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What 1 Leader Did When a Key Employee Left Is Brilliant

There’s only one way to handle a high performer’s departure.

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BY Gene Hammett - 30 Oct 2018

What 1 Leader Did When a Key Employee Left Is Brilliant

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You arrive at work to discover one of your most talented employees is leaving. What could have spurred this? Then, curiosity takes over. You wonder, "Where's she going?" When you find out she's headed to a company where you know the CEO, you get mad. "How dare my friend poach someone from my team?" Your anger festers, and you can't think about anything else.

Sound familiar? It happens often in the ongoing war for talent. Business leaders have to juggle many aspects to create sustainable growth. Leaders have to set strategy, manage cash flow, and develop a product or service with market demand. Each is critically important to growth. However, employees represent one of the hardest areas for leaders to manage.

My recent interviews with Inc. 5000 CEOs revealed a keen focus on people. Over the past three weeks, I've talked with 22 CEOs about their leadership and cultures that drive fast growth. It's not individual sales or marketing strategies they're most proud of -- it's their people. They don't brag about their revenues or fast growth. They love to talk about their retention rate.

A key employee leaves

While reading posts from my LinkedIn network, I noticed something from Kyle Porter, the CEO of SalesLoft. Porter has led the company through a series of funding rounds and grown it to more than 300 employees. SalesLoft was recently named the best place to work in the midsize companies division by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Porter posted: "I'm close friends with the CEO of a company who just hired away one of our talented individual contributors. Previously in my role as CEO, my reaction to this would be to get mad at my friend. BUT upon more measured review, I realize ANYTIME we lose an employee for ANY reason, it's nobody else's fault but ours. We must create an environment that empowers our people to learn more, do more, and become more. Always."

I scrolled the comments. Some expressed admiration. Others didn't understand his forgiveness. My take was that this perspective is exactly what makes Porter an admirable leader. He vulnerably admitted that his gut reaction was to get mad. However, he went on to say, "Anytime I spend being petty is time not spent creating that environment [for] our people. I'll never again get angry at someone else. I'll just get better at eliminating regretted attrition. And I'm going to get better at that every day."

I talked with Porter two weeks later to understand what happened next. He explained that the best -- and only -- response was to take ownership of the employee experience at SalesLoft. "My job as a leader is to create employees with the skills, talents and capabilities desired by the world's best companies," he said. "I also have to create a place that employees don't want to leave."

Porter explained the areas he focuses on in order to put employees first.

1. A clear vision

Leaders must create a compelling vision that not only encourages clients to want to do business with them, but also draws employees to become part of it. If this vision isn't clear to everyone, the company struggles.


I think about my company vision constantly and share it with team members so they're inspired to be part of something special.

2. A purpose-driven model

Your business exists for a reason. That reason is not -- and cannot -- be to merely make money. The company's purpose aligns its work with its mission. Your business is here to address something that engages the workforce.

My mission is to ensure everyone loves Mondays. Most entrepreneurs and leaders love the work they do and are thrilled to start each week. There's a huge opportunity to get others to love Mondays as much as they do. I accept the challenge by striving to give every person a purpose.

3. Team empowerment

Leaders aren't intended to create followers. Real leaders know they're in a position to create more leaders. Porter said, "My job is to empower the executive team to lead with excellence." SalesLoft is changing how the sales experience evolves, and this requires leaders at every level of the company.

All employees must be empowered with new areas of learning. They need projects that allow them to stretch and grow. They need to be empowered to try new strategies -- even ones that might not work.

My small team of talented people wants to grow its skills and talents. I want my team members to feel they're learning more here than they could somewhere else.

Porter may have taken a different approach than you would have. But I believe he took the position of an evolved leader. He didn't blame anyone. He used the situation to re-evaluate how he could create a place employees don't want to leave. And that's something every business owner wants.

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