Friday, January 11, 2013


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 home?

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 family.

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.

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