Text 8 Sep Crunching Employee Turnover is a combination Data + Heart v3.0 

I’ve never been afraid to talk about turnover or hiring at SEER, I started 5 years ago writing about the stuff, never been afraid to go open kimono, after all it is the TRUTH! For me, I write about turnover for a few reasons.

  1. Personally, its a record of my growth, change in perspectives, etc as I grow up.  Its funny to see how I felt about turnover at 25 people vs 100 people.
  2. Not enough people write about this and share their feelings or data publicly, I’ve never been worried about that transparency, b/c the open honest data speaks for itself.
  3. It helps future hires know our approach. Some people might say its bad PR for SEER, I disagree, I think we owe it to future hires, current team mates, and to ourselves to take a data driven and heart driven look at turnover and the impact of our decisions.

That post from 5 years ago still gets play- and people are still saying it helps them. About 18 months ago I wrote this part where I looked more for the data side, and learned a ton of lessons.

In that post I even talked about my early days when I wasn’t a student of the interview, how I had involuntary turnover at the 60-65% range in the early early days.  I trusted everyone in the interview, didn’t dig in, and as a result within weeks I knew I made a mistake.  I knew I had to fire quick if I wasn’t going to be good at hiring, that sucked, and I vowed to get better.

Turnover is scary and managers need to realize that, as we have all the whole story locked up in our brains, but the friends of the people you let go don’t.

So here I am 18 months later, more data, let me show you what i am tracking to see if SEER is truly getting better at hiring.

Here is a snapshot of my data set, there are some small discrepancies, but overall I feel very confident about the numbers. 

(I’ve deleted the exact #’s so people don’t spend time trying to figure out who is who as that was not my intention at all, but just to be really transparent, you’ll have to trust me on that).

First the categories.

Raw vs Adjusted Quits - If someone left to start a family or take care of a sick family member, I first hope they enjoy the time starting a family, or that their sick family members are doing better. But that, people who move for sig others jobs, to move back home, or to totally leave the industry are different than someone who moves b/c they wanted to work at a competitor, or they were a bad match for SEER, or were recruited away. Some people overlap both categories, like we have had someone move, who we both knew this wasn’t a match, those are the people who I put in the bad match category. I wasn’t sad to see them leave when they moved, which is different than those I was.

I defined a lot of my categories above
Mutual bad match is one where we and that person knew it wasn’t a great match, this happens.

Recruited away is one where someone who we wanted to stay was recruited away and in the exit interview stated such.  They were not actively looking.

Fired Culture is for the super haters, sorry to say it this way but spitting on employees while you are angry with them, sexually harassing a colleagues friends, and showing up at people’s houses at 2-3am uninvited wasted repeatedly are just examples of firing for culture. 

Fired wrong person / not enough time to train is for the people who I shouldn’t have let us hire in the first place, but I did. They then needed a ton of training to potentially add value greater than their cost, and we had to make the tough call.

Fired my mistake is the introspective view of myself.  Its someone I fired who it wasn’t the right thing for us, for us or for our clients, I jumped the gun. I shouldn’t have. I wish this person was here.

Fired performance is someone who has the skills to do a job in SEO/SEM/Marketing/Etc -  but we made the mistake of hiring someone competent just at the wrong level at that time (many people have been let go and completely leveled up later in their careers, we knew they would). This also includes promoting someone into a role that was too big for them. We should have taken it slower and give them training and support to grow into it, and given OUR growth @ SEER the amount of leveling up needed was almost insurmountable, much less without official training. it was one of those tough decision, do we train and hope they level up or alleviate the pressure on them, so they can find their next opportunity? Sometimes we train and wait but sometimes we have to part ways.

Question 1 - Are we hiring just to replace who we lost or are we really growing?


Then I wanted to break this down further, some turnover it inevitable, if that comment above was all people who quit for reasons related to not wanting to be at SEER, that would be a bigger problem.


The 50% line would have been break even (I know I could have used a better chart), but in that month I’m able to see it was still pretty bad, as only added net 1 hire.


I recommend you create an acceptable, ideal, and unacceptable range, quarters when you hit unacceptable, you must re-evaluate yourself, you company’s ability to retain, your managers ability to work with your team, after all bad managers are the #1 reason why people leave. This will help you keep yourself honest.  You must do exit interviews so you can categorize people better.

Note, as Anne Holland once said to me when we had 100% retention (minus involuntary turnover).  If no one ever wants to leave that is a problem, she said.

Question 2: Are you not seeing bad matches that are not willing to quit? Are you letting culture issues stay? Managers fire people sometimes, it sucks for all included, but it is part of the job.

Remember firing people is a time for deep-self reflection, most times, YOU missed something in the interview process or YOU promoted someone into the wrong role, or too early, or YOU didn’t give someone the support they needed to do the job at the level you expected. Yes its always nice to remove a burden on other team members or yourself, but you put your team in that position.  People don’t hire themselves, YOU DO. People don’t promote themselves, YOU DO!


