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What to do when employees leave you for another agency or a client

This SAGA Member Webinar is available only to individuals with active memberships. Login or join to gain access.
Webinar presented live on May 7, 2024

Few of us enjoy hearing from an employee that they have taken another job, but when they depart for another agency or a client it can quickly move from disappointment to fear and frustration.

Employees job-hop now more than ever, so just about every agency is going to deal with this issue from time to time.

In this webinar, Chip Griffin explores how you can prepare yourself for the inevitable in advance.

Then he walks you through how to handle the news from the moment you receive it so that you can protect your business while still being fair to your soon-to-be former employee.


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Hello and welcome to today’s webinar on what to do when employees leave you for another agency or a client. I’m your host, Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance, and I think we’ve got a meaty topic to get into today. But before we do that, as always, I want to go through a few housekeeping items, so let’s do that right now.

First of all, the full webinar replay will be available on the SAGA website in our replay library, so be sure to check it out there if you want to see it again. If you’re watching this on replay, obviously, you alredy know about that. If you have a question during this live presentation, you can use the Q& A function on the screen to submit it, and I will answer it at the end of the main presentation, but feel free to submit them at any point along the way.

If you’re watching on replay, or if you’re watching live and just have a question that you’d like to ask a little bit more confidentially, feel free just to email me at chip@smallagencygrowth.com, and I will do my best to answer it. To respond, I would encourage you also to join the free SAGA Community on Slack, where you can ask your questions, not just of me, but of your peers and get lots of feedback, suggestions and experiences to chew on.

If you’re talking about this webinar on social media, I would encourage you to use the hashtag agency leadership to make it easily discoverable. And finally, if you would like to check into any of the resources that I mentioned over the course of today’s webinar. or any of the other resources that we make available freely, feel free to visit smallagencygrowth.com. Okay, so what are we going to be talking about today? Today we’re going to be covering a number of different things that we need to think about, both before we hear that an employee is leaving, when we get the news, and what we do after that. And it’s particularly focused on employees who are leaving to go work for either one of our clients or one of our competitors.

And a lot of it will cross over to other departures, but it’s really going to be particularly focused on those scenarios because I know these are the cases that tend to concern agency owners the most. So first of all, we’ll talk about the importance of having the proper paperwork in place in advance.

We’ll talk about how good management while someone is an employee can help impact the outcome when they do go and work for a client or a competitor. We’ll talk about how you should hear the news in the moment when you’re having that meeting with your employee who’s sharing the news that they are leaving.

We’ll also talk about how you handle it after that, how you move on to having a smooth or as smooth a possible transition as you can. And then we’ll look at the things you need to do on departure day as well as after the employee has actually left. And I think if we, if we cover these foundational things, it will give you the tools that you need.

Ultimately, if you ever have a tricky situation where someone is going to work for a client or competitor, it’s also sometimes helpful to talk with either your legal counsel or an HR consultant just to make sure that you are buttoning things up as properly as you can. But we’re going to focus on the big picture business things that you can do to set yourself up to be in the best position possible.

So let’s talk about that paperwork that I would encourage you to have in place in advance. And in the old days, We would have had, we would have talked about having non competes in place with our teams, and some agencies still do, but you may have heard that the Federal Trade Commission has outlawed non competes, effective later this year.

It is being challenged in the courts and potentially in Congress, so there’s It certainly could be overturned, but for years now, I’ve advocated not focusing on non competes, because they are very difficult to enforce. Many states, or several states, have already prohibited or severely restricted their use.

And so, in general, I think there are better ways to go about taking care of employees when they depart, and what they might take with them as they go. And those two things are non solicitation agreements, and non disclosure agreements. These are really most helpful if they’re going to a competitor because what it, what these documents effectively will say and obviously the devil is in the details and you definitely want to make sure you have legal counsel review these.

But in general, a non solicitation agreement will enforce that an employee cannot go and try to work for, or sorry, cannot go and either go to another agency or start their own agency and try to take your clients away from you, particularly ones typically that they have worked on directly themselves.

And frankly, in most small agencies, it’s very common for employees to touch all of your clients. So a non solicitation agreement can be, in fact, fairly comprehensive. Now, it is something where you need to make sure that you are. tailoring it as narrowly as possible to accomplish your goals because the broader it is, the harder it can be to enforce.

