There was that point in your business, that moment when you realized this important truth:
I can’t do it alone
As an entrepreneur, you may have started your business based on your own expertise. If you began your business as a solo career, you may have been certain that the one thing you would not need is staff. You could do it all, because really, no one knew what to do better than you.
At first, you were right. You didn’t need more staff. You could juggle all the pieces, you could wear all the hats, and you could play all the roles. Then, on that day when you made that fateful realization above, when your hands had been through your hair so many times that it stood on end, and the bags under your eyes made you think about packing up and heading for somewhere… anywhere… you decided to build a company.
The great thing about the word “company” is that it has two definitions:
A commercial business
The fact or condition of being with another or others, especially in a way that provides friendship or enjoyment
Slam those two meanings together and suddenly, you have something fantastic: a TEAM.
When you start building your company, and handing off those tasks to people who are frankly better at it than you are, your relief is palpable. Your sleep increases, as does your joy and—trust us—your revenue. You’re no longer alone in this business. Other people get what you’re talking about, what you’re worried about, what a real win looks like, and they’re cheering and crying alongside you. It’s one of the most fantastic feelings in the world.
Then, you lose one team member. Or maybe two. People who held vital, important roles in your business. People you were relying on to do the things that needed to happen so that you could do your thing. You spent all that time on training, growing, developing… and now you’ll have to do it again. You’ve come so far… and now you’re several steps back again. It’s a nightmare. You don’t know what to do. How can you avoid this disaster in the future?
It’s not by never hiring people again and choosing to stay small. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, especially when you had a taste of what a great team feels like. No, you want the real thing. You want that team. You want it to stay strong. You want… resilience .
The first place to build resilience is, of course, in yourself. You knew that, right? The most work, the hardest work you’ll ever do as a leader is the work you do on you.
Start with knowing, deeply, inherently, and without blame or resentment: People will leave.
They have their own lives and ambitions. They were in it for as long as it made sense for them, just like you were at that job you used to have as long as it served you. Knowing you’ll have to let some people go so that they can achieve their own version of success is the most resilient thing you can do for yourself and your team.
It might even make you the best boss in the world.
If your business falls apart because somebody leaves, it’s because you didn’t accept the reality that your team members are individual humans in their own right - and you built your business for failure the moment you skipped over this.
All right, now that you’ve accepted that everyone has their own path to walk, let’s figure out how to keep them successfully on your path as long as possible.
Pay them as well as you possibly can
If you can make money the last reason why they’d ever leave, you’ve done a good job. Understand what the job and skill set pays out there in the rest of the world. Study the research, and stay up to date. Commit to paying at least as much as what they could get elsewhere - or more, if you can.
Provide a clear framework that tells your staff how you arrived at their pay, and what they can do to improve their income. Update it regularly and ask them for feedback on how you can make it better and easier for them.
Remember that talking about money is uncomfortable for most people, and if you put the onus on them to approach you for more money - they may not. Especially if they’re female. They may find it easier to accept a better offer elsewhere, and you didn’t find out that they were even thinking of it until they gave notice. Put talking about their money in your calendar on the regular.
Communicate your Vision
People are engaged when they have a story, a passion, and something to strive towards. Don’t hide your big, crazy dreams. Tell them where you’re going, what you dream about, and why you’re doing it. Tell them all the time. Most people want to be part of something amazing. Keep your team engaged for the long term by reminding them why you’re doing what you’re doing, where you’re going, and how far you’ve come.
Remember that this is one of those things you can’t say enough. If you let your spouse know you loved them just once, and decided you’d update them if this changed, how do you think your relationship would fare? Weirdly, it’s the same thing. Tell them what they’re doing, why they are doing it, and where you are collectively going as often as possible.
Involve them in decisions
Get transparent with what decisions you’re making and why. Talk to your team all the damn time. If you’re looking at making changes and your team members will be impacted, make them part of the discussion process. Yes, this will take longer than you making decisions all by yourself with no input but you know what? If you don’t get any input, you’ll get it wrong. Then you’ll be making everything all by yourself.