People are…people.  They will interview well, they will say the right things, so hoping to have 0% baseline is not realistic for a company who wants to push the envelope.  Again, a highly innovative company might be hire than one who is OK with a certain group being there w/o innovating. 

Some big old companies have set this bar at 10%, like GE. With 305,000 employees worldwide, that is 30k firings per year.  Its their way of addressing innovation. I applaud them building something that scales (as it has to).  Sticking it to though, forces you to fire fire people who might otherwise be good people, so I’d never do that!! Microsoft got rid of their system.

Remember its good to have a quarter or two where you have 0, but if as you get bigger some firings mean you are not leveling up, as you ask your entire company to pivot or level up, its only inevitable that some people may not.

"What got you here, may not get you there"

Question 3: Why do they quit?

You can make your own categories, but fight your desire to put people in categories that make you feel better about yourself.  I do this, I stack the # of quits graph on top of one another!


Additionally you should also create a baseline.  

At SEER I see we are on Raw at an average of around 5% and adjusted at around 2%. For adjusted we’ve held down Under 2% for 20 months, I’ll take it. For raw, we are also under 5%, I don’t know how that stacks up to other agencies, but it feels right to me. A spike or dip may happen, the overall trend will tell you if you are getting better or not. We are in a highly competitive industry with a LOT of recruiters calling, so consider that.

Note: One thing to be careful of, is your numbers can be artificially low, so keep an eye on if people are just putting in “their 1 year” and leaving. If you’ve made a lot of hires recently, this could make this seem smaller than it is.

So that leads me to the next chart. You have to discount people who are staying their 1 year, so this is how I am doing it…any ideas on how to do this better?

The thing I care most about is that this is going down over the 5 quarters that matter most, however if we don’t keep growing we could run into a position where people want to advance in their careers and we don’t have roles, which is OK, or that we are not creating stronger Individual contributor tracks causing people who don’t want to go into management to leave.

I bet you feel different about your company at 25 than you do at 100 or 200, or 500?  People may opt out of that kind of company as you grow, that is also OK.  You may now realize and they may realize that something is different.  I tend to believe, and have blogged about the fact that growth is a retention strategy.


For every 1-2 few who opt out and leave b/c they enjoy the smaller company, there are maybe 6-7 who enjoy the opportunities growth opens up to them, allowing them to stay at a company and level up in their careers.

Note, people who are quitting in their first year, is a major red flag, if you see more than a few of these you should start digging in immediately, are you not setting expectations right?

Questions I can not answer yet, but have the data in the right format.

How many people who have been here for 12 months make it to 24 months trended out.  How is our retention of year 2 employees, year 3, etc, etc.  I feel like getting that info will help us understand roles / opps for people who have done 18+ months at SEER.  Any ideas?

Firing in clumps happens, its scary, but in an industry that constantly evolves, and in a company that constantly attracts talent, our clients deserve working with people with tenacity, they might not know everything about every change at Google, but they are constantly learning, improving and getting better.

You can not improve what you do not measure, and I think any exec in  a growing company must evaluate this.  We need benchmarks, I am just now making these up, but we should have benchmarks to make sure our lack of patience at times does not lead to us making rash decisions.

Also to make your company better exit interviews are key.

I’ve said it several times, but former employees, are some of SEER’s best referral sources, for business and for team mates. I wrote about it here in a post about 5 ex-employees I still have tight bonds with.

People leaving or getting fired is part of life, how we treat each other after is up to us.  Whats most awesome is that is what my role and our managers role is, people will come and go, that is inevitable, how we treat each other on the way out, how do we set people up for their next opportunity that is all that TRULY matters!

NOT EVERYTHING IS going to show up in your spreadsheet!! That is why the combination of heart and data is always the way to look at turnover.

Managers remember to check the qualitative parts too, how do people leave? Are people referring you employees or business, how much notice are you Of our last 6 departures we had:

  • (1) 3 months notice
  • (2) 2 months notice
  • (3) 1 month notice
  • (1) 3 week notice + consulting

I wanted to look back and see if we are really loving the employees who leave, like I said in that post, well in the last 6 weeks (as you saw) we have had a good amount of departures, some aren’t recorded yet but when I went to check that gut I found all these opportunities to ask, are we trying to do the right thing?  Given what I saw below, I think we are getting better every day!

Here is me, introducing one to a client for a job opp in SF!


A little birdie who just left, referred us a new team member:


The adios emails as people leave are often pretty touching!


or this one:


or this one


Heck even some we had to let go the first one, and someone who mutually realized we weren’t the right fit even wrote us days ago!



Heck, sometimes we even refer them business for their new consulting business or keep them on as consultants!

Being a  good “boss” is about one of my core beliefs, Kaizen.  

You must seek to get better everyday, you need to repeat yourself more, and just when you feel like everyone in your company knows how you feel about something, repeat it again! 

You never become a good boss, everyone is different, every situation is new. Use a mix of data and heart, and you can keep working on being a good boss, but its not a destination, its a journey. 

Every hire you make that is wrong is YOUR FAULT!  Start with that belief, whether they quit or you have to fire them, start with it being your fault.  Look for what you could have learned then work backwards.

