A Look on the Bright Side: Losing a Thunder Cat

By Monique Pouget

I wish it weren’t true, but breaking up is hard to do.

I’ve been working my love at Thunder for over five years now, so it’s fair to say I’ve seen a few Cats come and go. Most of the time, it’s an amicable breakup that usually ends with a “just keep doing you” sentiment, but every once in a while, we’re caught off guard when an employee makes the decision to leave our organization abruptly.

Working for a smaller (but growing!) company has given me a unique perspective on hiring and building out an awesome team. Instead of co-workers, my colleagues feel more like family. Yes, we support each other’s campaigns and ideas, but we also share weekend travel recaps, brewery suggestions, and wedding planning nightmares challenges. That’s the beauty of a small organization, but when someone decides to up and go, it also stings a little more than it would at some large corporation with hundreds of employees.


One major lesson I’ve learned over the years is that it’s OK to let things go. You definitely can’t control other people’s career decisions, but you can learn from it and move on. Here’s how we’re doing that at Thunder these days!

Losing a good employee sucks

Losing a Thunder Cat often feels a lot like a real breakup. There’s denial, anger, wondering what we could have done to change the situation, a mourning period, and then acceptance. Sweet, sweet acceptance.

In the last year or maybe two, hiring has become a HUGE deal at Thunder. We hire for culture, and for us, that means we hire people that fit in with our values, vision, and hiring criteria we’ve identified in experiences with our best candidates and employees. It’s a multi-step process, and more importantly, it takes a ton of time and human resources to manage it effectively. We’ve seen it work really well but when it doesn’t, well, that totally sucks.


You: “But Monique, I thought this post was supposed to be positive!”

Me: “You’re right, let’s stop talking about this depressing stuff! No one likes a cry baby, unless that cry baby is Johnny Depp, and then you’re totally golden. I digress.”

Forget the “It’s not you, it’s me” lines

Yes, hiring takes a long time, and if you’re like us, the training never stops either. But when someone decides to leave, please try your hardest not to point fingers at anyone. That won’t get you anywhere. Instead, take some time to dissect the issue and figure out what went wrong during that employee’s time at your organization. Here are some ideas:

Recurring theme or a one-off incident? It’s important to figure out if this situation is an outlier, or if it speaks to a bigger issue in your hiring or onboarding process. If losing employees is becoming a pattern, you might need to switch things up, because your team is one of the most valuable assets to your company.

Was it a miscommunication from the start? Sometimes, an employee leaves because there was a miscommunication from the beginning. Review your job ads and see if the description of their duties was accurate. Speak with their manager and see if things were going as planned. Employment status (i.e. full time vs. part time, intern vs. temporary contractor) might come into play here too.

Were expectations clear? Perhaps there was an issue with expectations, and for us, that’s usually tied to one of two things: compensation and promotion within the company. At Thunder, we’re lucky to have lots of experienced candidates applying for our career opportunities, but we also like to promote from within, meaning many of our job ads are for entry level positions. Sometimes, prospective employees have unrealistic expectations about salaries and promotion opportunities, so we’ve learned to be straightforward with these discussions early on in the hiring process.

Did we ignore any red flags? In retrospect, it’s also easy to identify any red flags that came up during an employee’s experience at your company. Try to pinpoint these caution lights and share them with your hiring team. For instance, did the candidate make any irrational decisions to start working here? Were they enthusiastic when they were here? Did they show signs of dedication (like attending local Meetups, downward dogging at office yoga, contributing to potlucks, attending company meetings, or making it to casual office lunches) or display a lack of interest (maybe they spent more time at other PT jobs or didn’t rub elbows with other employees) in your organization? Figure out the warning signs and try to evaluate new candidates with the lessons you’ve learned.

Channel your inner Mr./Ms./Mrs. Brightside

Now that you have more clarity about what went wrong, it’s time to look at the bright side on your path to acceptance and total employee retention domination! That’s right, it’s time to turn those lemons into margaritas.


When you first found out about an employee quitting or getting fired, you might have been bummed or even pissed, but after some evaluating, it might be easier to accept fate. It may be totally cheesy, but I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason. Yes, this person left a dent, but we’re going to be better off without them in the long run because they weren’t the right fit, and that’s perfectly fine. Fail better, fail faster, and let’s move on.

Image: The Phraseology Project

One thing we truly value at Thunder is communication. We’re very open and communicative, so we encourage all employees to be transparent as often as possible. We currently don’t do exit interviews, because they do not seem necessary for a company of our size. Instead, we strive to have a foundation of communication from day one, so management can address suggestions and requests to ideally improve the organization as needed. We have monthly meetings where Thunder Cats can share thoughts about improving their days at the office. We’ve also started defining personal and professional goals for each employee, which gives people the opportunity to invest in themselves. Right now, we’re even looking into 360 reviews, so there’s more feedback in both directions. As we grow, we know it’s important to keep looking at new avenues for increasing employee communication.

We’ve also started investing in more T-Shaped Web Marketers, meaning people that have light level of knowledge in a broad array of skills in addition to their specialty. Don’t get me wrong, all of our specialists definitely own an expertise, but when someone leaves the company, having people that can help in a pinch is nice. Make sure you also have a plan for transitioning campaigns internally to make this process easier.

Image: Moz

If an employee does leave unexpectedly, don’t feel like you have to start over from square one. It’s likely that the person you hired initially wasn’t the only person you interviewed. Review your hiring documents and figure out if there are any candidates worth revisiting. As I mentioned before, our hiring process has at least four parts, so it’s easy to pick and choose the people that progressed, but didn’t make it all the way to the end. You’d be surprised how many people will be interested in interviewing again or in a different capacity.

Also decide if there needs to be any changes to both the job ad and the qualifications you’re searching for. When a recent Thunder Cat didn’t work out and we went back to the drawing board, we realized we were placing too much emphasis on past experience, but we actually needed someone to support campaigns, not manage them from start to finish. This also benefitted prospective employees, since a person with tons of experience isn’t going to be content in a support role. It’s become imperative for us to find the right match between available talent and compensation that our company can support, and this has definitely had an impact on how we outline jobs in ads, how we qualify candidates, and what we value in the interview process.

Sometimes, losing an employee is inevitable, but Thunder should never lose a great team member because the company didn’t address a request or need soon enough, or didn’t take action to improve the culture and work environment so that people wanted to stay with the company. This includes compensation, responsibilities, training and anything else that goes into supporting and investing in employees because, as a small company, it’s not just talent that walks out the door when someone leaves, but a big investment too. Naturally, a strong focus on defining culture, position expectations, and clear communication from the start help to mitigate this from happening.

This has been our experience, what about you? Would love to hear more in the comments!

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