Transcript: Losing An Employee: How To Learn From The Experience, Let Go, & Move On

January 17, 2023

AMY PORTERFIELD: “But I also think it's important that as owners, as managers, we always ask, when someone leaves unexpectedly, we ask, ‘Where's my part in this? What could I have done better as her manager?’ And it's our responsibility to understand how to communicate best with each of our team members so we can uncover the things that they might be reluctant to share.  

“Now, keep in mind that this is something I'm just starting to explore—I don't have all the answers yet—but I know we are taking steps in the right direction to start asking better questions to be better leaders.”  

INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started. 

AMY: Hey, there, friend. Welcome back to Online Marketing Made Easy 

Today we're diving into something that's one of the hardest parts about entrepreneurship, and that is losing a team member. Now, if you tuned in to episode 514, where I talked with entrepreneurs Meghan Linsey and Patrice Washington about breaking up with people as an entrepreneur—so it might be a business partner, an employee, a husband—like, going through break ups as an entrepreneur, we talked about that in episode 514, and you probably remember me talking about how Chloe, my very first employee, transitioned from a full-time role to a contractor last year, after being my ride or die for seven years. And while that's been incredibly tough for me because we were in the trenches together for so long, she's still very much part of my business and, more importantly, part of my life, which lessens the sting. Plus, she's finally announced that she's pregnant, which I'm so excited, and so we are in a whole new chapter for her life and celebrating that.  

But even more recently, we've lost three people on our marketing team. So this would have been quarter four of 2022. We lost three people in my marketing team. And the whole experience has brought some really important learning lessons to the forefront.  

Now, I won’t get into all the details about why these people left, but some of it was a mutual conversation; and some of it was a surprise, which is never good; and then, when I look back, there's some writing on the wall. So to be quite honest, I don't know if I was surprised with any of it, but still, it's a big deal when you lose employees, and so I want to talk about it.  

I've been in business for fourteen years, so this isn't the first time that I've lost a team member. It's just part of owning a business. So just for the record, this is going to happen. So, first of all, we got to normalize it. As an entrepreneur, as a business owner, whether you have a really small team or a really big team, you will lose people. And sometimes—and this has happened just a few times in my business—you'll lose a few people in a short period of time. So it just kind of happens where someone leaves, and I don't know if it's a coincidence or it sparks the other person, but another person leaves, and it could kind of freak you out. So that's why I wanted to talk about it today.  

And let's be honest. Hiring, firing, losing people, the whole HR part of being an entrepreneur, most of us do not love any of it because there's a lot of uncertainty about hiring and letting go and dealing with personnel issues. I mean, we left corporate for a reason, right? We didn't want to be part of this kind of thing. We didn't want to have to deal with it. So when I realized, “Wait a second. I can't leave, like, everything that I learned in corporate or experienced in corporate behind just to create a different kind of business. I still have to do the hiring, the firing, and everything in between,” so that is part of the reality. But again, it doesn't make it any easier just by saying, “We have to do it.” 

But here's the thing: having employees and everything that comes along with it, it is something that is necessary when you want to grow and scale your business. I have always said there's no badge of honor doing it all by yourself. That is a sure-fire way that you can't grow and scale your business, nor do I want you to have absolute burnout, which you will if you refuse to grow your team, because you're going to want to do these big, amazing things, and my friend, you can't do them alone. And so overall, I think it's important that we talk about hiring, firing, letting people go, but also, remember this is just par for the course. This happens.  

And I love my team. I love having a team. Like, deeply love them. And so if I want to have this beautiful community inside of my business, then I'm going to have to go through these things we're going to talk about today, and so will you. So in this episode, I'm getting very honest with you and sharing what I've learned over the years and even very recently when it comes to losing employees. So here we go.  

One lesson I learned early on is that losing employees is simply part of business. And if you want to keep moving forward, you cannot take it personally. Just like people unsubscribe from your email list, people are going to quit working for you, no matter how great the environment is.  

So this is the one that I had to get over. I think I have an amazing business with lots of perks. I offer a four-day workweek to everybody, competitive salaries, benefits—so health benefits—unlimited vacation, coaching. I actually pay for 50 percent of a coach if someone wants to hire a coach, like, to help them personally in their lives, like a life coach. I do all of this, and also, I make sure that my business doesn't feel corporate. So, like, those little nuances that you know you get in the corporate world, I don't have them in my business. So I feel like I have a great place to work.  