Sometimes people leave for family, could you have given them 6 month unpaid leave?

People want to move, could you have let them work remote?

Then ask yourself if that the kind of company you want to build?? If the answer is no, there you have it…management.

No solution is ever 100% so have a guiding principle and stick to it, it’ll make tougher decisions easier to make. 

Like Ron Garrett commented on this post, Jeff Bezos says…”Be stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details”. I couldn’t agree more.

I look forward to updating the data and updating my journey, this job is tough, keeping 10 people happy is hard, 100 is impossible, so be prepared to be stubborn on your vision.

Text 22 Aug Is it time for titles at your startup? Thanks @bhorowitz

“The only person that doesn’t care about titles is the CEO.” — Stephen Gerard

It hit me like a ton of bricks over a year ago. One of my advisors said that to me, and I let it sink in, the man has a way better than anyone else I’ve worked with to get me to be less pig headed about my “ideals”.

Before I get into my new take, let’s go back to why I didn’t have a title when it was just me, and where we have evolved to.

I didn’t want a title, ever. When SEER was just 1 person my cards said “associate”.

  • I never wanted people to think I was “important” based on my title.
  • I didn’t want to get attention because of my title.
  • I never wanted my team to confuse a title, with having a tangible impact.
  • Lastly, I never wanted to overweight my importance to SEER.

That last part was most important. I believe we’re like a group of people in a boat rowing, we all play a different role, and maybe at times roles become more important in certain situations, but the role becomes more important, not the person..

See, that there is a team that wants to win, that there is a team who picks up the QB, and you better believe that there were times when I needed my team to pick me up.

Your clients are going to want a Senior in the room

For years advisors would tell me, Wil, you need titles because clients will want to know they have a “senior” so and so in the room. I scoffed and hated that concept. It was the easy way out, I’d rather people show their talents to the point where no one cares what their title is. Might that mean SEER gets “smaller” clients? Great! If they believe what we believe and vice versa that is all that matters to me.

Titles grow margin w/o giving a riase

“See, if you give someone a title, they’ll stay longer and you don’t have to give them as much of a raise.” - Unnamed Advisor

Ouch that was even worse advice than plop factor. Are you serious? To me while the psychology of this is true, and I LOVE behavioral psychology with every fiber of my being, I don’t want to be manipulating my team with that. Nor do I care about adding 1-2% on margin b/c I’m giving titles.

Why will SEER move to titles in 2014?

Ben Horowitz that’s why. Somewhere between Las Cruces, NM and Tuscon AZ, while my wife and dog and I did our annual pilgrimage cross country for me to work from our other office for a few months.


I put in Ben Horowitz’s book on audio, the Hard Thing about Hard Things. It was recommended by an advisor.

In the book, I learned a ton. But one of the many lessons, was on titles.

Ben talks about how when you don’t give titles, you don’t show peoples progression at your company. OOOOH now we’re talking.

I care a lot about people’s path AFTER SEER, if they have been good to us and have helped us achieve our goals and objectives, why the heck wouldn’t we help them on the way out?

Its why we often get 4 weeks and sometimes as much as 3 months notice. People know we will invest that time trying to help them on their new journey / new path and that they can tell us they are leaving w/o us acting like this:

But if I we TRULY cared about people’s path post SEER, are we making it harder for them to articulate the great things they’ve done and their advancement by not using titles? That is what Ben said to me, 3 months ago, and today I know Titles, like other absolutes I had at SEER are going to go. Being in this role is about growth and keeping your mind open, even to your “absolutes”, testing yourself, messing stuff up sometimes, and learning.

If your company doesn’t have titles, wear that proudly. But ask yourself one thing, when someone’s path takes them away from your company, and they have done great work, are you making it harder for them to stand out in that next job? Have you handicapped them in the eyes of HR who will see one person who got three promotions on their resume, and your team member got 3 “internal promotions” but their title never changed. Might that keep them from getting their next dream job, I think maybe. That risk is too great to me, so we’re gonna change some stuff @ SEER.

Hey Ben, who did the audio for that book? Dude had a f’ed up voice…hearing him quote Nas and Game, was gut wrenching.

Text 15 Dec Looking over the hood of a business?

"Wil, stop looking over the hood. You look over the hood with your peripheral vision, your eyes should be pointed out of the driver side window!"

Was kindly yelled at me again and again, by my driving instructor as I raced a few super cars around a mini track at Leguna Seca during my driving school.image

It was fighting instinct…you are supposed to keep your eyes straight ahead right? WRONG!  

My instructor Jeff, a burly man, with more broken bones from years racing bikes and cars had to repeat that several times to me, and in my 1 day it still didn’t sink in.  I was fighting instinct, and 20+ years of driving.

I never actually got that right, but it did start to sink in on the way home. (note: if you go to a racing school and push cars to their absolute limits, have someone else drive you home, the cops wait right outside of the school and write tickets like mofos).

I digress.

