34. In & Out (The Importance of How You Onboard & Exit)

Welcome to Episode 34 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of bite-sized insights to help you navigate the up & down world of creativity & marketing.


My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, TX where we’re here to talk about onboarding and exiting an agency.


According to the most progressive HR person I’ve ever met, Steve Drotter, 90% of what you need to know about a company is how they bring people on and how they see them off.


I couldn’t agree more. Yet, when it comes to the front or the back end of your stay, how many agencies make a real effort? Honestly? 


Think back. Besides a bag of swag and some paperwork, how have you been greeted on the first day of a new job? Shouldn’t we go beyond a logo-adorned 

t-shirt, mug and trucker hat? 


Here are some things I’ve seen that might spark a thought or two for you.


A Book


Digital or paper…some agencies have “How to Work Here” books. Culture books.

Most suck. Filled with platitudes and written like a Valentine card to themselves.

Some are actually pretty well written but aren’t adhered to. Or the office politicians figure out how to twist it for their own gains. I’m not sure which is worst. Mehhhh, office politicians are the worst. 


Another book that I have seen help is a short book full of tents that the agency believes in. For example, if you’re a Multicultural agency how do you think about assimilation? Acculturation? Language as a tactic? Other agencies may be most concerned with the best ways to work with influencers. How do you choose the right celebrity? The right athlete? When is an event called for? And what kind? What makes for great shopper? PR. Whatever it may be.


What you want to do is have everyone singing from the same hymnal. Reading from the same page. Whatever cliché you choose to use. So if a client has a question about one of these things you know how to respond.


The book I helped pull together for one agency served as both an agency piece but a plane & train book for clients as well. Companies like P&G would call every so often asking for more copies to give to new teammates or those they hoped to influence. It also was a great piece to share with sister agencies to create new opportunities to work together and collaborate… and maybe even help drum up a little new business.


And after all, there ought to be something that we all believe in. A philosophy. And cornerstone to the collective culture.


Should we know what the agency believes in? How we’re expected to get the job done. Without it, you have no hand on the tiller, and a default culture. Default cultures are rarely headed anywhere interesting.




Stan Richards of the Richards Group has lunch with every new employee who comes on board. And as the owner of one of the largest independent agencies in the country, that’s a helluva effort.


I’ve worked at another place where the senior leadership team has one or two lunches a month with newbies.




One place required that within your first month that you conduct a 5-minute interview with every single person at the agency. I rather liked it. Gave me real insight into people. Also gave me a pretty good clue as to who could be counted on to collaborate and who couldn’t. You also hear about whose sleeping with you and where the bodies are buried, etc.,etc., which can really help you from stepping in it.


Onboarding Celebrations


We celebrate birthdays monthly. Why not new teammates? Monthly. Every other month. Whatever makes sense. Let people introduce themselves. Tell people what you do. Share silly facts. Things that help bring us all together, not just physically, but emotionally. And can we please, please, please reveal what clients and categories everyone has worked on. Shocking how many times new business pitches are nearly completed only to find out that someone with real insight or even relationships are within your walls.


Photo Boards


Having people share pictures and a short personal blurb allows people to see who’s new. Avoiding awkward intros. A lot of places make this fun, with costumes, etc.




In martial arts, your teacher is often referred to as your sensei. At Crispin, your sensei is like a mentor or work buddy who can guide you through agency culture. Someone you can turn to when questions or confusion arise. You may be bonded with this person until one of you leaves. At some places, your sensei or Sherpa rotates. Either way, the chance to get to know one person can lead to meeting many.


This may also be part of a mentoring program. As we explored in 3 prior episodes, you may look into reverse mentoring. Mentoring from someone more junior who’s more familiar with new technology and/or culture. Keeping the pipeline of information and insights flowing both ways can expand the knowledge base of the entire agency.


Training Programs


If you’re going to stay ahead of the curve, or at least stay current, you better have a learning culture. Some of that will be informal, but you ought to have a formal way to share information. I’ve helped to run 2 training programs and have loved it. You learn a lot. 


You can also use this content for newsletters, podcasts or video shares. It’s great way to learn from another and to show the world what your agency knows. I was part of a team that started a newsletter that went on weekly for over six years. Most people predicted it wouldn’t last six weeks.


A healthy learning culture becomes an ecosystem. One you can extend outwards to create an extended family. To include outside experts, clients and potential clients.


The opportunity to share what you know also brings the agency closer together.

It’s great when you can create content with others on the team. And gives a voice to more junior members who don’t get a chance to present enough. Getting new teammates involved immediately in such programs can bring them into the fold faster.




OK, let’s get to the flipside. How people leave. This can be even more telling what an agency is like than how they welcome you aboard. When you come in, the agency almost has an obligation to play nice. Not so much when you leave. And that’s when their true character comes out.


When You Leave on Your Own Terms


One agency I worked at had an Alumni Club. Those who left in good standing received a quarterly e-newsletter filling them in on what was going on business-wise and personally. Like who got promoted. Who had a baby. Pictures from the holiday party, etc. 


Some were even invited to company outings. These were people we hoped would boomerang back. Often when we send out this newsletter, we would ask for recos for openings and these alums would give us names. Sometimes their own.


An occasional alumni party and a social media page also came into play.




They’re never easy. They suck. But they happen. So dammit, be prepared. These people deserve your respect. If you’re a senior person, attend the going away party. Alert sister agencies and friends. Offer whatever services you can. Show you care for their sake, and for the sake of those remaining. They need to know that they work for an honorable place and that if something ever happens to them that they can count on being treated with respect. Good or bad, how you treat people will get out. It’s basically an ad for those who you may want to consider your agency one day. 


OK, time to take a short breather…


…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m your host, Wegs. And here’s one more thing you can do for people leaving your agency…


Keep in Touch


Follow up and see how people are doing. They’ll appreciate it. Remind them of their worth. 


Let your team know when their old cohorts find new work. Show that you care. And lift the spirits of those still with you.


You can put all the pain on others by saying that This is the life we’ve chosen, but quoting the Godfather is probably not going to land you in a Harvard Business School case study. At least not for the right reasons.


Get over your guilt, get over yourself, as a leader you’ve got to focus on those effected. Those no longer with you. Those you hope will stay with you. Make the best of the situation you can. 



We started out with Steve Drotter’s claim that 90% of what you need to know about an organization reveals itself by how they welcome you onboard and how they say goodbye. I’m guessing that it may even be more. These are the bookends of your culture. And yet so little attention is paid to them.


Well, that about wraps up our 34th episode of Navigating the Fustercluck. ! Thank you!

Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, and thanks again for listening in. And see what you can do to make people’s onboarding and exits as human and positive as possible. Until next time, please feel free to reach out to me at wegs24x7@gmail.com and NavigatingTheFustercluck.com. Remember, we’re all in this together. So you’ve got to be there for people, especially during the hard times. I know you will. Here’s to you. Here’s to the future.