But in general, this is your best way to protect yourself against someone going to either a competitive agency or frankly starting their own. Non disclosure agreements. They are what they say they are and something you should have in place with your employees because that prevents them from taking things away from your business when they leave and it makes sure that they understand that anything that they’ve learned in confidence while working for you has to remain that way and the only way they can use that information is if they are able to learn it again from some other non protected source.

So those are the two key documents that I would encourage you to have in place to protect yourself from employees going to competitors. On the client side, it’s, it’s actually the client that you would have an agreement with. So your client contracts should have an anti poaching provision in it that basically says that the client cannot go and take your employees to work for them directly.

And there are a lot of different approaches to doing this. And ideally, you want it to be one where it’s not simply that they reach out directly to the employee, but they can’t use the headhunter to go in through a back door and get them that way. And all of these things are things that I talked about in a podcast that actually just came out today with Patrick Rogan of Ignition HR.

And we talked about the new rules regarding non competes. And over time, things that there are a lot of resources on the SAGA website already, even though those decisions just came out in the last week or so. But those are the kinds of things that you can dig into in more detail. And in that podcast, he really explains how to make sure that these particular documents are done correctly.

So I’d encourage you to check that out if these are not things that you’re already taking advantage of and that you don’t have in place as part of your normal onboarding paperwork with all new employees. I will stress that these things are most valuable when they are done. at onboarding. There are things that you can also work to put in place afterwards.

So if you’ve got existing employees and you don’t have this paperwork, you can do it, but you need to work with your legal counsel to make sure that you are doing it properly. If it is an existing employee, as opposed to one that this is part of their onboarding package, because there are differences in some jurisdictions as far as how those can take effect and how binding they are if they are for existing employees.

So make sure that you are getting the proper legal advice. I am not a lawyer, accountant, HR advisor, any of those kinds of things, but I can give you the basics so that you know what to ask about and where to look. So if you’ve onboarded correctly and you’ve got the right paperwork in place, now how do you do your best to make sure that you don’t see things go sideways when an employee decides to go and take on work at a competitor or a client. And so some of the things that you want to be thinking about here is, first of all, don’t give your employees an easy reason to leave. In other words, treat them well.

And if you treat them well, they are more likely to stick around and they’re less likely to resent you and say, Hey, I’m sick of you and I’m going to go work for a competitor or the grass is greener if I work directly for the client instead. And so those are the kinds of things that you want to be thinking about as far as how you manage.

You want to make sure that you’re communicating openly with them and helping them to understand what’s the value of working for you. Your retention is all about continuing to sell all of your team members. on why you are a good place to work. And I know that we often think about it in terms of when we’re hiring, we’re just evaluating the employee based on what we think they will be able to do for us.

They then come on board and we evaluate the quality of the work that they’re providing. But it is indeed a two way street and it is even more so a two way street these days where employees really do have much more leverage and much more flexibility in where they can go and what they can do. And so it is on us as owners, as managers, to work with them and help them to see why it is a good place and frankly turn it into a good place or make sure it is a good place for them to work.

If we’re also concerned about what they might do if they go to a competitor or a client, you know, oftentimes we’re thinking about it in terms of, geez, they’re being deceitful, they’re being unethical. I think this is why it is really important for agencies to make sure that they are actually practicing ethical behavior in everything they do.

Because we are leading by example, we are showing our employees how they should think, how they should operate. And so if we’re out there And we’re trying to steal employees from competitive agencies or if we’re out there and we’re, you know, running into the gray area all the time in the work that we do for our clients, these are things that our employees see.

And so we need to make sure. that we are modeling the kind of behavior that we expect from them. Not just when they are actually in our employ, but when they go off and they do work potentially for a client or a competitor. So really think about how you are managing and the structure that you’re putting in place and the guidelines that you have so that they understand what it is that you want to see from them because that is making it more likely that they are likely to behave that way for you.

after they have left your employment. I think the other thing to think about here is, particularly when you’re thinking about someone going to a competitor or starting their own agency, is to really think about how transparent you are and how you help to educate them about agency math and how you do business.

