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How to keep employees who’ve been offered jobs elsewhere

In all facets of life the best employees outperform mediocre ones by a substantial margin. I’m sure we can all think of examples where a star employee sets a team on fire, or does the work of several people. They’re worth paying for, holding out for and fighting for. With the amount of time and investment that goes into finding a good hire, it’s fair to say that employers may start to feel defensive as they prepare to keep talent who may be getting propositioned with new opportunities.

Just because an employee has been offered a new role, it doesn’t mean you, as a business leader, are out of options. You just need to know what it will take to keep that employee. Here are a few recommendations on how to counter-offer an employee in today’s highly competitive market:

  • Understand their motivation: Before offering anything to the employee who has just announced their resignation, try and find out why they want to leave. Ask questions in order to get them talking about their life and priorities. Is it something practical (e.g. moving to a new city or more flexible work hours), something personal (e.g. unhappy with manager or team) or is it about the job or company (e.g. taking on new responsibilities or higher salary)? Without knowing exactly what the issue or opportunity for change is it’s very hard to counter.
  • Critically assess their new role: There’s a lot of value (and fear) in the “devil you know” argument. Perhaps the employee doesn’t really know the new company, leader or team they will be working with. You can create uncertainty in your employees’ confidence of their better future elsewhere by asking probing questions about their career move.
  • Don’t be held hostage: When you’ve ascertained why the employee is leaving, counter on that point in particular. For example, if they are interested in more money, offer more money. If it’s responsibility, provide more. You’ll need to exceed the offer they have from elsewhere to ensure winning, but before you make an offer, you should evaluate the cost and opportunity of hiring someone new. In any gap where someone leaves, you have a productivity loss, but it is also an opportunity to assess whether you’re really doing things the optimal way with the optimal people.
  • Don’t get emotionally invested: Putting too much skin in the game can lead to irrational offers and resentment later on. Be very clear with yourself on how far you’re prepared to go and know in detail what your best alternative to a negotiated outcome is. Set up your best offer and stick to it. Also be clear in your mind that you could get someone great to start afresh for what you’re proposing.
  • Create performance incentives: The majority of people who accept counter offers leave within 6 months anyway, so be sure to create a medium term performance incentive that gets you over that hump. For example, create a bonus after 12 months if certain criteria are met.

Finally, remind the employee of all the good work and progress they contributed to the business and reinforce that they will be walking away from something they have been directly involved in producing. However, if the employee decides to go, it’s important that you remain calm and wish them well. You never know if they will be happy with their new company and they may want to come back again. Also keep in mind that hiring a new employee is always an opportunity to bring new ideas and ways of operating to the table that can motivate team members and spark creativity.

About the Author:

By Ben Hutt, CEO of online recruitment marketplace The Search Party

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