ‘private’ or not-available as a “knowledge item” directly in Outlook, and the rest should be automatically indexed in some sort of external database (out of MS Exchange) – accessible later on via a search engine like Microsoft/MSN Search.

  16. Oh! There is no policy regarding Knowledge Management in a company like Microsoft? :-)

    With e-mail the story seems to be very much the same everywhere. There should be an option to mark e-mail as ‘private’ or not-available as a “knowledge item” directly in Outlook, and the rest should be automatically indexed in some sort of external database (out of MS Exchange) – accessible later on via a search engine like Microsoft/MSN Search.

  17. Yeah, it is pretty sad to leave a place but more so than anything it is the human contacts that really make the move an unpleasant experience. I worked for 10 years beside a guy and grew to think of him as a brother. We talked every day and knew the details of each others lives well. It just occured to me a few days ago that I have not seen him since I left and now he has moved to Spain. A good friend lost! The work environment throws us alongside people and we dont always appreciate their real worth, we make some sort of distinction between work associates and friends. I suppose you will have some social regrets in leaving Microsoft – but maybe techies are never alone if they have their computers around. Is Spain as close as the next cubicle?

  18. Yeah, it is pretty sad to leave a place but more so than anything it is the human contacts that really make the move an unpleasant experience. I worked for 10 years beside a guy and grew to think of him as a brother. We talked every day and knew the details of each others lives well. It just occured to me a few days ago that I have not seen him since I left and now he has moved to Spain. A good friend lost! The work environment throws us alongside people and we dont always appreciate their real worth, we make some sort of distinction between work associates and friends. I suppose you will have some social regrets in leaving Microsoft – but maybe techies are never alone if they have their computers around. Is Spain as close as the next cubicle?

  19. Yeah, it is pretty sad to leave a place but more so than anything it is the human contacts that really make the move an unpleasant experience. I worked for 10 years beside a guy and grew to think of him as a brother. We talked every day and knew the details of each others lives well. It just occured to me a few days ago that I have not seen him since I left and now he has moved to Spain. A good friend lost! The work environment throws us alongside people and we dont always appreciate their real worth, we make some sort of distinction between work associates and friends.

  20. Yeah, it is pretty sad to leave a place but more so than anything it is the human contacts that really make the move an unpleasant experience. I worked for 10 years beside a guy and grew to think of him as a brother. We talked every day and knew the details of each others lives well. It just occured to me a few days ago that I have not seen him since I left and now he has moved to Spain. A good friend lost! The work environment throws us alongside people and we dont always appreciate their real worth, we make some sort of distinction between work associates and friends.

  21. @ricky… I’m not sure if this what RObert was lamenting, but the problem with losing all of the information in those emails is only partially that he can’t get at it. The bigger problem is that Microsoft can’t benefit from the information in there either. Any learning encapsulated in those emails is gone.

    Robert – here’s a thought… post all emails to aliases on an internal blog by using the post-by-email feature of WordPress or some other blog software that does this. Just add the posting address to the alias. Use different email post addresses for different aliases… That way, at least, knowledge sent to aliases is captured. Yeah, it’s lowtech… but it’s easy and doesn’t require getting people to change.

    Gee, I wonder if Ray O is thinking about this… :)

  22. @ricky… I’m not sure if this what RObert was lamenting, but the problem with losing all of the information in those emails is only partially that he can’t get at it. The bigger problem is that Microsoft can’t benefit from the information in there either. Any learning encapsulated in those emails is gone.

    Robert – here’s a thought… post all emails to aliases on an internal blog by using the post-by-email feature of WordPress or some other blog software that does this. Just add the posting address to the alias. Use different email post addresses for different aliases… That way, at least, knowledge sent to aliases is captured. Yeah, it’s lowtech… but it’s easy and doesn’t require getting people to change.

    Gee, I wonder if Ray O is thinking about this… :)

  23. Robert, did you have a requirement to delete all that email? If not, couldn’t you just have backed up your mail folders and have taken them with you when you left?

  24. Robert, did you have a requirement to delete all that email? If not, couldn’t you just have backed up your mail folders and have taken them with you when you left?

  25. You’re right – too much compiled knowledge and wisdom gets into email, stays there and never gets properly expressed. We’ve been let down by over-promised intranets, corporate knowledge capture yada-yada.

    But hey! your guys have got SUCH fun ahead by the sounds of it.

    Have great fun, luck and success.

