Handling agency employee departures

Managing a smooth transition with clients to avoid disruption

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What do you do when an employee leaves your agency? In this episode, Chip and Gini talk about how to handle the transition with clients to minimize disruption.

There are definitely some things you want to make sure to do — as well as to avoid. Gini will even share an example from her past about how employees shouldn’t act on their way out the door.

Transcript

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

Chip Griffin 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich 

And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, you’re just messing with, like, You’re messing with me. You’re messing with the listeners. It’s just Oh, Gini. I don’t know. You know, don’t we have enough problems in 2020? without creating? I mean, all you’re doing is saying your name. It’s, it should be simple.

Gini Dietrich 

I know. It should be. You’re right. But it’s 2020. And while I sat there for a second, and I was like, should I wait five seconds? Should I talk over him? How should I do this? And that’s how it came out. So you know,

Chip Griffin 

well, that’s okay. I maybe maybe next time, I will simply introduce you. So we can just bypass that all together? Maybe that’s not a bad idea. So in any case, so So speaking of introducing you, you know, I, since one of us is leaving, you know, we have to figure out how to tell the audience.

Gini Dietrich 

I’m sorry, where are we going?

Chip Griffin 

Oh, oh, no.

Gini Dietrich 

Am I being fired? I get it. Now. I get it. Yeah. So So yeah, this week?

Chip Griffin 

That’s, that’s good. That’s good. Know, the topic. The topic is when an employee is leaving, how do you handle the client transition? Because this is something that just about every agency of every size, except for a solo has to handle at some point or another? If you’re a solo, and you’re leaving? Well, that’s called closing down the business. So generally speaking, so but but if you have an employee or could even be a contractor who’s got direct client contact, if that if you’re making a team member change, how do you handle that communication with the client to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible? So that’s what we’re talking about today. Don’t worry, or maybe worry, both of us are actually sticking around. Yeah, you might want to worry about that. But then no, can you know, Jenny apparently thinks she’s getting fired. So I’m not sure that I can do that. Yeah.

Gini Dietrich 

I mean, you can just don’t send me a link every week.

Chip Griffin 

Well, there’s that Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Yeah. I won’t send you your Patreon, either.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, well, thanks. Don’t do that. Anyway. Question did come up. This question did come up in the community. And it was one of our employees is leaving sad for us. But she’s leaving in great terms, terms, and we’re excited for her next role at a new agency. We need to notify clients, is it more appropriate coming from the employee who is leaving or best to come from management?

Chip Griffin 

And what is the answer?

Gini Dietrich 

Well, I think the answer is it depends. I will also tell you that I did a really jerky thing when I left fleishmanhillard. And I had my I had an email all ready to go clients BCC the whole thing, wrote it, went in and told my boss, they of course, escorted me out because I was going to another agency, went back into my office hit send back everything up and left. And I had a boss who was is phenomenal. And she called me later, and she said, you know, that was a really jerky thing to do. And I was like he was, and she explained why. And I was like, Oh, yeah, that was a really jerky thing to do. I’m sorry, that should not have come for me. But I was young and stupid and naive, and and I knew that they were gonna walk me out. So I had it already. Like I didn’t even it didn’t even occur to me that they should be the ones to tell the clients not me. Right. And for me to hit send, as they’re shutting my email down that was really jerky to do. But

Chip Griffin 

yeah, yeah, that was that was not the best behavior?

Gini Dietrich 

No, it was not.