Because one of the things that I often see, and it’s something that Gini Dietrich and I are talking about in an upcoming episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, If you’re talking with your team and helping them to understand that all of this revenue that’s coming in is far more than just paying for their actual time and helping them to understand that if you’ve got a client that’s paying you 100, 000 a year a huge portion of that is going to labor cost, is going to overhead. And you really need to help them to understand that because that helps them to make more informed and realistic decisions about either starting their own agency or potentially going to work for a competitor where it seems like perhaps they’re They are doing things differently because ultimately most agencies, the business model works the same way.

And so if that’s what the employee is looking for in going to a competitor, they’re unlikely to find it. And the more that you educate them, the more likely they are to make an informed, intelligent decision, and potentially to stay with you. So you don’t even have this departing employee issue to deal with.

So, now we’ve set the table, we’ve done everything we can, but despite our best efforts, we have an employee who is sitting down with us and they are giving their, hopefully, two weeks notice, at least two weeks. So as part of that, we need to think about how we’re going to behave when we get that news. And unfortunately, I, I’ve been in that position where I’ve had employees resign and, and they maybe are going to a competitor or, or maybe they’re interested in going to a client.

And that’s a, it’s a tough conversation to have because it’s disappointment, right? We, if you’ve got particularly a good employee, you want to keep them around. And so. It’s like being broken up with. It’s disappointing and that’s natural. But I think the most important thing in those conversations is to make sure that you’re actively listening to what your employee is telling you.

And it’s not, this is not the moment for you to react and feel aggrieved and say, why are you doing this to me? Or why can’t you stay? Or any of those kinds of things. And we need to fight back that urge to be personally affronted by what is taking place. We need to avoid that instinct to panic and say, Oh my God, all of these things are now going to come crashing down on my shoulders or the rest of the team.

And we have all of this work to do. And now you’re going to be out there trying to steal our business, or you’re going to a client and they’ll just work with you. And they won’t continue to work with us. All of those feelings and emotions are natural. But now is the time in that initial meeting that where you’re getting the news.

That’s not the time to address those. Those are things that you need to think about and digest and come to a rational conclusion on how you’re going to address them later. In this meeting, you are really listening. You want to make sure that you understand the employee and the decision that they’ve made, what their plans are.

You need to get those details so that you know, are they giving you two weeks notice? Are they giving you more than that? Are they, you know, sometimes they will tell you exactly where they’re going to work. Sometimes they’re just telling you that they’re going to leave. Obviously, to the extent that you are able to get the information so that you now know in this initial meeting that they are going to work potentially for a competitor for example, you now are able to think and give yourself the information that you need in order to react properly. And most importantly, You’ve gotten this news. Now you need to give yourself time to plan. And so that means that if the employee is asking you a lot of questions, how do you want it to do the transition?

What should I do next? I would be honest with them and say, look, I need some time to digest this and think about it and come up with the best plan possible. And I may come to you and ask for some recommendations as to what we should do internally to keep things moving. And oftentimes in this moment, I will also ask them to, to give me some time to think about it before they share the news with the rest of the team.

And that’s not something that you should abuse. You shouldn’t leave it so that they don’t have much time to give their team a heads up that they are leaving. Just really even 24 hours is enough typically for you to be able to pull things together so that if they go and tell the rest of the team that they’re leaving and those team members come to you, you can say something beyond, I have no idea, I just heard myself, I need to figure it out.

But if they are sharing that, that news, and if, and that is their right to do so, if they do share that news more quickly, then you have to be comfortable with telling your team, look, we’re going to, we’re going to get through this. We just need some time to think it through and come up with a reasonable plan.

It is much better to, to have your team seeing you as someone who is putting together an informed decision, a careful plan than someone who is shooting from the hip and saying, okay, I learned this 10 minutes ago and we’re going to do these five things because those five things may sound good in that moment, but they may not after you’ve had time to think about it.

So give yourself that time and space to, to take in the news, to allow yourself to experience the disappointment, but then to move on to the future steps and what you need to do. And so those future steps are things that you want to be thinking through. And some of those things are things like should you try to counteroffer?

Should you go to the employee and say, Hey, look, I know you’ve got this great offer on the table, but I’d like to suggest that we could give you a promotion or a salary bump? And I’ll be honest with you, I am not a fan of counteroffers in most cases, because my experience, both myself and with agencies that I advise, is that the vast majority of counteroffers, even if they are successful in the moment, are short term band aids.