And when I set up my business, I asked myself, “Would I want to work here? Is this a place that I would absolutely love to be every day, whether it's in-person or virtually?” And the answer was yes, I would want to work here if I didn't own the business. 

But even though there's so much good in this business, it doesn't mean that working for me or for my company is the right fit for everyone at every stage of their life. And you know what? That's okay.  

There was actually a team member I had some time ago who was with us for a really long time. And when I say I loved her, that was an understatement. I thought she was such a go-getter. She worked hard. She was reliable. She was a great communicator. All around, she was an absolute pleasure to work with. I remember when she first started, that girl went in hard. Like, she was serious about making her role fantastic. And so again, she was with me for many, many years. 

I could tell, though, that she was getting antsy in her role, and she wanted to be promoted to make more money. I mean, who doesn't, right? So we did that. We actually did promote her. We did give her more money. The thing is, we created a new position for her.  

Now, I got to back up here. I follow something called EOS, entrepreneurial operating system, and you can learn about it—I think it's either in Rocket Fuel or Traction, one of those books, they talk about the EOS system. And in the EOS system you cannot, cannot create a role for somebody else. You have to, first, make sure it's absolutely needed in the company and that it makes good business sense. And then, you find somebody to fill that role. So you can't say, “Okay, I'm going to take Sally. And I think Sally's good at this, this, and that, so I could make a role where she would do just these three things because she's really good at it,” and so I’m leading with Sally in mind versus the business in mind. That's a big no-no in the EOS system.  

But I did it anyway because I loved this employee, I did not want to lose her, and I knew she was such a powerhouse in the team, or on the team. So I ignored the rule. I created a role just for her strengths, put her first over the business, which sounds like a good thing, right? Like, I'm being a good person. I'm looking out for my team first. But it never, ever works out like we think it's going to.  

So she accepted the role, and then two weeks later, guess what? She decided to leave the company to pursue other things. I knew she was starting to look for other things. I knew she was starting to get antsy, and I really wanted to keep her. So I shouldn't be surprised that even though I did make a role for her, she kind of had one foot out. She was ready to kind of spread her wings, try new things. And that's exactly what she did.  

And to be honest, I was so frustrated. I was devastated. I was like, “Wait a second. We did all this stuff. We gave her more money. We gave her a promotion. We gave her a new role. We made this role for her.” And at the end of the day, she still left.  

And I think it's such a great reminder that you have to, first, make sure that the role is right for the business, no matter who fills it, because once she left, we didn't continue to fill that role. We knew it wasn't necessarily what the business needed. It was just for her. So if you want to create a role in your business and you have someone in mind for it, you have to ask yourself, “If that person doesn't take the role, or if they leave the company, would we still fill the role?” And if the answer is absolutely, yes, then great that you've got someone good on the team that could be perfect for it.  

But just know that you have to, first, ask yourself, “What does the business need?” because this employee who left, she had just outgrown her time here. And in reality, I kind of forced it for her to stay a little bit longer. I should have had a really good conversation with her, understood where her head was, and just wished her well and encouraged her to go after what she wanted. The good news is we're still friends, I love her dearly, and she's doing amazingly well in her new role, and I learned a lesson. You can't force it. You're going to lose people no matter how great your business is, no matter how much you took care of them. It's simply part of the game.  

Okay, that brings me to the second lesson I've learned, which is to always keep open and honest communication with your team. One of the people we lost shared with us afterwards—so I told you we lost three people. And I think it was, like, quarter three and quarter four of last year. And we had her fill out, basically, an exit interview because this one, we were surprised. This one woman that left the marketing department, we were very surprised that she left. So we had her fill out an exit interview. And what she wrote in that exit interview, I had no idea she was feeling that way, and neither did her manager. And she didn't volunteer this information while she was here, but she talked about how she felt like she was working really long hours, and she didn't feel like she was qualified to do some of the work that we were having her do.  