  26. You’re right – too much compiled knowledge and wisdom gets into email, stays there and never gets properly expressed. We’ve been let down by over-promised intranets, corporate knowledge capture yada-yada.

    But hey! your guys have got SUCH fun ahead by the sounds of it.

    Have great fun, luck and success.

  27. I just don’t get it.

    “I left more than a gig of email at Microsoft. And that was after deleting all the crud out of it. What knowledge was in there? Tons of stuff about Channel 9 that would have been awesome for someone to use to learn about how things get onto Channel 9 and how it evolved. Gone. Deleted.”

    Some stufff got deleted, some left behind.

    Yet you seem to be lamenting the whole thing.

    I can understand being regretful about leaving stuff behind.

    I can understand being unhappy about deleting stuff.

    I don’t know which of these you are talking about, or whether you are talking about both, or about Microsoft policy.

    What is the relevant policy and how does it figure, if at all, in what you just did?

  28. I just don’t get it.

    “I left more than a gig of email at Microsoft. And that was after deleting all the crud out of it. What knowledge was in there? Tons of stuff about Channel 9 that would have been awesome for someone to use to learn about how things get onto Channel 9 and how it evolved. Gone. Deleted.”

    Some stufff got deleted, some left behind.

    Yet you seem to be lamenting the whole thing.

    I can understand being regretful about leaving stuff behind.

    I can understand being unhappy about deleting stuff.

    I don’t know which of these you are talking about, or whether you are talking about both, or about Microsoft policy.

    What is the relevant policy and how does it figure, if at all, in what you just did?

  29. In order to “hoart” information, you could easily use http://www.systemone.at , allowing you to, besides blogs, wikis, any type of rss feeds, indexing even websites and your personal email, while still having full control of the access rights to each bit of information. You can let yourself impress by a five minutes comprehensive screencast: http://www.systemone.at/screencast/eng/ .

    To keep it clear: I’m not affiliated with systemone in any way. I’m a student of business administration, who is excited by the possibilities that this new software seems to offer.

  30. In order to “hoart” information, you could easily use http://www.systemone.at , allowing you to, besides blogs, wikis, any type of rss feeds, indexing even websites and your personal email, while still having full control of the access rights to each bit of information. You can let yourself impress by a five minutes comprehensive screencast: http://www.systemone.at/screencast/eng/ .

    To keep it clear: I’m not affiliated with systemone in any way. I’m a student of business administration, who is excited by the possibilities that this new software seems to offer.

  31. Search: oh, most of it isn’t really of interest to you. It’s minutia that would be useful to someone trying to build a relationship network and figure out who runs certain groups and all that.

    Gizo: yeah, I am. I actually throw out most email after I answer it. So, 1.5 gigs is only the good stuff.

  32. Search: oh, most of it isn’t really of interest to you. It’s minutia that would be useful to someone trying to build a relationship network and figure out who runs certain groups and all that.

    Gizo: yeah, I am. I actually throw out most email after I answer it. So, 1.5 gigs is only the good stuff.

  33. It seems you are suffering from a condition similar to Mark Pilgrim. My wife calls it ‘hoarding’.
    I ‘hoard’ bottle caps.
    You ‘hoard’ information.
    Let it go, float into the ocean. Let the information flow over you, through you, and be gone again. Be content to know that there is enough out there to keep you afloat, without you needing to bottle it all……
    Of course, I could be quite facile and short-sighted.

  34. It seems you are suffering from a condition similar to Mark Pilgrim. My wife calls it ‘hoarding’.
    I ‘hoard’ bottle caps.
    You ‘hoard’ information.
    Let it go, float into the ocean. Let the information flow over you, through you, and be gone again. Be content to know that there is enough out there to keep you afloat, without you needing to bottle it all……
    Of course, I could be quite facile and short-sighted.

  35. THERE IS STILL HOPE :-)

    You can still post the OVERVIEWS on this blog.

    It does not have to be 100% technically, perfectly accurate…just basic points from what you can STILL remember, added to this any notes you may have taken.

    hmmm….perhaps others may wish to also post anonymously about facts they can still recall – or the replies they have on file to your emails.

  36. THERE IS STILL HOPE :-)

    You can still post the OVERVIEWS on this blog.

    It does not have to be 100% technically, perfectly accurate…just basic points from what you can STILL remember, added to this any notes you may have taken.

    hmmm….perhaps others may wish to also post anonymously about facts they can still recall – or the replies they have on file to your emails.

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