While I've never bothered keeping count, I'm sure my firm has employed hundreds of executives in our 16-year-hisotry. A few have been rock stars, many have been better-than-average and, truth be told, we've had a few real clunkers as well.
For the most part, we've held onto the superstars and dropped the lemons faster than a hot potato, but we've done one very, very, smart thing with the better-than-average employees who've left: We've told them our door was always open should they change their mind and like to return. (We admit that sometimes with the lemons, we ask them to kindly close the door on their way out).
Ending things in an upbeat manner and staying in touch with high performers who've moved on to take new jobs can produce a number of unexpected benefits:
They refer new business. This has happened more times than I can remember. And, when it does, I always make sure to send the former Peppercommer a nice bottle of wine as a way of expressing my gratitude.
They refer qualified friends. They know our environment, and they naturally refer people they think will excel in our environment. We reward this sort of loyalty as well.
They hire us. Really. Some who have taken positions in corporate communications do come to us. In fact, one of our most recent new business wins came about as a direct result of my staying in touch with a woman who had worked for us on two separate occasions and now holds down a top corporate gig. That's right. She worked for us on two separate occasions. But, despite those resignations to "…pursue her dream job ", I kept on friendly terms. Now, I'm invoicing my erstwhile employee and current client on a regular basis. How's that for an ROI?
They return—and soar. If, and when, they return, former employees can become your very best brand ambassadors.
I'd like to spend a little bit of time elaborating on the last point because it has made a subtle, if profound, difference in our culture.
I even have a word for these people. They're our "boomerangs." Boomerangs, it turns out, possess more credibility than my entire senior management team rolled into one. Why? Because, as is the case with nearly every Millennial nowadays, they once bought into the greener pastures mantra (i.e. they left Peppercom believing the next job would not only pay them more, it would also value their work more highly). The Boomerangs found the exact opposite to be true and, after some soul searching, determined they really liked Peppercom and wanted to return. And, nine times out of 10, we welcome them with open arms.
So, when a budding superstar comes into my office to tell me she's taking another offer, I ask her, first, to speak with one of our Boomerangs. I won't say it works every time, but there have been quite a few instances in which a Boomerang has convinced a high-flying Millennial to weigh the pros and cons of a move, and decide to stay put.
Boomerangs are also powerful weapons in any organization's new business arsenal. Here's why: typically, when we compete for a new piece of business, we're up against three or four larger firms. Since we can't compete with someone who has 45 offices in 81 countries, we choose, instead, to speak of our intellectual smarts and great culture. And, the latter is, once again, where the Boomerang can play a critical role. She can tell the prospect about her life at a large, holding company's PR firm (our typical competitor) and describe how much she loathed it (I'll often goad the Boomerangs to make these sagas even juicier than they were). Furthermore, the Boomerang can cite chapter and verse on the bait-and-switch tactics of the big guys and assure the prospect that the team they're meeting will, indeed, be the team that works on their business. And they can comment on the pros of Peppercom's culture; hence, the reason she returned vs. going to another agency.
So, do yourself a favor the next time a valued employee hands in his resignation. Don't take it personally. Instead, go out of your way to be gracious, empathetic and, most importantly, open to his return. Boomerangs aren't just a weapon of choice for the Aborigines in the Australian Outback; they're also a valuable asset for at least one American public relations firm.