And typically those individuals, by the time someone has decided that they’re going to come to you and give notice, they have mentally already left your employment. And so, even if you’re able to wrap them back in for a short period of time, they typically will go back out into the job market and accept something else within the next 6 to 12 months.

Now, in certain cases, you may be – maybe you’re nearing the end of a big project and you think that it would be worth whatever you need to do in order to get through that. In those cases, a counteroffer may be a reasonable thing to attempt. But in general, I would default to not counter offering and instead wish them well in what is next for them.

In the case of someone who is going to work for one of your clients, obviously one of the things that you need to think about is, is there an anti poaching provision in your contract? If there is, then you need to have a conversation with your client and say, Hey, look, I understand that you’re trying to bring Sally on board, and work for you directly.

But remember, we do have this provision in our contract. We need to try to talk this through and work something out. And all of these legal documents that you put in place at the beginning, whether it’s an anti poaching provision with a client or non solicitation agreements or any of these kinds of things that you might have with the employee, they are really the starting point for an adult conversation.

And so I would encourage you, if you’ve got an employee who wants to go work for a client and the client wants to hire them, I would not stand in the way of that. Instead, I would use any contractual agreements that we have in place as leverage to be able to figure out how can we work something out that allows us to, to both be happy.

And so that might be that, you know, You work it through that they can have the employee, but maybe there’s a contract extension involved, or perhaps, you know, we look, we relook at the scope of work or any of these kinds of things. If someone’s wants to start their own agency and effectively become your competitor as part of this departure, you can have conversations with them about if they’ve got a client that wants to go with them that you can get a referral fee. So you’re still able to generate revenue off of the relationship. And I’m not saying you have to agree to all of these things or any of these things. But by having that paperwork in place, you’re now able to have those conversations and hopefully arrive at some sort of negotiated agreement that works for everybody.

If you don’t have that paperwork in place in advance it becomes much more difficult and when you’re thinking about next steps after you’ve been informed of an employee’s departure it makes it more difficult to figure out what to do next. You also need to be thinking about, regardless of whatever paperwork you had in place originally, what paperwork do you need now?

And so some of this is really boring HR stuff, but important nonetheless. So if someone has given you notice, you generally want to get written notice from them. So whether that’s them sending an email, memorializing what they’ve told you, orally in other words. This email services my two weeks notice or something like that, or they do it in a more traditional letter form, doesn’t really matter as long as you get something that is in writing so that you understand, and you have the proper paperwork to show that, that someone voluntarily resigned that can be helpful. But is there other paperwork that you need? And this is one of those occasions where it’s worthwhile talking to your HR consultant, or in some cases, and very few, but in some cases, an employment lawyer, to help you make sure that if there are other things that might be needed, that might be valuable to have in place that you didn’t already have, this would be the time to do it.

So you’ve got time between now and their ultimate departure date to handle it. You need to think about your transition plan. So this is more from the business side. How, how are you going to transition whatever clients they’ve been working with, or projects they’ve been working on, the work that they’ve been doing in concert with the rest of the team.

How are you going to manage all of those things and, at least until you’re able to get some sort of a replacement on board, what is your process going to be? And then you need to think about how you’re going to communicate that to the team, to the affected clients, those things. And this is, these are all the things that you want to be thinking about typically in those first 24 to 48 hours after you’ve been given the news, because while you don’t want to rush anything, you do need to have at least some of the basic initial moves ready to go within that short period of time, because you’re generally not going to have more than two weeks time to get all of these things sorted out.

You also need to consider whether there are any sensitive issues that you need to focus on right now. So, for example, if you have an employee, and let’s say this employee has shown signs of being disgruntled or something like that, and they’re going to a competitor, and so now you are worried, are they going to try to, to, to take away some of your business.

And I will say that is, that is a rarity that you generally end up in that situation. But it does happen more often than not, though, when a, an employee goes to a competitor, it’s, you know, they’re just going to a competitor and it’s fine. They’re not there to steal your business. But if you’ve got one where you, you have a true legitimate inkling that something might be afoot, then you need to consider whether you truncate the transition and say, look, you know, thank you for the two weeks notice, but we’ll, we’ll, you know, you can do this from home. We’ll give you a call if we have any particular questions. And maybe you start taking away some of their access to your systems or all of their access to your systems more immediately.

