Catriona Harris | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Catriona Harris

Background:  

Orlando-based Uproar PR is a full-service public relations agency specializing in developing strategic campaigns that drive brand awareness and create industry buzz. Founded in 2011, the firm has received numerous awards for its inclusive, collaborative and wellness-promoting corporate culture. Uproar PR also has offices in Chicago, New York and Toronto.

The Mistake:

We almost lost probably our most loyal, most trustworthy employee.

We had an amazing employee who no longer wanted to do PR. She decided PR wasn’t for her. And at that point we only had five people, so we didn’t have any positions outside PR. And we agreed to part ways. And luckily, at the last minute, we were able to pull a string and say, "Wait a minute, we don’t want you to go."

We had been running another agency – my husband, my partner and I – before we started Uproar. And this woman was the only person who came with us from that agency when we started Uproar. She was employee No. 1. And she had been a PR person with us at the agency for five years at that point. And she was very important to us. She was an account manager; she was running accounts.

And she came to us in tears and said, "I love you guys. I’ve worked with you for five or six years, but my heart is just not in PR. It’s not what I want to do." And we were equally upset. She’d talked about doing HR and that kind of stuff. But being a brand new company, we just [didn’t] have the budget for that.

We actually helped her try to find other jobs. We set her up on a couple of interviews with friends who owned businesses, so she could find exactly what it was that she was looking for. And then we were sitting down with a client, and we were so distraught with this situation. She only had a few days left with us, and we were telling them all about her. And they just looked at us like we were complete idiots.

They said, "What you just told us is she’s honest and trustworthy. She has a key to your house. You trust her with all your heart and soul. She knows your business inside and out … but you’re going to let her walk out the door?"

And we [explained] we don’t have a role that suits her. They said, but eventually, you will; you’re being shortsighted. You need to find a position for her today and don’t let her go. And they were completely right. And when they mentioned it, we [realized] yeah, you’re right. We need to make this happen.

So we walked into her office and said, "OK, if this is your excuse and you want to leave, you better let us know now. But if not, we want to find a way to make this work." And she said, "No, I absolutely want to be here."

We came up with something that was probably not the salary she wanted at the time. It was a role that was going to develop, so she was going to have to be flexible with us. And we wear many hats as owners, right? At the time I was doing HR; I was doing payroll, onboarding and off-boarding. I told her, "I’m going to start giving you things."

She worked with us and we worked with her, and we were able to grow it into something amazing. She’s now been with us for 11 years and she is our vice president of operations and HR. When I look back I realize she’s the only person who knows what it was like on day one. She’s the only one that came with us to the agency. She remembers when we moved into our very first office. And she knows how to do everything because when we were a [small] company, we did everything. She’s been an extremely valuable person for us.

If you find somebody you love and trust, you’ll find the right position.

The Lesson:

My [lesson] is, always look at the person, not the position. If you find somebody you love and trust, you’ll find the right position. And that’s something that we’ve done a couple of times since then.

It’s so rare that you find someone that just legitimately loves where they’re at.  And I think it falls into place. That person wants to be there so they have a passion. And they’re going to help you figure out what that role is because they actually want to be there.

Follow Uproar PR on Twitter at @UproarPRagency and Harris at @CatrionaHarris.

Photo courtesy of Catriona Harris

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