| July 2010 | By Roy T. Bergold Jr.

Hang on for Dear Life

It's in your best interests not to let key employees take their experience and talent to a competitor.

It was a dark and stormy Sunday afternoon. I was trying to decide between a pile of McDonald’s paperwork and a really good novel when my best friend and security system went off. Now, the only time Dita barked was when someone broke the plane of the property line. 

By the time I got to the front door, a huge white limo was coming to a stop and a man in a full tuxedo was getting out. He walked up to the front door and asked me if I was, in fact, Roy Bergold. He then handed me a large white envelope with no return address, turned on his heel, and was gone. I had never heard of a suit or summons being delivered in this manner. I sat down at the kitchen table and opened the envelope. The first thing I saw was a check with the logo of one of our largest competitors. And then, a four-page letter.

The letter detailed a job offer with extremely generous benefits, including a house, country-club membership, bonus, stock options, a new company car every year, guaranteed use of the company vacation condo, and a cell phone, which was a really big thing back then. The check was for exactly three times the salary I was making at that time. It was dated two weeks from that time for cashing, and the letter contained the name and home phone number of the chairman of the board, if I had any questions or wanted to prove the validity of the offer. I always wondered how they knew exactly what I was making. The check was a signing bonus and my new salary. Classy, huh?

Well, I was extremely happy at McDonald’s and turned the whole thing down, and no one ever knew of it until now. But all of you who have people reporting to them might ask yourselves why a key employee does leave, and what you can do about it. This came up at a recent convention I was speaking at and I was asked what can be done to prevent key employees from even thinking about leaving. 

Now, I know there are lots of people floating around the job market in this economy, but I am talking about those key positions that are hard to fill with people you can trust to get the job done.

I knew a guy at a fast food company who had spent practically his whole career there before he left. He was in one of those key positions with very specific talents that are hard to replace. Just his experience alone was tremendously valuable. I guess no one saw it coming and, when he announced his departure, there was the usual flurry of activity to try to save the day. But by then, he had thought it through. So what happened?

I talked to him soon after he left.

Every one of his reasons would have been preventable and answerable if his boss was more sensitive to his needs. That’s one of the key reasons he left: He was taken for granted. He had established such a work record and loyalty that no one ever considered that he would think of leaving. He was an institution and institutions don’t crumble. Don’t take your people for granted. Like any good marriage, communicate. “How’s it going?” once in a while goes a long way as long as you mean it. It’s not just a rhetorical question. Pay full attention to what he has to say. The server can wait. 

My friend hadn’t gotten a promotion in more than 20 years. The company had gotten big and there were human resources rules. There could only be one senior vice president in each major department and his was a subdepartment—extremely important, but a subdepartment. So he could not be promoted. Ladies and gentlemen, bend those rules. Don’t lose a key employee because of some organizational chart. As long as everyone understands who reports to whom, what difference does it make what the title is? In fact, I think we should just get rid of titles. Tell me my job and whom I report to and we are all managers or vice presidents or whatever. I know the owner of a company who calls himself and all of his employees boss. Works for him.

“Don’t lose a key employee because of some organizational chart. As long as everyone understands who reports to whom, what difference does it make what the title is?”

My friend who left the fast food company, his boss took credit for everything he did. In the words of the immortal Leo Burnett, “I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.” His boss stomped all over the good ones and made them his own. My friend did all the work and rarely got the credit. 

Give credit to your people where it is due. After all, you were smart enough to hire them. Praise in public, criticize in private. And stand up for your people when attacked. 

Give regular performance reviews. My friend thought he was doing OK but never really knew for sure. No matter how long an employee has been with you, he needs to know his status. He also needs an official opportunity to vent. The ideal time for a review is raise time. Why did he get what he got? Again, bend the rules. Salary ranges sometimes need to be broken. A key employee who is getting cost of living is fair game for your competition. 

Lastly, in my friend’s case, someone who did not believe in what he was doing was promoted over him with no explanation or warning. He was supposed to just accept it and carry on. If you must do that, at least talk to your employee before you do it. He might give you a good reason that you are not aware of. 

Those were his reasons for leaving and what you can do about it. Take a look at your key employees and ask yourself if any of those reasons apply, and then do something about it before that limo pulls up at their front door. 

Cherish your Freedom this July 4th and have a Peaceful Life. Happy Trails.

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Roy Bergold

Roy started his career at the Leo Burnett Company in 1967. Two years later he decided to sell hamburgers instead, and began his adventure at McDonald’s. Starting as an assistant advertising manager, he became manager, national advertising manager, director of advertising and promotion, assistant vice president of advertising and promotion, and vice president of advertising.

Roy retired from McDonald’s in 2001 as Chief Creative Officer. Along the way, he was responsible for U.S., as well as all advertising worldwide. While under his care, McDonald’s earned every creative award possible, including Cannes, Clios, and the Four A’s best five year campaign. Roy lives happily in Payson, Arizona, with his wife, dogs, and horses.