Why You Should Make It Easy For Employees To Leave

Brad Herrmann, Call-Em-All

November 17, 2015

Don’t invest in finding ways to make people stick around. Just make it easy for them to leave. That is the best retention strategy and it is pretty simple.

It may seem backward. While companies everywhere spend a great deal of time and money creating employee-retention strategies, I’ve found you can actually build a happier workforce by focusing on the opposite. I co-founded Call-Em-All, a group calling and texting service, in 2005. It was important to me to build a staff that would be as engaged and energetic as possible. Disengaged employees? Raise your hand and opt out. We’ll help you on your way.

Because we don’t want to retain the wrong people, the freedom to walk away is deliberately built into our compensation strategies. Take our 401(k) plan, for example. Employees are 100 percent vested in the plan right away. From day one they can take advantage of our 6 percent dollar-for-dollar match. Our profit-sharing plan was built with the same goal in mind. The last thing I want is an employee hanging around waiting until bonus time to leave. I’d rather say, “Take what you earned and find another job before you sink the rest of us with you.” That’s why we give our profit-sharing bonuses quarterly instead of annually.

Of course, we try to hire smart right off the bat. One of our key competitive advantages is having a talented, engaged workforce.

To get here took some effort. First we had to define our culture as written in our manifesto, live up to it and then hire to it. Once everyone was on board, we developed a wolf-pack mentality, which is almost self-selecting. The wolf pack says we are not going to let anyone into our environment who doesn’t pull his or her weight and doesn’t fit. I owe it to my employees to bring in people who are worthy of working with them, so I am personally involved in every hire. We have an intensive recruiting and interviewing process. Good hiring is the No. 1 way we defend our culture. You want an employee who embraces the company’s values, not a functional, transactional employee. Does this person approach work in the same way we do? Will this person bring passion and energy to the company? Could I disagree with this person? How would he or she handle that? If the answer to any of those questions is negative, then regardless of their capabilities, we do not hire them.

Sure, it can be difficult to find talented employees who fit into our culture. And sometimes it’s a bitter pill to give someone a bonus for not sticking around — but both of these beat the price of retaining a disengaged employee. Although we have a great culture, it is not permanent and it is not impenetrable. One of our first employees, for instance, worked with us for five years. I still respect her, but as we grew and brought in more people, she had to share her responsibilities and ownership with her peers. She struggled to change as the environment around her changed. It affected not only her performance but also the performance of those around her.

After she left, it was like a breath of fresh air. However, we still wanted to do the right thing and give her time to find another job; we paid her three months of compensation and I also personally offered to serve as a reference for her.

We are big into energy here and believe that one person’s bad energy can impact the whole company. People had to work harder to make up her workload until we found someone else, but they were more than happy to do it. There was no longer anyone draining their energy.

That said, I don’t immediately get rid of people who are no longer engaged in their job. I encourage them to talk to me so I can try to find a way to get them re-energized. I tell my employees: If you see something else here you want to learn more about, raise your hand and do it. One of our customer service team members told us he wanted to learn about the technical side of our product. We looked for places to let him get a taste of the work and to test him. Each time he liked it and was able to do more. Now he is a liaison between our customer service and engineering departments. He plays a crucial role that saves us time and resources and is taking his first programming class. It is a happy ending for all of us.

Brad Herrmann is president and co-founder of Call-Em-All.

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