Now, I feel like she was totally qualified, so there might have been, like, a confidence issue that was coming up. But regardless, we needed to know this. So I said earlier she didn't volunteer this information. Well, I also think we have to look at ourselves as managers and say, “Well, did we ask? Did we ask the right questions? During our weekly check-ins, were we making sure that she was feeling supported?” So questions like, “How are you feeling in your role? What does your work environment look like? So what are your hours look like? Are you able to take advantage of the four-day workweek?” Like, she wasn't always taking Fridays off; we didn't know that. “Where are you feeling frustrated or overwhelmed?”  

I don't want anyone working nights or weekends or on that Friday we take off, especially, like, when we're in a launch, then we're a little bit more lenient about that Friday. But I think we really need to understand where our employees’ heads are. So when you have those weekly check-ins, “How are you feeling? What is your workload look like? Where you struggling?” Actually asking questions to get the answers we're looking for, so important. So that was another lesson learned. I think we could have done a better job at that.  

Now, in this particular situation with the employee who left, I could have easily been like, “Okay, well, she didn't communicate with us about working longer hours than she wanted to, so no wonder she was burned out. Like, that was her fault.” I could just put the blame on her. But I also think it's important that as owners, as managers, we always ask, when someone leaves unexpectedly, we ask, “Where's my part in this? What could I have done better as her manager?” And it's our responsibility to understand how to communicate best with each of our team members so we can uncover the things that they might be reluctant to share. 

Now, keep in mind that this is something I'm just starting to explore—I don't have all the answers yet—but I know we are taking steps in the right direction to start asking better questions to be better leaders. So that's something I've been thinking about for a while now since she left.  

Now moving on to lesson number three, and that is to make sure that you're very clear on the role you're hiring for in the first place. And one of the employees we lost in quarter three or four, it was an email-marketing specialist. Now, the person in this role, he was great, and he got another job offer he couldn't refuse. And I'll be honest, I wasn't surprised when he left, because the role that he was offered was a bigger role than he was in with me.  

And also, if I look at my part in it, I feel like the role I hired him for was not fully developed. It was underdeveloped because I rushed to get this role filled. I had this idea. I knew my book launch was coming up. I wanted to make sure we strengthened our email list in terms of the people on our list and growing our list. It's always been an area I wanted to focus on in a bigger way, and so I thought, “We need an email-marketing specialist. We need someone just to take this area of our business and really optimize it.” Also, we're moving to HubSpot for my CRM, and that's a big, big shift in email marketing. So I wanted him to oversee it as well. But I didn't do enough research. I didn't fully understand what this role would look like.  

And one of the things that happened was, because Chloe left, and then I brought in somebody else, and then that role shifted, they were kind of shuffled around a lot, which cannot be a good feeling. So I'm telling you, all the good, bad, and ugly. So my part in it is he was shuffled around a lot, in terms of management. And then, in addition to that, he had an idea for this role that was different than mine, because mine was very undeveloped, and so we were not on the same page, and I didn't realize it, and that was hard for him.  

The great thing is we had a great conversation when he gave his two weeks’ notice, and I really learned a lot. Like, “Ooh, I need to slow down a bit in my hiring.” You've heard the term hire slowly, fire quickly, something like that. And I did not hire slowly on this one. I was like, gung-ho, let's go, and that definitely did not serve me.  

So my advice from experience is when you go to hire someone, don't rush it. Slow down. No matter how urgent you think it is to fill the position, you have to slow down. What are they going to do? Are they able to make decisions? Who are they going to be working with, meaning can they make decisions, or do they have to go to their managers? Who is the best team for them to work with? Does the team understand their role? Does the team understand what they're capable of making decisions around versus having to get support? All of that was not really figured out.  

So one thing that you can do, which I plan to do in the future with all the new roles I add to the business, is interview some of my entrepreneurial friends who already have that position in their business, to learn more about it. 

And the fourth and final lesson I wanted to share with you is that I've realized over the years, even though losing an employee is emotionally and financially difficult—I lost money in 2022 due to some bad hiring decisions—there's always a learning lesson in this experience. That's why I always conduct an exit interview with someone who leaves, where I either talk to them myself or they fill out a form. Even if it's voluntary or if we let them go, I want to make sure that we have the hard conversations so that they can get out whatever they want to say to me, and I can learn from them. The three people that left recently all had very different reasons, and their exit interviews were very eye opening to me.  