What sank in is the metaphor, don’t look over the hood, see the hood in your peripheral, but keep your eyes looking out the drivers wide or passenger window. It rings over and over again like an echo in my head now. You need to trust your peripheral to see what is ahead, and use your eyes for what is coming up next in a split second, think 1-2 turns ahead and trust the car and your training to take you through this turn, but never keep your eyes off of the next one.

I’ve run the operations of my business looking over the hood, and the vision of my business with my peripherals.  I spoke about this at LENGTH here in this video, the link starts at the right point to talk about mistakes I made in hiring too late or as my instructor Jeff would say, looking over the hood.  


Are you looking over the hood of your business?

I’ve put my company through some sharp cornering we weren’t prepared for. I hired every position that would help SEER run better operationally (President, HR, IT, Finance) way too late. I realized that our clients were leveling up at a rate faster than my team was 18 months ago, leading to some rough patches, out of blind loyalty I worked with clients who I lost money on for months and months and months. All of that is looking over the hood with your eyes, not preparing for what was coming. I wasn’t looking far enough out to see processes that wouldn’t scale, I was getting through the “turns” just really slowly and with a lot of friction.


Are you looking through the drivers window?

See, when comment spam, keyword stuffing, link networks, and directories worked, I used my peripherals to rank well today (aka, did the least possible) with my eye 2-3 turns ahead (hiring journalists, direct marketers, web marketers, PR people, etc) as SEOs.  It prepared us for the turns we knew were coming well before they were right on us.  That meant we were accelerating out of the apex, not breaking because we took the wrong angle. Today that means that we’re the RCS company, heck people use RCS or real company shit/stuff as a terminology. RCS was looking out the side window, not over the hood. We that shifted, pivoted, saw the turns and got out of them a bit quicker, not much quicker but a bit. Remember winning a race is a matter of shaving 1/2 a second on 10 turns per lap, over 50 laps.  

Today, when I see the Cooper Tires foot bridge at Leguna Seca I no longer see a straightaway…


I’ll always see a forgiving right turn (meaning I can get more aggressive) a little straightaway and a mildly sharp left, I’m still working on remembering the next one, but I’m getting better. Minds eye first, real eyes second.  Thanks Jeff, that’s gonna stick with me.


Oh for those watching the video here is my slideshare too:

Text 22 Sep Speaking with our wallet, in a world of options, what your CEO says & your company does matters

Look around us, we all like supporting the “good guys” - there is a resurgence in Farmers Markets, Eat Local, Supporting Artisans (who wouldn’t want to buy a bike from this guy or a knife from this guy).  There is something about watching those videos that makes you say, hey if all things are equal, and prices close why would I NOT buy a motorcycle or a knife from those lovely gents.

We are all commodities

Every business benefits on client service when you think of yourself as an easily replaced commodity, you’ll have to differentiate on caring about your customer.

Now think, in markets where all things aren’t always equal, many of us will pay a little more for going with someone / or something we believe in. Again,  all things being equal, wouldn’t we like to fly the airline with this awesome pre-flight video or this one (I’ve flown with this guy once from PHL-LAS Vegas) versus this company's Video? I'll support Zappos over Footlocker, regardless of the difference in price, and I know some others reading this do too. 

The inspiration for this post came from reading this about dropbox’s founder. As I read it I must say Drew Houston started feeling like a normal regular guy, in a world of CEOs who think they are awesome, Its great seeing some humility. To check that sentiment I went to twitter. I really like his tweet stream, the way he talks about new people, newly acquired companies, etc. 

I feel like he’s a human.  For a long time I’ve been watching his competitor Box and their CEO the highly successful Aaron Levie, whom I have been a customer of for probably 6-7 years.  Drew seems so much more like a guy who fits my beliefs, one of my big things are “normal” CEOs that no matter how many people say they are great, they continue being, well … NORMAL.

Just watching the first few minutes of this video, I just go yeah his guy feels normal - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUxBdBexmFI

So today after spending hours researching him I decided it might be time to switch from Box, file storage is something I see as mostly a commodity, box, dropbox, etc they are all just a place to put my files, but they are critical to creating the type of company I want to work in.

I’ve always admired Box’s consistent innovation getting me features before I even thought I’d need them, but for the most part they aren’t much different than the others. All things being equal, guess what?  I’m going to go with the CEO who seems to be building a company that reflects my values most, for the same reason why I feel better buying from my local farmers.

I’m going to have to put together a team to re-evaluate that I’m not crazy here, but I can say that I expect to be a Dropbox customer in 2014, purely because I think he’s my kind of guy.  For some reason I feel that following Drew will help me become a better manager, founder, and company-leading guy, following Aaron won’t.  So why not put my money with the guy who can solve my needs as well as the incumbent and help me become a better CEO.

So lastly this whole thing got me thinking about SEER, and I thought all things being equal, when a client selects SEER over several other great firms out there, our clients should know that the money they invest and trust in SEER goes to not only us, but it enables us to do great things in our community for various non profits, it enables us to share what we learn in the marketing community, it enables us to build a company that can employ great people, who get together and kick ass.


Dropbox, we will see you next year!