Chip Griffin 

But I you know, I think it It raises the point that first of all, from the from management standpoint, you often don’t know what your employee is going to do. And sometimes, sometimes it will be with bad intention. And sometimes it’s just, you know, because they weren’t thinking or didn’t realize or didn’t know any better, those kinds of things. So, so you always have to be prepared for the unexpected in these situations. You know, to me, the most important thing, anytime you’ve got an employee leaving is that you’ve got a process that you’re going through. And so you’re sitting there and so part of the transition should be to work with that individual to figure out, you know, which you should already know what projects they’re working on, but really get good status updates, and anything that’s, that’s critical to the relationship since you can understand exactly where the relationship stands between that team member and the client at that point in time, because that will help inform how you do the, the notification of the client. You know, if they’ve got a big event, the next day, you might wait until after the big event to share the news. So you can modulate the timing. You can module and in some cases, it can be more appropriate for the team member to share it if this is if this is someone that you completely trust, to you know, to do a good job in the handoff and they’ve got the kind of relationship with the client, that the client will take it better hearing it from them. Sometimes that happens so so you can walk through it that way, I would say more often than not, at a minimum, their supervisor should be part of the conversation or may need to do it directly themselves, or you may need to escalate and even above the direct supervisor to, you know, to the owner or someone who’s more of a relationship manager, but it I think it really needs to be case by case based on the individual team member and the individual client.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree with that, um, we just had somebody leave. And for the most part, I called everybody to tell them, but there was one client that I just don’t have a relationship with. And so what she and I, what the employee and I did was craft a plan and a process for what that would look like, because I had plenty of No, she gave me plenty of notice. And we were able to do that and start to bring other people into the client meetings so that when we rip the band aid off, it wasn’t so bad, the client was like, Okay, I get it. That’s I seem to be well taken care of. And it was kind of a non event, I was kind of surprised. I was like, oh, okay,

Chip Griffin 

right. In my experience, people worry way too much. When these transitions happen, most clients do just fine. With the transition, they’re going to be looking more closely at you during that transition period to make sure that things aren’t falling through the cracks. But it’s, it’s really, it’s really how you handle the transition, more so than the fact that there’s simply been a transition. So you know, I don’t think this should be the kind of thing where you worry too much about it. But what you need to do is you need to be prepared for the questions that you’re going to get from the client, which will always start with what does this mean for me, they may not say so many words, but that’s what they care about. They don’t care about you and your agency and what it means for you and what you have to do for recruiting and you know, the relationships that you have blah, blah, they don’t care about, yeah, they’re right. There. You know, we’ve said before our clients, in some ways are like children. What does it mean for me? What’s in it for me? And so you need to be prepared to answer that question. And in many cases, particularly, if you’re a small agency, you may not have all of the answers right away. Because chances are, you’re going to have to do some stopgap things to cover because it’s rare when an employee leaves to have enough time to actually replace them. It before they’ve gone. And so so you’re going to have to sort of, you know, juggle a few balls in the air and keep things going for a period of time. And so you need to communicate with the client, you know, what your immediate plan is, even if it’s probably going to change over time.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I totally agree. Um, a couple of comments from the community on this were, from my past experience coming from management, and it includes explaining the change, and what’s next, who will take over the account, and CC their employee to wish her the best and allow the clients to do the same. So I thought that was an interesting thought is just, you know, when you send the note, if, if it’s via email, I tend to pick up the phone and call people. But if you’re sending it over email copying the the person who’s leaving so that the clients and the clients team can can wish that person Well, I thought that was a good piece of advice.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And so that also raises the point that that whenever possible, you don’t want to leave this to the last minute. So the way you ideally don’t want to have this, I mean, there are some cases, obviously, if it’s a termination, that’s different, if someone’s going to a competitive agency, and so you know, you need to literally walk them out that may have to happen more quickly. More often than not, you know, there is lead time in these situations. And so, you know, to the extent that you can give the client a little bit of time to adjust, not too much. So if someone gives you two months notice, don’t go running, telling clients, right, rake advantage of time, but you know, but don’t wait until 4pm at 5pm is when they’re, you know, packing their bags,

Gini Dietrich 

for 50. All right, by the

Chip Griffin 

way, because because a lot of clients have built a strong relationship with your employee. And so they would like to be able to say something nice to them. And they may ask for their personal email address or those kinds of things. And, and so you want to be able to allow them to have that, because that will help them feel better about your agency overall. And you also don’t want to ever inadvertently make it appear as if there’s something squirrely about the change, if there isn’t, right and so if you wait to the last minute, it can look like someone was terminated, even if they decided to do it voluntarily, because maybe they’re moving cross country and they gave you notice two months ago, whatever. By leaving it to the last second it makes it look like something bad happened. And you know what?

Gini Dietrich 

We could she got fired and we walked her out with two minutes. Notice

Chip Griffin 

right now, now that said, if it is a termination, then you need to be prepared to immediately talk to the clients because terminations sometimes go wrong. And as we’ve talked about before, it’s very difficult to predict which terminations are actually going to end badly. I’m horrible at it. I have a Have terminations, terminations? Yeah, that would go badly. There was barely a ripple, I thought terminations that were going to go fine ended up turning into total, you know, what shows. So you need to be prepared, if there is a termination, before you even sit down and terminate the employee, you need to know what your plan is with all of their clients, because you need to communicate with them quickly, so that there is not an opportunity for that individual, because of frustration, anger, whatever to reach out to the client directly and and pollute the waters. Right. So so you need to be prepared for those kinds of things.