And the thing is, I always believe what's next is better. Now, I want to kind of explain this a little bit. I have a friend who always says that, “What's next is better,” which is really just when you close a door, one door opens. And I believe that for the employee who left, whether I let them go or they went out on their own, I believe that whatever is next for them is going to be better because this situation wasn't working out. But I also believe for my company, if someone doesn't want to be here or if they're not a right fit and I have to let them go, then what's next is better, because I'm going to bring someone into the company that's super excited to be here. They love the structure of my business. They love what we're doing. They're like, “Give it to me. Give me all the jobs. I want to get in. I want to get my feet wet. I’m ready to go.” I love that.  

So I want that energy in my business. And obviously, someone who has one foot in and one foot out, they don't have that feeling. So I'm excited to bring in people that really want to be here and can't wait to get to work. So what's next is better for the person who leaves and for you and your business. 

Now getting back to that exit interview I talked about, when I do get to talk to someone or if they fill out a form, I ask questions like, “What would have made your job better? What could make the company better?” And even if you don't agree with what they're saying, it's still good to figure out how they see the company and what they're thinking. Also, you can ask, “What could I have done better?” Or I'm not the manager of most people in my company, so “What could your manager have done better?”  

Especially as new entrepreneurs, when you're just starting to get things going, it's really easy to blame the other person. Like, “They didn't work out because they did this, or they did that.” But what could you learn from this? I promise you, you're going to be better at hiring and finding the right people and letting go of people that aren't the right people if you ask the hard questions and you're open minded to say, “What could I have done better in this situation?”  

Another thing I like to do is make sure that nobody leaves my company on bad terms. So I haven't always been great at this. There are a few people out there that—kind of breaks my heart—that don't necessarily have a great feeling about my company. And that happens sometimes. However, I feel as though 95 percent of the people who have left, they left on good terms, or at least they know that I appreciate all the work they did. I know that if they struggled at any point, I'm aware of it, and I let them know that so they feel seen and heard. And I do try to be, reach out to anybody who has left even if I don't manage them. Because I'm the owner of the company, I feel like that's necessary. So that is something that's really important to me. I can't always make it happen, but if I can make sure that they leave on good terms, I'm going to do that.  

I would say all three people that left in quarter three and quarter four last year, I could absolutely reach out to them, and we would be on good terms. In fact, I text one all the time. And that's important to me. And the reason it's important to me is that I've learned these lessons the hard way.  

So I'm going to tell you one more quick story. Many years ago, I was using an HR consultant who hired and onboarded a lot of my new employees. And one of my new employees didn't work out pretty quickly in terms of when they started. And so I had my HR consultant, who had been working with hiring and onboarding these people, so they knew her well, I had her do the firing. And the person that was let go felt very disrespected that it was from a third party, like a contractor, versus me or that person's manager. And I could understand that. I thought, “You know what? If you're going to be hiring these people, Amy, if you're going to be finding great talent and working with them and leaning on them, when you realize they're not right, I think they need to hear from the people they've worked most closely with.” And so that was a mistake I made. And that person, I'm sure, does not have good feelings about me to this day, even though I apologized for how it went down and that I could see their side of it. I just think it was a bad experience. And this was many, many, many years ago, and I never want to repeat that.  

So when I tell you that I've learned these lessons, some of them I've learned the hard way. But unfortunately, I think that's how it goes sometimes. So anyway, lesson learned, and I would never do that again.  

So there you have it, my four biggest lessons when it comes to letting people go, or when people leave and you emotionally need to let them go instead of being resentful of the situation. So again, here's my quick lessons. Number one, losing employees is simply a part of business, and you can't take it personally. Number two, always keep open and honest communication with your team. Number three, make sure that you're very clear on the role you're hiring for in the first place. And number four, always look for the learning lessons in every experience.  

All right. I hope you love this Shorty episode and found it valuable. Most of my Tuesday episodes are short, behind the scenes, what's working in my business. And then on Thursdays, I usually have longer episodes, where we get into a little bit more step by step, or some really juicy interviews with other entrepreneurs. So I will see you on Thursday for more entrepreneurial goodness, same time, same place. Can't wait. 

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