If you’ve got smart, talented people on your team, chances are they’ll get calls from recruiters. How should you respond when a competitor is wooing one of your employees? How do you know if your team member is really considering the offer or bluffing? Should you make a counteroffer? and what can you do to prevent your people from jumping ship?

No leader wants to see a top employee snapped up by a rival. One, that you have to replace the talent, and in a time of tight labor markets, that’s a very hard and very expensive endeavor and two, the talent is taking ideas with them to a competitor. Unfortunately, says Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at global executive search firm Egon Zehnder and author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best, managers are likely to be dealing with situations like these more and more, due to the globalization of business, demographic trends, and poor leadership development practices within firms. The war for talent is going to intensify and it will get tougher for managers to keep good people, he says. When you fear that one of your employees is about to be poached or already has an offer in hand there are steps you can take to avoid or minimize the loss.

Consider, but don’t rely  only on non-competes

Organizations have long used non-compete agreements and non-solicitation contracts as standard tools to keep both employees from leaving and poachers at bay. But while legal contracts are essential in many cases, they are never enough.  Not only is legislation going against non-competes but a growing body of research shows they stifle performance. Employees are not owned, so acting like you own them and then purposely restricting their ability to make a living in the future will crush your brand as an employer. So, even if your organization allows you to use these contracts, you shouldn’t rely on them. Instead, focus on being an employer that people don’t want to leave.

Watch for signals

Research suggests that employees are more receptive to recruiters and therefore more likely to quit around their work anniversary dates. (Annual reviews, which can often coincide with these dates, are typically a time of reflection.) Be mindful of those cycles, but be on the lookout for other kinds of signals, too. There’s usually a trigger event, such as getting turned down for a promotion or having a project postponed, that makes other options suddenly more attractive. Another sign is when an employee suddenly starts requesting to go to conferences so he can be more visible. Pay attention to office gossip as well. Chances are they’ve already told someone at work that they’re entertaining other offers.

Take action
If you learn that one of your most valuable employees is considering leaving, you need to be proactive in trying to prevent it from happening. Have a frank conversation. Say, ‘I’m not going to get mad, I want to fix it. Find out if there are simple ways you can improve the employee’s work life. Ask: ‘What are the factors that are most frustrating you? Are there any that I can take away that would cause you to reconsider? If the employee is seeking new challenges, look into options that you could provide internally and  place the employee on a strategic task force, offer  a new territory to cover, or help  find opportunities to join an external board..

Don’t jump to a counteroffer
On the surface, presenting your employee with a counteroffer seems like an obvious, easy way to make them stay but counteroffers are often counterproductive. If someone has made the decision to quit, they’re unhappy. By giving a counteroffer, you’re paying to keep an unhappy worker and boosting one employee’s salary might create problems for you with the rest of your team. Compensation is confidential for about 11 seconds eeryone finds out as soon as the person walks out of the boss’s office wearing a big smile and if you suspect your employee may be bluffing about his offer just to pad his paycheck, let the person go. It would be horrible to think that someone on your team would lie to get an unfair advantage. In today’s workplace, it’s all about trust.

Batten down your hatches

When a team member leaves for a competitor, an immediate concern is whether he’ll bring other colleagues along with him. You wonder: how many others are going to go too? You’re not being paranoid. When someone’s been poached by a competitor he will probably try to take people with him. It’s pretty easy to identify who they are. (Hint: it’s often employee’s team members and friends.) In the aftermath of the departure you need to work on those people. Find out what they need to stay be it Fridays off or a meaty new assignment then do your best to deliver. Make sure they know how much you value their contributions. Tell them: you make a difference here.  

Be attentive to your best people

You need to continually treat desirable employees like they’re going to leave. He suggests identifying the people whom you cannot afford to lose and then conducting a stay interview a play on the HR black hole of information otherwise known as the exit interview. “Ask them: why do you stay here? If you’re ever frustrated, what are the reasons? What would keep you from leaving? Then use that feedback to reinforce the reasons that they’re happy where they are and create personalized retention plans to address the reasons why they’re not. Perhaps allowing the employee to work a flexible schedule, work on different projects or work more from home is enough to retain them. You should do this for your top performers who are in critical jobs and are hard to replace. Ideally, your employees stay with you not because they have to but because they would not possibly consider going anywhere else.

Keep it in perspective
Managers tend to judge themselves on their ability to inspire loyalty in their team members and so the resignation of a star employee can feel like the ultimate insult. But you mustn’t let one departure get to you. Don’t overreact and don’t badmouth the person who is leaving it will reduce your credibility. Remember: a certain degree of turnover is inevitable. In some cases there’s nothing you can do. The employee just needs to go someplace new or try his hand at a start-up. You can’t keep everyone. But you can retain your relationship with the person who’s been poached. Sometimes the best strategy is to let them go and hope that they miss you and want to come back in the future.

Overall Principles to Remember


Pay attention to signals that one of your team members may be entertaining offers and ask if there’s anything you can do to fix things

Check in with your team periodically to make sure employees feel challenged and engaged

Identify the employees you cannot afford to lose and devise personalized retention plans for each. 
Jump to a counteroffer; it doesn’t make sense to pay up to keep an unhappy worker

Discount perks like flex-time as a key retention tool; eliminating frustrations can go a long way toward keeping your best people happy

Overreact; some degree of turnover is a natural and necessary part of business. 

By Naved Jafry & M. Dhanerawalla


R. Knight


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