Tell your team that they are important by making them important. Build them into all your processes.
Provide opportunities to grow
You haven’t stayed stagnant, have you? Your company hasn’t either. Each person, each operation, each community is a practice in evolution. Recognize that in your team. Know that as amazing as they are right now, they can be even more amazing. Especially if you put the time and effort into growing them.
If you can help someone become an even more successful version of themselves, growing in ways that interest them, guess what you have built? Loyalty. When you’ve gone out of your way to help your team members - or even, push your team members - into becoming greater than they ever thought possible, they will reward you tenfold.
Do not wait for your team members to approach you with something that interests them. They will think you are too busy, they will think they are too busy, and then someone else will listen to them, care about them, and make changes for them when you are not looking. This is where you will lose your team member entirely.
You have to make it your practice to get all up in their business without being a micromanager (which is awful for everyone). It’s a careful balance if you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you do: it’s magic. We love our one-to-one meetings at Admin Slayer, where our team members get to connect with their direct supervisors to share what’s working, what’s not, and (most importantly), they get to dream. The hours are set aside - and actively booked - with our leadership team. This is the time that our team members get to be heard, on their terms. Sometimes, we have to draw it out of them. But the gold that we’ve gathered from these meetings has gone into creating better systems, processes, and created a better working environment for every single slayer.
When people leave - yes, even if you get all these things right, some people will still leave (but it probably won’t be because of you) - how you manage it says everything to everyone remaining on your team or joining it in the future.
Remember that your soon-to-be-former staff member and your current and continuing staff members are probably friends. If you handle one departure poorly, it sends a message that you don’t actually care about them personally, even after all you did in the day to day. You’ll see more people leaving if you do a crap job.
Your former employees talk about your company after they leave. They may even refer new hires and business to you - and they may come back. “Goodbye” doesn’t have to be goodbye forever. It’s not uncommon for team members to seek an opportunity elsewhere, gain new experience, and one day come back in a new capacity. Don’t burn that bridge.
You can make departures a useful and non-devastating part of your business. How? Oh, we are so glad you asked!
Set Expectations & Be Positive
Written agreements for employees and contractors with clear guidelines provide a great deal of clarity about what is expected before, during, and after departure. People don’t know what you want unless you tell them. If you told them years ago, they definitely don’t remember it - and neither will you, at least not clearly. Get really detailed so everyone has an understanding of their roles and responsibilities throughout their work with you, and when they leave. Keep a record of your agreement on file, where your team member can easily find it.
When someone leaves, take the time to stop and learn. Have a truly friendly exit interview with them to find out what really worked for them, what didn’t, and what you can improve. Be genuinely happy for your former team member that they found something that works well for them, and use the information you receive in a truly constructive way. If you’re not able to get an interview, spend time with the rest of your team to figure out what you can learn from the experience.
Let your former team member know that you will support them appropriately. If you are open to being a reference, write a letter immediately. Why? You won’t remember what was great about them 6 or 8 or 24 months from now. Save yourself some time and mental space. Write them a recommendation on LinkedIn as well. Use this opportunity to create goodwill.
Create Amazing Systems & Processes
No one in your company - not you, and not any one staff member - should have any key part of your business in their heads. Many firms have huge issues because only one person knew how to operate that software program, piece of machinery, or run with a concept. That’s where fires are built, and businesses crumble to dust.
Make documentation a necessary part of everyone’s job. Ideally, a competent stranger should be able to step into a job at your company and quickly learn everything they need to know from written processes. We believe deeply in the power of a company handbook or manual. Whether someone leaves, is sick, or—worst of all—passes away, the rest of your team will be able to move ahead. It’s the greatest gift you can give to your team, and yourself.
If you’ve hired well, trained well, and supported even better, your team will be made up of rockstars. Remember though, that rockstars are made and not born. You should never be reliant on a handful of externally-created rockstars to lift up your team.
You should create the rockstars that your team needs, every single day.