I would encourage you to use this with a lot of discretion. Because ultimately when you send that message to your departing employee, it’s something the rest of the team sees. And you don’t really want to be in a situation where it appears that you don’t trust anybody. And so you really, before you take that step, and before you simply say, look, we’re going to take you out of all of this work immediately because you’re going to a competitor, make sure that you have a, really good reason for it and not just because you’re hurt that they’re going to a competitor. But definitely think about those things now because you don’t want to be in a situation where you’ve left yourself unprotected or just as bad, you frankly left the employee in a position where they become vulnerable, where something bad happens and you assume that it was them. So a lot of times when you’re taking away access to a system, for example, when you terminate an employee, you always want to. end up changing their passwords while you’re communicating the information to them that they are being terminated.

And that is again, as much for their protection as for yours, because it helps to make sure that they can’t be blamed for something that had nothing to do with them. Sometimes when someone’s going to a competitor, you need to treat it a little bit more like a termination, but it is rare. And again, make sure that you have a concrete reason to believe that that’s something you need to worry about in this particular instance.

So let’s assume that we are having a proper transition, though. We’ve, we’ve reached agreements with any necessary parties, with the client, with the employee. And now we’re going to work on those two weeks or whatever kind of notice they’ve given us. And so you want to make sure that you are facilitating a smooth exit because this is good for you and your team.

It’s good for your clients. but it’s really good for the relationship with that individual going forward because if someone is going, particularly to a competitor or even to a client, you want to make sure that they’re not going out the door feeling like the bridges have been burned. Because you have an opportunity in how you act during this transition to smooth things out and make sure that you are setting yourself up for a condition where that employee doesn’t even, it doesn’t even enter their mind that they would do something to try to hurt your agency by stealing business away from you. So make sure that you are really focused during these two weeks on making it as smooth as possible. And that means that you need to work with that departing employee to, to agree on what the plan is going to be.

How are they going to do the handoff? What kind of training or knowledge transfer do they have to engage in during their final days with your agency. How do they want it communicated? How will you communicate it to the rest of the team so that they understand what’s happening and also what your steps are going forward?

You need to share that plan because it’s really reassuring to the rest of the team when an employee leaves that that you’ve got a roadmap for how to address it. And that doesn’t mean you have to have all of the answers, but you need to explain to your team, here’s what we’re going to do in the short term.

Here’s what we’re thinking about as far as hiring a replacement or adding additional resources through contractors or whatever it might be. You want to demonstrate that you are in control. You need to demonstrate to your team that you’re not concerned about the fact that they are going to a client or competitor.

In part because you shouldn’t be particularly concerned about it, but also because To the extent that you’re, you’re transmitting that message, it will put everybody in a much better place and will make it more likely that you will be successful during this transition period. I would encourage you also to schedule an exit interview because you want to understand why they decide to go work for a client or a competitor.

What more information can you glean? What feedback can they give you about the environment that you have at your agency? And if you follow my advice on and do your best from a management perspective beforehand, before they even decide that they’re leaving, and you’ve created that environment, hopefully, they’re sharing a lot of these this kind of feedback with you during your normal one on ones performance reviews or other kinds of sessions that you might be having.

But as important, When they’re leaving, you should do it again because oftentimes employees may feel more liberated. And so I’ve had people share much more candid feedback during an exit interview than they might have earlier on, even when they’ve been generally candid. And I think that’s really helpful for you to hear those kinds of things, particularly for those individuals that have gone to work for a competitor or a client, because it helps you get a little bit inside their head and see what it was that that might have driven them to do it. And then consider, are there things that you can do to set yourself up for better success with other, either existing employees or future employees, so that you’re less likely to be in this scenario where you feel frustrated, concerned, angry, any of these different emotions that you might be feeling.

And despite all of those things, I think you should seriously consider celebrating this employee’s departure. You should generally celebrate, almost every departure except a termination, obviously, because it is frankly a milestone. And in 2024, this is, it is very common for employees to leave and go somewhere else.

And so we want to recognize that. It is a, it is a career achievement in most cases, because generally speaking, when someone leaves us to go to a competitor or client or anyone else, they are generally moving up. And we want to celebrate that because we don’t know what the future holds. Boomerang employees are very common in the agency world.

