Okay, so one of your best folks is considering taking another offer somewhere – possibly with a competitor. He hasn't accepted yet. He might be feeling a little anxious, but he trusts you enough that he's actually come to you with his conundrum. Or, maybe he's inclined to leave, but he's seeing if there's a counteroffer in his future. So, how do you handle this gracefully? How do you really help the employee do what’s in his best interest, and not necessarily in your own?
First, use your practiced listening techniques to find out why your
employee is attracted to the other company. Is he leaving for a
different type of work environment? Different types of projects? Is it really compensation? The ability to work alongside past friends? Closer to
Now, consider how you can actively handle some
of these points and develop a win/win solution for you both. If the
issue is compensation, and he is truly deserving, making a comp
adjustment can quickly bring the situation to a close. However, keep
this in mind: if your guy has gone as far as actively seeking a new
position, any attempts you make to keep him may turn out to be only
temporary solutions. If you offer more compensation, will that really
solve all the issues at hand? Even if his compensation is the only
complaint, how long will it be before he returns with the same issue?
If the guy is worth his salt, someone out there will always pay more
than you do. Ask yourself whether your employee is seeing the other
good things that your company has to offer. Decisions like that need to
be made on much more than comp alone. That’s why I usually discount
someone indicating that comp is his primary issue.
If the real
issue is about types of projects that he’s involved in, that may be
within your scope of control as well. Or if he’s looking for a more
flexible work environment, can you offer the option to telecommute a
couple days a week?
Failing an easy fix, if he’s gone this
far, what to do? My approach here is, very gently, to let him know that
you understand that there are other options available to him – the best
people will always have other options. Help him walk through whether
this particular one is the right one for him. What is the company’s
history? Are the products likely to be relevant for some time to come?
Would he actually be working on the best products? What are the
chances that the company might have to downsize? Does he know anything
about the people he'll be working with (or for)?
Keep in mind that you
should ask these questions in the same way as his most trusted friend
would. You want to be curious, not vicious. It’s OK for you to expose
the truths, especially if he hasn’t thought about them himself: there
can real danger involved in a move away from his existing position. With
you, he’s a top guy on the totem poll, respected, well known, and
sought out for all the really big problems. As the new guy, still
unproven, he’ll be the most vulnerable in times of hardship. But do not
let him feel that you are trying to skew the facts to your advantage. As
long as you approach this factually and sensitively, he should
appreciate your thoughts.
What if your employee is looking at
another position within your own company? Don't talk him out of it. Encourage him to look into it
carefully, and welcome him to return for another discussion about what
he finds. Always be supportive when an employee wishes to explore
additional options, especially if it will keep the talent in the company
In any of these situations, remember that psychology can work against you. The
harder you push your employee to be happy and stay, without providing
anything to back it up, the more he will feel the need to depart. And if he does finally decide to leave: remember to leave
the door open! A snarky “You’re making a huge mistake, don’t call me
when you figure that out” will only validate his decision to go.