How badly do you want to keep them? (To counter or not)

One of your top employees asks for some time to talk. They want to put a meeting on your calendar, preferably right now. They are solemn and serious and you instinctively know this cannot be good. You have played out this scene many times before. There is a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, as you walk back to your office. “They can’t possibly be leaving. Let’s find out what they want.”

They begin the conversation slowly like a funeral march. “This is the hardest decision of my life.” Why do they always have to begin this way? Get on with it,” you are thinking. “After much thought, deliberations and discussions with my family, I have decided to resign. Here is my two weeks’ notice.” You are surprised and you say words to that effect.

They continue, “It has nothing to do with you. You are a great manager.” You never thought it had anything to do with you. Although the Gallup research says people don’t leave companies they leave managers, you did not take the resignation personally. “It has nothing to do with the company. It is a great organization. It has taught me so much and the people are great.”  You were not taking this as referendum on the company or its’ personnel. “But his company gave me an offer I could not refuse and I have to think of my family.” There it was the Godfather offer. The offer any reasonably intelligent person would be an idiot to turn down.

The next comment was your all time favorite. “I was not looking for a job. I did not contact them. They contacted me.” Yes, but you picked up the phone, returned their calls and showed up for the interviews. This is probably said in most resignation discussion. There must be a feeling that your leaving is easier to digest if you knew they did not make the first move. They are only leaving you because someone else made the first move. I guess that is supposed to ease the pain, replace the person and make up for the institution knowledge and time invested in them, which is now walking out the door.

Your mind wants to know so much. What company? How much was their Godfather Offer? Why did you answer the telephone? But you resist the temptation to ask these questions. You begin. “I am sorry to see you go. I know it was a hard decision to make. After all you have done so much for us and we have invested a lot in your development. We were looking forward to gaining more from this investment. You know we think very highly of you. I thank you for your time and wish you and the family the very best. I hope this works out well for you. I accept your resignation and we will follow through with the separation process.

What is the status of the projects you are working on? I assume everything is in order. Are there any pressing assignments you can complete in the next two weeks? Have you notified your team? Let’s do it now. You promise to make the internal announcement as you thank them for their service and arrange for the check-out, sign-out or whatever title your company gives to the separation process.

You notice a surprised look on his face when you accepted his resignation. It is as if he wanted you to say something different. Did he want or expect a counter offer. What should you do? Then he asks two questions. The first is a set up for his main questions. “Do you ever take people back when they leave the organization?” You answer this question by stating that rehiring is often counter-productive and not a good idea, but depending on the company needs it is always a possibility. Then came the real question. “Do you ever issue a counter offer to keep someone and stop them from leaving?”

There are a variety of opinions on this question. Your response should be woven into your corporate and personal philosophies. The Human Resources Department offer excellent guidance in this area. Ultimately Leadership makes the call because of the impact on the business. If the person returning or leaving has skills that are difficult to acquire or if they have skills you don’t want in the hands of the competition, you may match or counter the offer. Some people feel that it is difficult for someone to resign, but most of the angst comes in doing it the first time. If they left you once it is easier to leave you the second time. They would advise you to accept the offer and wish the person good-bye. Many advise you to accept the two-week notice, pay them for it and send them home immediately. They view the person as a traitor and a negative influence to have them walking around the office for two weeks on a farewell tour.

It is important to arrive at a philosophy on counter offers, realizing that any inconsistency in implementation may increase the conversations around the water coolers or on the company grapevine. What will you do?

Copyright © 2012 Orlando Ceaser

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