Someone leaves your agency, they go work somewhere else, but then somewhere down the road, they come back and work for you again. And you want to set yourself up for that kind of potential scenario, particularly if this is a prized employee that you’re talking about. But it also sends a message to the rest of the team.

And I think that, that it’s one of the things we really need to focus on with any departure, but particularly these ones that, that seem to be more sensitive on the face of it. Because we want the team to, to see that, that we are reasonable people, that we are trying to be as accommodating as possible, and that, that we don’t harbor any ill will even if they’re going to work for our archenemy.

And frankly, most agencies shouldn’t have an archenemy anyway, because we often overstate and overestimate how much someone is truly a direct competitor of ours. But celebrate the time, celebrate their accomplishments with your agency, but also celebrate the fact that they do have a career achievement and are moving on to the next thing.

And if they’re moving on to a client, It’s actually really an opportunity. Anytime at an agency that I had an employee who went and worked for a client afterwards, I saw it as a great chance to strengthen the relationship because they really understood us. And assuming that we had that good relationship, we’d been doing good management and had built that strong relationship with the individual.

It’s something that could really help us to grow the business and make it stickier. And so we should be looking at it from an, as an opportunity from that standpoint. And so therefore, even more reason to celebrate and even less reason to be concerned about it. So now we’ve, we’ve gone through the transition period.

We’ve had the exit interview. We’ve had a going away party. And, and now it’s time to think about the, the little things, the little details that we need to do on departure day. And I like to think of departure day as, as holding the door open for the departing employee, even in these situations, as opposed to slamming the door behind them.

And so, we need to make sure that we’re thinking about our legal and regulatory obligations on this day, but we also need to be thinking about the tone that we are setting. And so, obviously, we want to make sure that we’re complying with any state or local rules around, around final paychecks. We want to make sure that we’re taking care of any paperwork that we need to have signed.

Sometimes your lawyer may advise you to have them sign an agreement that acknowledges the existence of any prior non solicitation or non disclosure agreements. You want to make sure that you’re collecting any equipment that they may have, whether that’s a laptop or other devices. You want to make sure that you are, you understand all of the systems that they’ve had access to. You want to make sure you’re changing the appropriate passwords, access codes, particularly if you have an office, any of these kinds of things. You need to make sure that you are, collecting all of that stuff and thinking about it so that, that none of those things become an issue after the fact.

Once someone has left your employment, it’s really hard to collect a laptop or any other thing. So you want to make sure that you’re getting that. If they have access to a login that you don’t have, make sure that you’ve gotten that during the transition period. But if not, certainly make sure that you’ve gotten it now by departure day.

Because again, once they’ve actually fully left, it becomes much more challenging to collect that kind of information. And you want to make sure that you have access to whatever you need access to. to continue that smooth transition forward. You need to make sure that you are, even if you don’t have them sign any paperwork, you need to remind them that they do have these, existing obligations around non solicitation, non disclosure, or anything else that you’ve put in place.

You want to just gently remind them that obviously you have, even if even beyond these documents, there are protections in the law for trade secrets and things like that. So you want to make sure that you are just reiterating those things. It should be done in a friendly way. It should not be done in an adversarial way, but you do want to make sure that, that they understand what your expectations are going forward.

And then finally, but most importantly, you want to express your appreciation for what they have done in their time at your agency. And this is, this is really that opportunity to, to put a bow on the relationship piece of this and help them to, to feel good about how this transition went and how their departure has gone.

Because that just as you, you have one opportunity to make a first impression, you only have one opportunity to make a last impression. And I can tell you that it is vitally important if you want them to be on their best behavior in the future and if you want to leave the door open to potentially having them as a boomerang employee or refer business to you or refer employees to you, make sure that you are letting them leave on as high a note as possible.

And. There’s no reason to expect that you shouldn’t be able to do that in most cases, even when they are going to a competitor. So, by this point, you’ve typically had a couple of weeks to digest the news. And so it should be much easier for you to reach this point and be able to go on in that fashion.

But now they’ve left, you’ve got all the equipment back, they’ve got their pay, legal documents signed. Now, now what do we need to be thinking about? And so at this point, There are post departure things to think about, and I think there are, there are really three key things when I’m thinking about an employee who has gone to a client or competitor that I really want to focus on.

