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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

Nov 11, 2020


Today share their thoughts and pain points around letting people go. How do we keep kindness in mind when letting go of someone who isn’t meeting expectations? How soon should you fire someone when you feel that they’re not a good fit? When the time comes to have the difficult conversation, what does that conversation realistically look like? And how can you change your processes to create a deeper trust with your and avoid firing being a surprise all together? These are all the big questions we tackle today- stay tuned! 


Top 4 Curtain Pulls in this episode: 

  1. One basic rule- “Hire Slow, Fire Fast!” This means that you are intentional about the investment and selection of a new employee, and quick to do what has to be done when someone isn’t right and you’ve exhausted all options. 
  2. Your business needs to add massive value to your customers, and you can only do that if you have employees who add massive value to your business. 
  3. Don’t let fear of confrontation turn into passive aggression towards an employee who’s not measuring up. When it’s time, you have to act. Other employees will notice your inaction, and that lack of action can lead to loss of respect to you as a leader.
  4. When hiring a new employee, be clear with what you need, and allow them to be involved in creating a role to fill those needs. This creates buy-in, and removes ambiguity. 


For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:


About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[1:03] Bob introduces this week’s episode- expressing that its a nerve-wracking one for him. 

[1:25] Brad shares a statistic, that 50% of business owners have to fire someone eventually. 

[1:47] Ken shares that he has had to fire people in the past, but that they try to avoid it at all costs. 

[2:14] Brad says that knowing when to let somebody go is one of the most challenging things you can deal with in business. 

[2:49] Brad continues, saying that layoffs or furloughs are a bit different because they are about a lack of business rather than the person individually. 

[3:40] Ken reflects on the way that you deliver the message, trying to find a way that will help the person as much as possible. 

[4:27] Brad pinpoints that the line is knowing when the employee is no longer helpful for the business. Many times they are like family, so it can be challenging to disconnect your emotions from the actual need in the business. 

  • He talks about the impact that letting someone go can have on the entire team, how it impacts morale if other employees feel that parts of the process were unfair or unfounded. 

[6:10] Brad asks Ken about his firing experiences. 

[6:23] Ken: “Hire slow, fire fast.” It’s important to bring on the right people, and realize that those personalities really matter and have a large impact. One bad egg will spoil everything, so applying filters is very important to ensure a cultural fit. 

  • It’s important that as an employee, you add more value than you take- just like the business itself! 

[8:13] Ken “When we’ve had to fire people, we give them the benefit of the doubt over and over again.” 

  • Part of the culture at Metacake is being able to talk to anyone about anything- talking to one another and being intentional about those feelings. 
  • Team 1-on-1’s are a bi-weekly thing, so issues  get addressed frequently and are micro-adjustments instead of things getting out of hand. 
  • Typically there are a few talks with warnings and feedback

[11:42] Brad says that using a sort of checklist of “red flags” for when people aren’t living up to expectations or requirements will help you to use less emotion and more logic. 

[12:40] Brad shares that he wants to be kind to people, “Sometimes it’s a real struggle, and I have let things go on longer than they should have.” 

[13:30] Brad continues. “I try to figure out what is the core reason that I feel like this person isn’t working out and try to really identify those core reasons and then see if it can be resolved in meetings.”

  • If an employee doesn’t seem interested in growth, in working with you to improve themselves through coaching and feedback, then it’s probably important that you act on that rather than give them a year or two to make attempts at improvement. 

[14:40] Bob shares his experience with firing- on both sides, as an employee and an employer. Asking yourself if the person is capable of fixing or changing issues is important, but placing a limit on your empathy is important as well. 

[15:21] Bob “I always have to ask the fundamental question, is this person capable of doing what you’re expecting of them?”

  • This isn’t a judgemental thing, but a capability thing. 

[16:01] Bob “I’ve let people stay on too long because I didn’t like the discomfort of my own emotions versus what was best for them and what was best for the company. So I was prioritizing my own comfort and my own discomfort rather than saying ‘What is best for this person.’”

  • Ultimately, letting someone stay when they’re not the right fit isn’t doing them any favors. In Bob’s experience, none of the people who he’s let go have not gone on to do great things- no one has ended up on the street or starving. So the fears of the worst happening never came to fruition, and now he sees that he can trust his instincts more. 

[17:07] Bob “When something doesn’t work out, and you know it’s not going to work out, The person needs to be in a better fit... By not doing it, you’re holding back what’s best for that person.” 

[18:19] Ken talks about how he attempts to make sure that things aren’t a true surprise when you have to let someone go. “You can’t let your own desire for comfort or your fear of discomfort stop you from doing what’s best for everybody.” 

[19:49] Brad says that sometimes people are doing great and making money for the company, but are super disruptive to the culture or morale. And other times they just aren’t capable of doing the job. He talks about having benchmarks for signs that he needs to make a decision about someone’s employment. 

  • “If I can replace an employee who’s a pretty significant role and within a week or two I don’t feel them being gone… like the business doesn’t feel them being gone… then I know they haven’t made themselves valuable for my business. 

