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April 4, 2021

Employee Retention: a Wonderful Contradiction

written by

Rob Gaedtke

President & CEO

There is real beauty in contradiction… being radically responsible or pleasantly candid or quietly confident.

Contradiction is a way of breaking the rules, and I love that. It keeps life spicy. It ensures we’re not just going through the motions without looking up every now and then to say, Hey, is the rulebook we’ve been taught to play by actually working? And when it comes to employee retention, we happen to think the rulebook is a joke. Over my tenure at KPS3, I have learned 8 truths (well, 50 truths, but I’ll keep it to 8) about the contradiction of employee retention. Being on the receiving and giving end of every one of these contradictions, I can assure you, no matter how counterintuitive they may seem, they work. Let’s get into some eyebrow-raising ideas...

People stay longer on islands that have lots of escape boats.

Good people, the kind we like to fill our ranks with here at KPS3, need to see open waters. We need a horizon in sight to keep us oriented. We need to know that at any moment, we can jump in the KPS3 branded boat and sail off to work for another company and not be fearful of the backlash. Yup. That is my job—to make sure our worlds at KPS3 aren’t small and stifled, but expansive and open for exploration. To make every employee at KPS3 more attractive to the competition, more skilled in their craft, and more hunted by recruiters across the nation. The more options KPS3 employees have at their fingertips, the better I’m doing my job. Plain and simple.

Sending them off in style shows you want them back.

If you tout the first contradiction, you better be willing to own it when someone does sail away. And that’s why, when a co-worker decides they’re ready for a new adventure, we throw a party. I’m talking a real party—not just donuts in the breakroom. We roast them, we toast them, and we wish them the best—because we genuinely want them to grow. Clearly, if they are leaving, I couldn’t give them what they needed. The good news, though, is they found someone else who could. And we embrace that. We celebrate their wins. We chat about their future and their next step in life, and, if they’re leaving to start their own thing, we ask what we can do to help and explore how we can partner together in the future.

^ That is an actual slide from a deck I share with all new employees... and the first person, Sierra, just started her second stint here last month =)

We’ve had seven employees leave and then become clients and four more leave who are now partners, freelancers, and contractors for us.

Here are three I would recommend in a heartbeat:

  1. Gillian Griffith - Creative Copywriting for Spirited Brands
  2. Leah Chew - Design / Brand / Custom Artwork
  3. Andy Muth - Dungeon Terrain and Miniatures / Gifts

Movement is sticky…duh.

Before I left KPS3 (only to later return), I went from production artist to designer to art director to creative director. I then was a project manager, an account director, and VP—then it was back to creative director and then CEO. Growth and pivots are a part of life; they’re a sign of a life well-lived. If you hop on board at KPS3 as an account exec, but eventually feel like you’d bring more to the team on the creative side of things, we’re more than willing to explore that. We’ve had account executives move to our digital media management team, creatives move to our account team. Hell, we’re even open to the idea of starting a new division, go @jared! The goal is always the same: to find a good person a good fit. See, movement is sticky.

Moonlighting is actually pretty sunny.

I, too, have other gigs—as do so many here on our team. Cue the gasps. I have designed logos, consulted, heck, I just became a reviewer for Outdoor Gear Labs (best camping tents). I have sent clients to our designers, I have pushed websites to developers and several others have pretty cool side hustles (Mike McDowell, VP of Client Strategy is one of the founders of Reno Dads Blog and Vivek Bhardwaj, Developer runs a sweet clothing line called Heartbreakers Clothing Co.). Moonlighting keeps the creative juices flowing and allows employees to find fulfillment, excitement, and career growth outside of the work we do here at KPS3. If you’ve got a cousin who’s just launched a start-up and wants your help optimizing their website, who am I to stop you? A logo you’re dying to design for that rad new gelato shop down the street? Go get some (and maybe bring me back a scoop). At a radically responsible agency like ours, I’m after sharp minds. The sharper, the better. If you want to keep those neurons firing for someone else after you’ve clocked out, that only serves to enhance your value and work product within our four walls. I’m always game to cheer you on—and embrace all of your outside gigs.

Not taking things too personally shows you are personally invested.

Whether someone is coming or going, we try hard not to take it personally. When people leave KPS3 to work for another agency—or leave an agency to work for KPS3—we know it's important to keep the best interest of our people in mind. The move might be because we weren’t a good fit, or maybe it means the previous place wasn't. But what it doesn't mean is that they aren't good, or we aren’t good, or that one is better than the other. Different strokes, as the saying goes. All we can do is strive to uphold our values and continue to grow and stretch ourselves. And when it comes to our competitors, life’s too short for cattiness. We recognize there will be times when they’re a better fit for a person or project than we are—and we don’t take that personally. If we lose a bid, we prefer to recognize their win and focus on how we can be better.

A non-compete ensures they will always compete.

Ah, non-competes. I really wanted to call this one “Non-competes are a joke”—but that isn’t technically a contradiction. If you can’t tell—they’re a pet peeve of mine. Talk about stifling someone’s career growth. A non-compete, in my view, is a selfish and short-sighted policy. It also shows a serious lack of confidence. (Set them free, and know that, if you’re running your agency right, they’ll want to come back...and likely with some damn good ideas to boot.) Oh yeah, they also rarely hold up in court.

At KPS3, we’ll never make you sign a non-compete. You are free to use me as a reference. Hell, I’ll write you a recommendation if you want. Want a list of everyone who’s left our agency and then came back? I’ve got you: Our CEO (that’s me), our COO, both VPs of client strategy, and three members of our search and DMM team. We want you to do you: find the fulfillment, lean into that idea that’s been nagging at the back of your brain, explore other agencies in town. And if you want to come back afterward, do that—if the fit was a good one, we’ll be psyched to have you.

Money isn’t a taboo topic.

Ok—now we’re getting to the good stuff. I’m a huge proponent of financial transparency. No one wants to work their butt off so a few at the top can sit on theirs. But I can’t just say that—I have to go further and prove it. For us, that means sharing the full story, ensuring everyone puts in the work, being clear about where we stand financially, and being open and honest about where the profits go.

Talking about your values has no value.

I know you’ve been there: you read an incredibly enticing piece of copy on an agency’s site about how they’re all about collaboration, community, work-life balance, throwing awesome parties (complete with beer burros) when you score a big win...the list goes on. You have the interview and there they are again: those friggin’ values that sound so damn amazing. Then, you take the gig, you start working, and….whiplash: the values are nowhere to be found. They’re a line of copy on a website, or a page in a brand identity book, sure, but in practice? Not a value in sight (not even if you squint real hard).

At KPS3, we know that values don’t really hold any value unless they’re actually put to practice. We don’t just talk about values, we try very hard to live and breathe by them. And if someone breaks one, we try to fix it...and fast. We’ve had our mis-hires and our missteps—no question. But we always worked to course-correct lightning-quick—and we use those off-brand moments to help us better understand our values and how we can stick to them in a way that’s meaningful.


For us, employee retention (like everything here at KPS3) all comes back to radical responsibility. The notion that crazy and grounded can (and should) co-exist. The knowledge that the best solutions come from keeping our feet planted on the ground and our minds in the clouds of curiosity. The belief that, for our employees to want to stick around, we have to both stand firm in our values while giving ground to the gallant outlaws who fill our ranks—knowing that the seeds they sow on that ground we give them will keep every one of us—CEO to office dog—well fed.

If you made it to the bottom of this post, first off, high-five. Secondly, want to talk more? Interested in a job or us building something amazing for you? I love to talk and I'm an open book, so shoot me an email, or give me a call - 775.750.5444.

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