The first is something that I would focus on with any departing employee, and that is, do your best to keep in touch. And I’ll confess, I have not always been the best at doing this with all of my employees over the years, but I would encourage you to really think about your entire alumni network as a valuable asset.

And if you’ve got folks who are employees or contractors with your business, and they built a real relationship with you, take the time to stay in touch with them. And that doesn’t mean that you have to go out to have lunch with them once a quarter or anything like that, but find ways to stay in touch.

Find ways to reach out, whether it’s at holidays or on their birthdays or, you know, something like that. An alumni network can be very valuable, particularly for those of us who have been around for a long time. And it can be a great source of referrals for employees and for business. So don’t let that get out of your sight.

And that’s true for all employees, but also particularly true for those who’ve gone to competitors or to clients. It is much more difficult for them to act in an underhanded way if you are going out of your way to be friendly and helpful to them. So, focus on that first. The second thing I would say, and this is specific to folks who have gone to employees, to competitors or clients, you want to be certainly aware of and attuned to any red flags that may crop up, but you shouldn’t be going and actively hunting for them.

Don’t assume the worst of your team members, but certainly if you, if you get information and someone says something that, that seems to suggest that one of your competitors is making a bid for one of your clients and it feels like it might be information that would have come from your departing or departed employee.

Certainly be aware of it. Do be thinking about it, but don’t, don’t go around and constantly be looking for it because more often than not, these are innocuous situations. But certainly if you have reason to believe that there is something amiss, that’s when you do need to touch base with your legal counsel.

And if it’s, particularly if it’s a competitor, you can often work with your lawyer and they will write, a, a very friendly legal letter to your competitor, reminding them of this employee’s legal obligations, or they may send it to the employee themselves or those kinds of things. So do be aware of them.

If you, if you hear information, don’t dismiss it immediately. Listen to it, but don’t go out and spend a lot of time hunting around and, and following someone on social media to see if it looks like maybe they might’ve been talking to one of your clients or they might’ve been at an event that, that feels like they’re trying to poach. More often than not, it is truly innocuous.

And then finally, and I think this is absolutely vital for all of you, is you don’t want to be bad mouthing your former employees, even if they’ve, they’ve gone to your archenemy and you’re really frustrated about it. You particularly don’t want to bad mouth them to your existing team. Because when you do that, it sends a message to your existing team that you would do the same thing to them.

And that really leads to a deterioration of the relationship. And so anytime I have an employee leave, I always want to understand why they did it. And if they’ve gone to a client or competitor, even more so I want to understand what was the motivation? What could I have done differently? Because if I take lessons away from that, I can apply them to my existing team and make it more likely that I’m going to be able to successfully retain my best talent.

Keep them in house. Keep them from going somewhere that I would prefer them not to. Not because I’ve bound them. Not because I’ve used some legal document or something like that. or something like that, but because they want to continue to work for my agency. And so, focus on the positive. Do not focus on the negative.

Do not trash talk your former employees, even when they absolutely have frustrated you in where they decided to go after they left. So, To tie it all up with a bow, we need to be thinking about employees who go work for clients or competitors, not when we actually get the news and that’s not when to react to it.

It’s we need to be thinking about it before someone has even come on board with us. Think about it with that day one paperwork that you have them sign and agree to. So you’ve set the right tone. You’ve protected yourself as much as you possibly can legally. Then continue to work with them as they are team members to demonstrate the kind of ethical behavior that you expect, the kind of ethical behavior that you deserve, and they’re more likely to mirror that kind of behavior in the future.

And then when you do get the news that someone has decided to move on, use the legal documents that you have in place to be able to have adult conversations, to resolve any issues that may arise, to plan for a smooth transition, and have that good transition, have a successful celebration, of the end of that employee’s time with your agency and the step into the next stage of their career.

Continue to keep in touch with them. Continue to build that relationship going forward. And if you do all of those things, then an employee leaving for a client or competitor should be a rare occurrence, but more importantly, not something that you really need to fear and shouldn’t be driving you to make decisions that, that are more short sighted. So with that, that concludes the prepared presentation here. And so if you do have questions, if you are live, you can use the Q& A function on Zoom to share them. If you are watching this on replay, you can email me at chip@smallagencygrowth.com. And I see we do have a bunch of questions.

I’ll be jumping into those in just a moment, but if you’re watching the replay, thank you for watching. I appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you at future webinars.

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