Text 18 May 1 note Getting Emotional

So, there I stood, in front of my whole team - it was 8am, and people strolled in for our monthly team meeting.  The projectors were fired up to bring in Aleyda and other folks from around the country/globe from the SEER team.  It felt like any other day, any other team meeting, people yawned a bit, you’d hear the frantic feet as they hit the old wooden steps from the few people who showed up late, peeked into the auditorium, and quietly took seats.

Our leadership team, we were prepared, and we started talking about our business lines, how they were doing, what we were doing to grow, hire, etc. We updated the team on how we did last quarter, we shared the numbers with the team, and talked about upcoming projects. Nothing out of the ordinary. We discussed new team members coming, where we could improve, again nothing out of the ordinary.   

As I looked at my screen with my notes on what I wanted to cover in my evernote, there was a reminder to shout out Crystal for her 6 year anniversary. Nothing new.

So I look over at Crystal, who is the quiet spine of SEER Interactive, she’s been my rock since her first day. Here she was 7 months or so pregnant, moving into motherhood. 

So I quickly said to my team, a few things I had written, but this was different, something felt weird…my stomach started feeling all weird and I could feel it.

Mentally I’m like…are you fucking serious Wil?

But I guess that is the beauty of emotion, even the toughest of us, with the most pride sometimes can’t keep em down. My nose was wet, I started sniffling as I spoke about how Crystal is a big reason why I grew SEER (I would have stopped long ago, because without leadership to help handle it, it wouldn’t have been fun). Sniffles kept coming but no one noticed.  I thought I could wrap it up and get off the stage, but I had another point to make.

I started listing out some people by name and saying, hey without Crystal being here I don’t know if I would have met “you, and you, and you, and you”.

Then something started creeping up in my voice, which is often stern, direct, and has an intonation that is pretty sharp, not now. My voice was all muddled.

Then there was the last straw, I had a flashback of my recent trip to Europe with my wife and thought, that might not have happened without the comfort of my leadership team, and my most tenured member of the team, Crystal.

And then I felt the warmth of a tear roll down my cheek (Crystal was stoic, no visible emotion). Here I was unable to hold my emotions in when speaking of the impact that a person had on my life personally and on SEER and so many SEER people.  

I felt kinda naked, not that my exterior is some kind of persona, even my DISC profile nails me at a person who is tough but has deep care for people, I was standing in front to 50 or so people and it was obvious that I had a bout of deeply felt emotions coming out of my nose, eye and voice.

After it was all over I joked about how no one better tweet about it before I do damn it! But that night I started wondering…was that a good thing, nothing, or a bad thing.  I think that was the wrong lens to look at it.  It was the right thing. It was hard to hold my head up for a few minutes after that, but it is what I felt.

I learned that this business is EXTREMELY personal to me. Crystal and many others have made major sacrifices to join me on this journey and to me that makes me thankful, DEEPLY thankful. When reading this article about the CEO of Sriracha over on Mark Suster’s blog, the thing that stood out is how the CEO looks at his business. 

This quote especially stood out to me:

“This company, she is like a loved one to me, like family. Why would I share my loved one with someone else?”

So I guess that is where I am too, this company, SEER that is, is so much more to me than an enterprise that makes money, and does marketing, it took standing in front of my team and in the process of thanking someone for their contribution to remind me that yup, that feeling is still there 10 years later. It was also my gut check that, showed me and the team that this business is a lot more than a business to me.

Text 7 May Ending the culture of the offer letter negotiation

Isn’t it time we make offer letters non-negotiable? Companies, isn’t it time we just make true offers?  Companies want people to come in day 1 stoked to work there and adding value, yet the path to get to day 1 often requires negotiation, beating each other up a bit, its bullshit. 

What does a company gain, when they hold back 5-10% on an offer? If I think this job is worth 10% more than I am going to offer you, that is kind of a slimy thing to do, save 10% but start off a relationship on the wrong foot.

When offers are given out, companies should start giving them in a way that they are non negotiable, and the company says, this is what we value you in this position. Maybe you negotiate some extra vacation time or something, but a company’s primary goal in hiring is to get great people.  So why in the process of getting great people would you try to cut great people out of 5-10% you have that you COULD offer but you want them to negotiate for? I see no upside.

By not taking this approach what companies have bred is the common sentiment that you shouldn’t take the first offer you are given.  Heck, even Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In mentioned that her husband gave her a hard time on negotiating her offer for Facebook, saying you never accept the first offer. She negotiated and got a raise. Zuck, what did that communicate? If you had the extra to give her, why not just start off at what you think she is worth? You don’t need the money. You wanted her bad. Just doesn’t make sense to me to take someone you want that bad and start off the relationship holding something from them, you have no problem giving them.

This story just perpetuates the cycle, sadly. Let’s start a new cycle.

Because the company probably has more it won’t give you unless you ask. Or in other words they are trying to low-ball you.

No one likes being low balled, low balling doesn’t build trust, yet it is a common practice for companies to “low ball” or at least not show the max offer they could put on the table.