Gini Dietrich 

Well, and I would say, even if somebody’s leaving voluntarily, and it’s on good terms, there’s still the opportunity, I mean, to for them to pollute the waters, even if it’s on detentions. So I think having a plan, knowing what it is, you know, we have a really strict thing, thankfully, to my assistant, we have a very strict process that we follow. And it’s, you know, boek broken into three buckets, if they they’re leaving, and we have noticed, and they don’t have to be escorted out, if they’re leaving, and they’ve given us notice, but they’re going to a competitor. And then if they’ve been terminated, and it’s very strict, it’s like boo, boo, boo, boo, you do this, you do this, you do this, and we get that all done within, you know, half an hour, that allows us to really move quickly. And I’ll admit that I was a little reticent to create that process, because I was like, Oh, well, I feel like it’s karma. And that we’re you know, bringing bad luck to ourselves. And that’s just not the case. It’s It’s very, it has been extraordinarily helpful in having that available. And it’s literally a checklist, do this, do this, do this, do this, do this.

Chip Griffin 

Right. And, and the termination process is one where it’s very easy to overlook things. You know, if it’s in a termination, it may be because you, you know, the termination is coming in part out of your own frustration. And so you just want to get it done. So in some cases, it’s you know, because terminations are uncomfortable, you may skip over things, because you just don’t want to have to think about it. And that’s a huge mistake. But even in friendly ones, you still need to make sure that you cross the T’s dot the i’s, and this is something you should have vetted by, you know, an HR consultant or someone like that someone who actually knows, you know, what, what the the any particular rules that may apply to your situation, they’ll often have decision trees. So for example, if you’re terminating someone over the age of 40, it’s different than he would terminate someone under the age of 40, the paperwork is not really different. And the rules around it are very different in most states. So you need to make sure that you’re on top of that kind of thing, so that you don’t inadvertently end up with a problem down the road. So having those checklists can be really helpful to make sure that things don’t fall through the cracks. And the client piece of it has to be part of it.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, and the client piece, I mean, depending on what it is, with the client pieces, usually number one, if it’s a termination there, you know, email and things like that are usually number one, the tech stuff, but then clients number two, so Yeah, it definitely has to have. And like I said earlier, I prefer to pick up the phone and have that conversation versus sending an email, I just find are better that way.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, me Look, most agency employees don’t have contact with enough clients on a regular basis that that you shouldn’t be having that as an actual telephone conversation. I mean, you know, if you’re, if you’re in a in a SaaS company, and so, you know, account manager has 50 clients, okay, that’s not practical, but in an agency, right? Most employees, what, maybe two or three clients tops, in most cases, yeah, there’s no excuse not to have that conversation. by phone. You know, you may want to email and set it up, set up an appointment, as opposed to just calling out of blue, whatever it may be, you need to think through and part of it depends on your relationship with that client, right? If you sure if you know the client, that’s much easier for you. And and particularly if you’re the one who brought the business in, your employee leaving is going to be much less of an issue. If it’s, if it’s a case where it’s a senior employee, and they’re the ones who brought the business in, those are the ones that are the toughest to handle into message because they may have come to the agency because of that employee who’s leaving, right, those are gonna require a little bit more TLC from the standpoint of senior management or ownership.

Gini Dietrich 

Yep, my favorite thing to do is text the client and go call me

to bash

Gini Dietrich 

me usually creates the opportunity for them to call you immediately. But I do it all the time. So it’s not like

Chip Griffin 

if you don’t do that all the time, please I beg of you listeners do not do that.

Gini Dietrich 

I do, but I do do it.

Chip Griffin 

If it’s your regular habit. That’s fine. I guess I don’t, but it works. The irony is I don’t think you even have my cell phone number. So you can’t text me with that.

Gini Dietrich 

I don’t think I do. text you at all terrible.

