With my own job change (as of today actually), I'm reminded of another form of personal communication that comes up.
Occasionally, one of our people comes to us with some chilling news: he is considering another position. If the new position is with a different company, in all likelihood he has already made the decision and accepted the offer. In this case, the situation really boils down to simply negotiating a friendly exit. But if your employee hasn’t accepted a new job yet, it is probably because he really wants your advice – it is uncommon, but it does happen. Let's cover the "more harmless" ones first.
Before you panic, or come to any conclusions, use the techniques we’ve already discussed to figure out why the employee is considering a change. It may not be related to anything negative in his current job. Maybe he wants to join a hot startup, or maybe he’s thinking about changing careers entirely. The potential change may not really be about his job at all! Perhaps he needs time or flexibility to deal with a family issue, or maybe circumstances are pushing him to relocate to a different state.
If he’s looking to relocate, and you really like this guy’s work, you could become the coolest boss in the world: consider letting this guy relocate but continue to work for you, in either his current position or in something similar that’s tailored to his new situation. If he needs to relocate for some sort of family reason, he might not have found a new job yet. Your offer could be a real lifesaver! As long as he’s able to be fairly self-sufficient, he has proven himself as a productive worker, and the team can operate effectively with a remote member, then everyone wins.
I have successfully used this technique many times to retain excellent talent. Most of the time, things work out well. It is important, however, to monitor the situation closely. Occasionally, the employee’s remote location can lead to problems, such as reduced individual productivity or a degradation of the team’s overall effectiveness. If that happens, you’ll have to pull the plug and ask the employee to return or resign. At least you gave it a shot.
It’s pretty hard to argue with someone who tells you he is heading off to medical or law school. Be supportive and work on a nice friendly exit. You could have a new doctor or lawyer in your future. Or he could decide that the career change wasn’t for him after all and ask for his old job back.
The same is true if one of your guys is thinking of running off to join (or form) a hot startup. Many folks will get this bug at some point. Chances are, he’s looking at a completely different risk/reward equation than you’re able to offer: if he isn’t afraid to work 60 or 80-hour weeks, the possible rewards of doing so might far outweigh anything he now enjoys. Be supportive. Feel excited for this guy, wish him well, and offer to provide advice or feedback if he ever needs it. Most importantly, let him know that you’d welcome him back warmly should things go awry. He will very much appreciate the backstop, and he will respect you in a whole new way.
But what if he’s leaving for another local company – maybe a competitor? If he hasn’t completely made up his mind – and assuming that this is an employee you would rather keep – you have the opportunity to help contribute to his decision. But how do you handle it gracefully? How do you really help the employee do what’s in his best interest, and not necessarily in your own?