So as companies we reap what we sow. Employees often don’t trust us and I think the first way to start building trust is in offering people offers that are based on how you value the position and their experience in that position, not on that estimation minus 10 percent.

Offering people what you think they are worth to your company communicates that your company isn’t trying to squeeze every little bit out of an offer and starts off the relationship on on of honesty and integrity. It says something about the company.

Companies, managers, etc we talk about people not being loyal and being skeptical, I think this is the first step we can take in mending that bridge. GIVE REAL OFFERS!

Text 27 Mar 1 note 80 hires, 30 gone in 5 years, a data driven and heart driven look at turnover

I’ve talked a lot about turnover.  After sending this tweet I decided to calculate the numbers, I was off a bit, keep reading.

To me, turnover falls into 4 categories (there can be some overlap between #1 & #4)

1 - People you’ll miss, leaders, potential leaders - people who if they were in your company today would be doing amazing things, helping you to see new things, new business units, etc.  (Note to me this is the ONLY turnover that matters). They chose to leave, and you wish they did not.

2 - People who left before you fired them (they probably saw it wasn’t a good match too).  Note: These people left b/c you probably saw they weren’t right, put pressure on them and they realized it was not what they wanted.

3 - People you had to fire

4 - Life changed - Strong performers (not always people in #1, might be) but people who’s path changed so much you couldn’t help (family, wanted to go back home, new career path, etc).

So over the last 5 years we’ve hired about 80 people and had about 30 leave.

Here is how they break down into the categories above:

#1 - The people who we are worse off for them not being here - 4 (10%)

#2 - People who left before we let them go - 8 (30%) 

#3 - People who were fired 14 (46%)

#4 - Life changes 4 (13%)

In the last year people hired in 2012 we are closer to 15%, so we are getting better and better. If your business in year 1 has the same turnover in year 5 you are either a GREAT judge of character or you aren’t pushing yourself to greatness.  New businesses, new managers often settle, or we convince ourselves of people who aren’t right for us.  

I used to always try to see the best in people in interviews and that is NO WAY to hire, being overly positive in your thinking causes you to ignore the bad parts and focus way too much on the good.

I phrased the 50% turnover # wrong (I meant people who left or were fired) over a 5 year period.  So Its really 23 of 80 or 30%, but I will say that in the earliest years voluntary turnover was non-existent, no really it was ZERO, involuntary turnover was like 65%).  I sucked at interviewing, and the cost of being a bad interviewer is having to look a lot of people in the face and say sorry, and that sucks. So I have gotten a lot better.

I could hire a LOT better now than I could 7 years ago, 7 years ago I had NO experience hiring.  Sometimes you get lucky (Like I did with Adam, Crystal, and Rachael, all at 5+ years at SEER) but those 3 out of maybe 10 made it from my first 10 hires, now remember I am great friends with 2 hires from back then, but 5 were complete disasters.

The data

I don’t have the data going back to 2005-2008, so I am trying to look at the last 5 years super quick if numbers don’t add up LMK. I am pulling interns out, since they have a purposeful limited life span.

Are people scared for their jobs?

Unfortunately sometimes, and i fucking hate that!!! But I understand why, 3 team mates in the last 4 weeks brought this up, and I asked them how could I fix it, help me.  I don’t want people worried or nervous  and one of them said that if SEER implemented a more direct “warning system” people would know…oh if I have never had an official warning, then I am good.  So I learned from that and I trying that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The lessons

NEVER EVER APOLOGIZE for trying to build the best team possible, that will be your guide when tough decisions have to be made.

The sooner you can get your company to the point where you can get people to relocate several states away… YOU WIN!  (62% of SEER’s hires in the last 18 months relocated, form TX, CA, SC, MA, IL, MN, GA, KC, FL etc etc).  The 102 months before combined… ZERO.

Clients hate project turbulence, but if you articulate your vision on building the best team possible, I have found they put trust in YOU / the team / the system.

Open another office if you feel you are tapping out of local talent or can’t get people to relocate.

"If you are running a business for the first time, and you last more than 4 years, if you have too many of the same folks you hired in the beginning that is a problem." That is a quote from one of my advisers she said that to me many years ago when I would brag that voluntary turnover was ZERO. Since I didn’t know squat about hiring, it should be expected that I made some mistakes right, turnover that low was a PROBLEM, and I had to have the cajones to fire.

Beat yourself up over category #1, those are the people you couldn’t retain but if they were with you today would be KILLING shit. Of the 30 who are not here, its the 3-4 in that top category that I beat myself up over.

Its ok to have high expectations.  Every morning I go through my team by name and see who I remember and what I know unique about them.  Its just one of the many pressures I put on myself to create a great company.  I personally invest a lot of time in knowing people personally at SEER, I push my leadership team to do the same, and knowing how we can help them achieve their goals is KEY.  I never had a manager ask me what I wanted to accomplish in my personal or professional career.

If I am going to see you as more than a way to make $$$, then I don’t want to invest that time in people who I don’t feel make an equal investment back.