Chip Griffin 

Oh, well, what can you do? But so you know, I think that you know the key is having a plan having a process thinking through and you know, you need to think through those. What are the client’s concerns likely to be part of that’s looking back in the past? and seeing what what are their concerns previously been? You know, particularly if you’ve already if they’ve had a transition of a team member before, if it went, well, great, then you can point to that and say, Well, remember, when Jane replaced Sally, and it went smoothly, you know, we’re gonna follow the same kind of process. On the other hand, if, if, when Jane replaced Sally, and it was a little rocky, you know, then you need to communicate that you’ve learned your lessons from those. And so you’re going to handle this transition a little bit differently. And, and critically, in that transition period, you need to apply some extra TLC, you don’t want to go into the full overblown over servicing, but you you certainly want to err on the side of over servicing during that window to make sure that there’s no concern that balls are going to be dropped, because, you know, their client contact is left.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, and I probably tend to go a little far on the on the side of me just checking in and making sure that everything’s okay. And doing that pretty consistently. I had a client say to me, okay, Jen, we get it. We’re good. We’re good. You’re okay. Here.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And I think the other important thing is in your communications with the clients, you need to exude confidence in the transition. So even if you are pulling your hair out and saying, Oh, my God, I have no idea how we’re going to handle this. Because a lot of times that happens in the small agency environment, right? You sit there, and you know, you’ve got, you know, seven or eight employees and one of them leaves. It can be one of those, oh, my God, what am I gonna do? Do not let the clients see it. What was that advertisement that they used to run years ago, don’t let them see you sweat or something like that. Same thing here, right? Do not let the client see how the sausage is made, don’t let them see you sweat. You know, you need to even if you were completely flummoxed by it, exude confidence in that communication with a client, it’s all going to be fine, we’ve got this. And if they come across thinking that you’ve got this, then you’re going to have a lot more runway to to make mistakes, because they’re always going to be mistakes and transitions, things will always fall through the cracks no matter how hard you try. Unless this is, you know, one of those ones where you’ve got one team member of like five that are servicing the client. So it’s, you know, it’s sort of seamless, fairly, yeah, if you’re listening to this, chances are you’re not in that situation with your clients. But if you are, then those transitions can go more smoothly. If it’s one where it’s their primary client contact, or even their only client contact, that’s going to be ones where things are just that person knows things, there’s institutional knowledge, there’s, you know, there’s things that they forgot to put into your project management tracking system that they didn’t put into an email or whatever. And so, you know, you’ve got to be prepared for those kinds of things to happen.

Gini Dietrich 

Well, I have found as well, that they’re you, I mean, you know, those that we always joke that our job is more therapy than anything else, because we tend to be the voice of reason for some clients. But I have found in the past, not in this most recent example, but in the past, there has been advice given by members of my team that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with. But you know, when you empower your team to do their thing, they do their thing. And then the client will say to you will so and so told me this, and you’re like,

Okay, I’m right. So

Gini Dietrich 

there’s some of that, where you have to your point, exude confidence and still support the advice that was given but steer them in a different direction, if it’s wrong or not where it should be,

Chip Griffin 

right. But this is also an opportunity for you to shine. Because, you know, particularly if you’re stepping in and becoming involved, which is typically what happens whether you’re at the management level, the ownership level, typically you become more involved during those transition periods, you will spot areas where you can service the client better not necessarily even by over servicing. But just because you’ve got a better strategic idea. You look at something and I mean, almost every time I’ve had an employee leave in that kind of setting where I go in, and I look at him, like, why did they do it this way, this is inefficient. This is you know, you could you could generate better results by doing it this way. And so clients will see those as wins. So even if they loved their client contact before, if you find some of those quick wins for them, that’s going to help them and it’s going to show that you know that you’re paying attention. And you’ve got to be careful. It’s a delicate balancing act because you don’t want to get so sucked in that you’re now doing the client service yourself on an ongoing basis. Right, right. So balance that out and try to try to even if it’s only part time, have someone else on your team front that relationship during that transition period until you hire someone new. So that it’s it’s not just you that they’re dealing with

Gini Dietrich 

Yep, totally agree. All right. So exude confidence, have a process, pick up the phone and call. Those are probably the big ones.

Chip Griffin 

And it depends. And it does depend. And so with that, I think that will that will bring this episode to a close. I’m Chip Griffin. She’s Gini Dietrich. I’m

Gini Dietrich 

Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin 

And it depends

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