business advice | Mar 27, 2018 |
My inexperienced assistant is opening her own firm

Welcome to our latest installment of BUSINESS ADVICE from industry expert Sean Low. Do you have a design business dilemma? REACH OUT TO US, and your question could be answered by Sean in an upcoming column.

Dear Sean,

One of my former assistants, a millennial, has moved on to start her own full-service firm, riding on the strength of my firm’s name. Only problem? While working for me, she did no designing of her own and was instead focused on basic admin tasks. I’m angry! Do you have any input on how to handle this if it happens again? In this industry, names mean everything, and I don’t want to be associated with this former employee.

No Endorsement

Dear No Endorsement:

Watching your name be used to validate someone whose work you don’t recommend is unnerving, granted. I get your anger, even though we both know that the damage to your firm will be trivial, if anything. Clients, especially those seeking a designer at your level, are more savvy than ever and can sense inexperience, lack of confidence and lack of skill within two minutes of a meeting. Maybe she’ll get a few small-budget jobs that will allow her to make mistakes and sharpen her skills. Good luck to her.

You didn’t say whether she had potential or you’d liked to have kept her around. Let’s assume you did. Millennials want to be founders. They aren’t afraid of failure. If they aren’t stimulated or inspired, they’re gone. So how does this square with employee growth and retention? Loads of articles have been written on this topic and the common thread is this: over-communicate. Be a helicopter boss and make sure that you set the metrics of success. You define the goals and then give your millennial employee the freedom on how to get there.

During the hiring process, ask what the candidate’s long-term goals are and how you can help her achieve those. What kind of mentorship structure is in place? How often will the candidate receive feedback? Think about your company culture. Is it a place that enables growth? If you’re aligned with your staff on these points, you won’t be blindsided when this happens. And maybe you’ll even be inclined to help them when they are considering tough decisions like breaking out on their own.

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