Be resolute in your beliefs…people who are crappy to other people here gotta go, period.  Whether that is you spend all day taking smoke breaks and chit chatting while not helping your colleagues who are swamped or if you are a bad cultural fit.

There are a limited number of people who strive for greatness everyday, I want them HERE, not because its “safe” but because if they are good to each other and good to our clients they’ll always know there is room on the SEER bus…indefinitely. The world is full of people who interview well and have temporary hustle.


Maybe. But its the truth, my team knows this already, and they still refer people like crazy, they see the insides of what this company’s heart is.

Have you ever had someone give you one perception of a company and then when you get there its different? We’ve all been there.

Wouldn’t the world be better if people told you the truth about their companies vs. trying to convince you of all the good things? I tell every interviewer what causes people to NOT work out at SEER, why? Because I have to be honest with them, about our good and bad. In that way I never mislead them.

The cool part is that I go OVERBOARD for every employee that I can, I attend funerals, baptisms, weddings, I front load raises as bonuses so they can pay down debt, give 5 figure bonuses several times (and that doesn’t get them to stay FYI), my average annual raise the first 5 years of our existence was 22% (those days are over, but for our first 9 years of existence we budgeted double digit raises). I fly people to places they’ve wanted to go to see family members, I build their links when they go home for emergencies. I have sent their mothers thank you notes, I’ve paid for parent’s hotel rooms to come visit their kids who have relocated, I fire the clients who treat them poorly. The monsters at SEER know I’ll die trying to make this the BEST place to work, but there is an equal responsibility back to be the BEST they can to our clients and each other.

So I think my desire to only work with the best, is because I want to be the best boss anyone has ever had. I want to care more, take more time to know what makes them tick, etc and I guess what I want back are people worthy of doing that for.

I think deep down my clients appreciate my unyielding desire to put the best people I can possibly get on the front lines.

Keep in mind guys, I could blog about our vacation policy and how awesome it is, the intent of this site is to be the “anti-cheerleading entrepreneur" that tells you how awesome you are, that you can go build great stuff and make millions like instagram, or that 17 year old kid who sold to Yahoo for 30 MIllion, it is is to talk about failure, mistakes, and the hard road of running a business even with an amazing team. There’s enough of the rah-rah blogs out there that inspire me, I just decided to take a different bend.

If you have people that are more gritty, and real, let me know, I find that I learn more when people tell me their mistakes, then when they tell me their successes and I hope this blog serves that purpose for people like me.

Text 24 Mar Wow, Entrepreneurship has become really self-congratulatory


That quote is from Bram Cohen, founder of BitTorrent, see it in the video above. I loved hearing him say that it is so succinct because it is something I have written thousands of words trying to convey.

This quote from Yvon Chouinard the founder of Patagonia has always resonated with me:

I had always avoided thinking of myself as a businessman. I was a climber, a surfer, a kayaker, a skier and a blacksmith. We simply enjoyed making good tools and functional clothes that we, and our friends, wanted”

Reading let my people go surfing has really given me the ability to say it too.

I have been reluctant for a long time to tag myself an “entrepreneur” or “CEO”, b/c I believe the shit is over hyped. Its like nails on a chalkboard when someone says it along side my name. CEO of SEER Interactive….yelch!

I don’t like talking about entrepreneurship, which people ask me to talk about all the time. I decline it in most instances or change it to what I like talking about…doing what you love in a way that lets you live the life you want to live with the people you want to live it out with. I prefer to talk about failure, maybe its because I am insanely hard on myself.

I hang out with company founders all the time, so I don’t have a problem with it, it just doesn’t fit me. I don’t wanna sell, I don’t wanna go IPO, I don’t have an exit plan, I don’t have a get to 20 million by X date goal, I just wanna wake up and love what I do and the people I do it for and with.

My business cards have showed my reluctance from day 1, they just say associate.  I once had cards printed up, and someone allowed them to be printed with CEO, I threw them out and ordered new ones.  That is how much I detest it. 

I guess I am trying to avoid the things that let people start down that slippery slope of thinking they’re awesome. Big dreams for instance, everyone talks about dreaming big.  You know what…I dream small. I dream in taking care of one client at a time. I believe with ever fiber of my being that if we do what’s right by our clients, the growth will take care of itself.  It has so far.

Who are the other CEO’s/founders/associates that you know that have a contrarian view on entrepreneurship?  I’d like to meet more of them.

Text 24 Mar Picking Mentors who help you be the best YOU

So, Brad Aronson (my CEO-BFF) - wrote this amazing piece on 42 ways to just inject happiness in people’s lives randomly.

I am so lucky to have met Brad, and thank my lucky stars that he takes time for me from time to time.  He is who I aspire to be in so many ways.  Brad cares about people, and as an ex-CEO of a multi-office, 150 person, multi million dollar search company back in the late 90’s - you would think that when we get together, we would talk about growth and expansion.  He’s been there, he’s done that, so he is a wealth of knowledge. But what many people don’t know is that he worked in a group home as a counselor to kids before starting this business. So he has that volunteer and business side. I bet at some point he spent time in Oregon Truffle Hunting, ha!