[21:40] Brad says another thing he’s struggled with is, when you fire someone do you walk them out the door? How do you figure out the timing, etc? 

[22:30] Ken says that many mentors have suggested that when you let someone go, they go right then. No two weeks situation, etc. If they’re already not adding to the value of the business, there is no reason for them to have any motivation left once you give them a two weeks notice, etc. It’s best for you to just let them go right there. 

[23:13] Brad says that it’s especially difficult if the employee is a higher-level person who holds a lot of “keys” in the business- you need a time frame to get those keys handed over beforehand. 

[24:10] Ken shares that letting people go is never just a quick, straightforward process. You’ve got to create a “nice” transition for your employees and for the employee you’re letting go. Knowing what a transition looks like for any given role beforehand is super helpful. 

[25:27] Brad shares that he let someone go and had a client asking about the person two weeks later. The client was a bit incredulous, asking why they weren’t told and Brad reflects on that circumstance, saying that it’s important to create that line of communication with the clients as well. Your employees have built those relationships, and if one of those links in the relational change is suddenly gone, it can have potential to harm the client relationship. 

[27:00] Bob asks Brad about statistics- turnover within the agency world in particular. He asks if the creative aspect of things makes it more challenging to let someone go, because the reasons could be more nuanced instead of task-oriented.

[29:19] Bob continues, that creatives can be some of the hardest people to let go because the opinions and reasons can be very subjective. 

[29:34] Ken agrees, saying that you have to own where those measurements are for yourself and your business. A startup vs a well-established business makes a big difference, as the needs can change as the company changes and grows. 

[30:31] Brad stresses the importance of processes, so that employees can understand what to do in order to grow. Having a system in place where coaching and processes to learn to grow is SO helpful- because if you don’t, you’re insisting that they go off and do those things themselves. Which ultimately will take away from the energy they have to offer your business. 

  • Brad says that often people WANT to be coached, to improve and add value, but aren’t clear on the processes or how to make that happen. If they understand the rules, the processes, and have the support to get there, most people will rise to it. 

[32:39] Ken talks about how there are roles that are really clear, and some that are more ambiguous. And so when someone new comes in, letting them know exactly what their roles will be and how to measure their success, that’s being proactive and helping you to avoid difficulties down the line. 

[33:55] Bob talks about studies in Europe that say that when you give an employee or a team the ability to craft their responsibility, they end up being much happier and have a sense of accomplishment. Rather than a list of responsibilities when you hire someone, give them a list and bullet points of what you need, and let them take part in figuring out how they can fill that need.

[35:42] Brad talks about how his tendency towards passive-aggression means that he often feels quick to judge. 

[36:49] Brad continues, that if you start to notice yourself being critical of an employee, you need to dig deeper into that. “You should check yourself- you should say ‘Why am I critical? Is it  a personality? Or am I not happy with their performance?” 

[37:56] Bob says that he tends towards cynicism, or flippant criticism and identifying the worst in the situation as a passive-aggressive move. 

[39:10] Brad talks about his fear with creatives, that if he lets someone go that the fire of creativity and passion will dim and make them think that this isn’t their career path, etc. Sometimes it’s just a matter of things not being a good fit, so it’s important to know where the line is between not being a good fit right now, versus just being a bad employee. 

[40:16] Ken “Obviously there’s a passion in each person, and there’s a purpose or many purposes in people. So helping them get to that is how you get to those places where at some point that person is going to be thriving. And how do you get there?” 

[41:00] Bob talks about our last guest speaker, a former employee of Brad who disappeared for a few years then came back with an incredible story and path that he’s created for himself. 

[42:06] Bob talks about seeing the true skill set and giftings in everyone, and trying to call those out in your employees. “...if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. Give them the freedom to fly.” 

  • He reflects on being a business owner and having a “God Complex” and the responsibility of taking care of your employees. 

[43:23] Bob: “You never will be, no matter how good you think you are, the provider and source of someone’s livelihood… on one level yes you write their paycheck, but at the end of the day the universe is very big, the people are very skilled, and they will land somewhere and they will be taken care of.” 

[44:10] Ken talks about leadership and seeking true wisdom, having the wisdom to know when someone is hanging around too long, if the expectations are too high on one end or the other. 

[45:17] Ken continues, saying that you have to be on a journey of leadership and seeking wisdom from mentors, because there is a lot hanging in the balance for a smaller company or startup especially. 

  • The rest of your team will begin to lose respect for you when you let things go on for too long. 

[47:40] Bob talks about when the process of letting someone go is really draining or unhealthy for you mentally, and what it might look like if you remove yourself from that process altogether. 

[48:37] Ken mentions some great HR companies that can help you frame those conversations and lay out what it may look like to make a transition, and he has had great experiences with them. 

  • Think through what your processes will look like for these situations- consider having someone to guide you through the legal protection aspect of things.

[50:15] Ken says that ultimately, when you do this you have to do it in love. As cheesy as that sounds, ask yourself “How can I serve this person through this?” Serving people doesn’t always mean making them happy!