New Beginnings: When People Leave (A Teachable Moment)

Every person that owns a small business will face staff attrition. When people leave, how do you react? If they were problematic employees, the inclination is to applaud. That is more knee-jerk anything else because it may have been a significant reason to them. So, the question becomes how do you keep your staff together? The short answer is you cannot.

People have reasons for leaving companies. Often it has nothing to do with management, but unfortunately in countless instances it does. If you don’t address the issues, your company will become deader than Mo Green.

My agency has always had a small staff. We function based on need of our clients. At least three people are assigned to an account. I’m told that larger agencies commit six people on accounts, and usually the budgets are higher. That makes sense. Small staff grows with freelancers, part-timers and interns. At any moment, a small agency multiplies long enough to accomplish what needs to be done. This type of parrying can be expected when you operate as a squad rather than battalion. One day, I began wondering if this small, nimble outfit was viable because people stated to leave.


Usually, higher wages, or, greater creative responsibility are catalyst. Conflict between staff members may also be a causal factor. Business owners do a disservice to themselves if they are clueless as to what causes the run to the front door.

Here was my “teachable moment,” where the veil of ignorance fell from my face. I fired an account representative at the beginning of a particular month. An executive staff member left, too. I didn’t want to accept she had because there was no letter of resignation. I thought the worse. But we spoke a week later. While I breathed a sigh of relief, two other people resigned as I exhaled. Their reasons seemed sound and logical: creative opportunities; more money. I thought about counteroffers, but the resignations had finality to them.

Four valuable people had gone out the door, and clearly I missed warning signs. Friday of the same week saw one more departure – sound reasons I thought. That weekend, a letter of resignation came on my e-mail. I e-mailed my New Business Coordinator. “We’ll rally the troops. Let’s go through those resumes — don’t worry.” Her reasoning was sound and made sense. After talking to her I watched the Sopranos and got a nagging feeling Eddie Big Nose was gunning for me.

Monday I poured over resumes and found several good candidates to interview. New Business Coordinator came in, tearful with a letter of resignation. Another opportunity came along over the weekend. Blam! Blam! Eddie Big Nose got me.

I learned a lot as I lay figuratively bleeding. Maybe this will help someone similarly situated.

1. Meet regularly with the entire staff to keep them abreast with company happenings. Send a company e-mail in case something was left out;

2. Meet with employees likely to exercise free agency. There are subtle hints. There may be something that can be done – adjustments made to keep them. Make sure that the promises are sincere and can be executed within the timeframe promised.

3. Develop a sense of family. If affordable, have either a company picnic, or regular lunches. It is the little things that count;

4. Assign meaningful duties not within the job description;

5. Allow cross-training. Employee ‘A’ may be better suited for another position. Perhaps they are too reserved to ask about it but you’re meeting them halfway;

6. Don’t play favorites. This is very difficult because some people are more personable than others. A ‘q’ factor causes us to gravitate to them. That creates discord;

7. Strive to raise pay a above cost-of-living, and certainly keep up with industry standards;

8. Improve your benefit package, and pay bonuses:

9. Acknowledge your employees because they are the linchpin of the business.

In a previous incarnation of my business, staff broke bread at lunches, and we kept up with pay standards. Even though it strained our budget, bonuses were paid around Christmas. I’m not saying that this made me the perfect employer, no one is. But it’s your choice to cultivate a sense of family or became overly corporate. Your business will function better in unity. Sometimes, loyalty keeps a person wedded to a job because of intangibility.
I’m not too cynical or idealistic to want an old fashion company in our fast paced culture.

Check you later,

Bernard A. McNealy, CEO
CDM Digital Advertising & Integrated Marketing


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