Yet so often our conversations go from Revenue to Relationships.  What people don’t know about Brad is that he started off 

Where am I volunteering my TIME, how he can support my charities, how am I making Nora feel special, am I taking the time out I should be for my team, my wife, etc.

Brad has grown a business, sold a business, hired, and fired, he’s made tough decisions that people may not have liked, so he’s no sap, he is tough on me on firing quickly.

I wanted to write this little quick piece to remind people of this…

For anyone out there who has a mentor or is seeking out mentors, my advice for you is find balance.  Keep in mind mentors also give bad advice sometimes, and don’t follow it blindly.

Surrounding yourself with people who only talk about revenue growth is fine, if growth equals happiness for you.  For me it does not, so while Brad drills me on revenue growth, he’s equally as interested in my relationship growth.

He knows how to probe on the revenue side and he knows how to probe deep on the relationship side too. For me happiness is about balance, its not becoming a 10 Million dollar company if that gets in the way of my happiness. Happiness is about helping people and if my mentors were focused on revenue growth only, I think I’d need new mentors.

While Brad is the “super mentor” because he:

  • built and sold a business that is in my industry
  • lives 10 minutes away
  • makes himself available often
  • big on family
  • big on volunteering, community impact

I would recommend that you don’t look for super mentors, instead find the things you need advice on, the things you need to be kept honest on, and find mentors who fill those gaps for you.

Now I gotta figure out how to take the 42 little things and implement them, for my clients, my team, my wife, and my family.  Nora and I just has a conversation last night about traveling, and I think I might be able to take 1-2 of his ideas and turn them into something that can bridge that gap when we are apart. 

Text 12 Mar 2 notes Biting off more than you can chew is a GREAT idea

If you don’t bite off more than you can chew sometimes, how will you ever know how much to bite next time?

So, I was looking at my travel schedule last night, and Nora could just tell I was exhausted just thinking about it. Its NYC -> Philly -> London -> Amsterdam -> Phily -> Munich -> Croatia -> Instanbul -> Philly -> San Diego (Driving to open our new office) -> Philly -> Boston -> San Diego. That is over a course of 8 weeks. Its exhausting, but Nora and I are “Hitting it Hard” before she won’t be able to travel with me as much due to her work.

So I sit thinking, OMG did I just bite off more than even I can chew, AGAIN?  Answer is probably.  Will I get through all of this?  DEFINITELY!

In looking at this crazy schedule I got to thinking…its good to bite off more than you can chew sometimes. You learn a LOT about yourself.  So go for it (once in a while).

The key when you bite off more than you can chew is you MUST continue to get everything done or else you risk breaking trust.

So go for it. Here are just a few things you will learn.

1 - You will learn your breaking point.

Its good to know that as early as possible.  For instance I know I can work off of 4 hours of sleep, 2 nights in a row, but never more than that, how did I learn it?  Its critical to know your breaking point, we all have it, go find it. 

2 - You will learn to delegate.

 There is something about looking and saying “This is too much, but I don’t want to change course” that causes you to look around at your team, identify the people for whom you can share your load with, who care as much as you do, and will be rock solid.  People who don’t 

delegate well don’t have enough work!  Load them up until they say “UNCLE” then have their back to show them that when they ask for help, they’ll always get it.

3 - Your team mates will develop new skills & grow professionally.

See that is the beauty of delegation! By sharing your load with others who are often eager to help, you get to see them grow professionally and personally and being a part of someone’s path, even if they leave is very fulfilling. I learned a whole new way to manage my inbox, by this method, and it helps me feel less stressed every day.

4 - You will place a MUCH greater premium on your time.

Which means those whom you share it with realize that they matter to you.

5 - Leaders in your company will emerge.

Good people want to help, you just gotta let them.

Leaders see you holding on to too much, and if they have a long term track record of performance will see you struggling and they will help.  It never ceases to amaze me at how hard people will work to help  me out before I even need to ask.  I think this happens for several reasons, but I think its important that you  have broad shoulders, no leader wants to help someone who poorly prioritizes their time, who isn’t willing to go the extra mile, and doesn’t consistently goes the extra mile.

6 - You will learn that you are better & stronger than you think you are

Once you decide to stretch yourself thin and stop playing it safe, you see that you got through something super difficult just fine.  You might decide to never do it again, but you gain confidence in YOURSELF! Knowing that you “did it” regardless of what that challenge to yourself it.

Once you get through biting off more than you can chew, take a break.  The goal is to get some level of light at the end of your tunnel even on the way into the tunnel.  So for me, its mid may.  Up until then, its MAD hustle. Its super important when you have bitten off too much, to be able to look objectively at your situation and say I gotta put something in place to bring light to the end of the tunnel.

After a little bit, go bite off more, each time you do you’ll learn more about yourself, I have found that I’ve learned the most about myself when I have gotten in over my head.

All the while never lose sight of what really matters, if my wife wasn’t able to travel with me on much of these trips, I wouldn’t do them, or I’d be home a HECK of a lot quicker :)

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