The war for talent is fiercer than ever, and companies are fighting hard to keep their key players. In 2017, getting a signed offer letter does not mean a search is “closed”. Ensuring a successful exit can sometimes be the riskiest part of a search! Here’s how to coach your candidate on navigating a counter offer, and avoid the embarrassment and cost of losing to one:
1. Have “The Talk!” with your finalist prior to offer stage. It goes something like this:
“Resigning will be tough. You’re very good, so your current company isn’t going to let you go easily. I know you want to make a change for these reasons (replay the benefits of this new opportunity, and some of the negatives he/she laid out about current situation). If you’d even give consideration to a counter, let’s slow our discussions down right now. I’m not willing to work this offer process with my CEO/Board (and I will be “going to bat for you” to maximize our offer here), close out or put on hold other finalists, and then risk the disruption it’ll cause IF you aren’t strong in your convictions when you do resign. Assuming we come to alignment around offer terms, and reach an agreement…I need to know you’re 100% “in,” and will not even consider a counter. I wanted to have this conversation with you up front to make sure we’re on the same page and mitigate risk on all sides.”
Having this discussion PRIOR to extending an offer puts a candidate on notice, deepens their commitment to following through, and psychologically makes it harder for them to reverse course.
2. Give some advice regarding how to approach the actual resignation…
Experience shows “ripping the Band-Aid off” is the only way to go. It may seem more painful at first, but it goes away faster and smoother. The company will get over it and long term relationships will stay intact. On the other hand, if you instead pull the Band-Aid off slowly (i.e. “I’m thinking about making a change”), the company will see an opening and pull out all the stops to keep you. That scenario never ends well. Don’t give an opening. Your boss (whether it be the CEO, or another senior officer) will extend personal political capital to keep you – he’ll engage either his Board of Directors, or other Execs to create a process (or a counter offer) that ensures you stay. That’s when long term relationships are jeopardized. Once that cycle starts, and you still resign (which you will) it then becomes personal. Now they’re even more offended, and you’re in bridges burning territory. The pain of those wounds takes a long time to heal.
Don’t make it personal. Give reasons for leaving that are outside of their control – shorter commute, bigger job, more money, wife/husband encouraging a change, you didn’t want to stagnate. Anything that doesn’t place blame, don’t make it anyone’s fault that you’re leaving.
Check out this advice for candidates when they resign, from my Partner Mike Doonan. It’s golden.
3. If a counter offer does come, these are the themes to focus on….
“It’s the desperate companies that resort to counter offers. Entities under pressure, or struggling to retain talent, pull out all the stops and use ambush tactics to get execs to stay. You should be flattered…but realize it’s time to be “constructively selfish” and focus on YOUR future. If they are working overly hard to keep you, the company and its leadership have their own worries. Beware.”
“Statistics show that if you accept a counter offer, the probability of voluntarily leaving in six months or being let go within one year is extremely high. (We have heard 80% in six months to one year.) Why? It wreaks havoc on relationships and your image within the company:
- The dynamic with your boss changes.
- Other team members hear about the counter offers…and once that happens your relationship with them won’t be the same. Human nature. It affects trust, and any promotion or recognition will be viewed as “because you resigned”.
- Your personal mindset will have changed too. You’re no longer mentally committed. When frustrating things happen, that feeling will be magnified like never before. You’ll see constant reminders of why you resigned in the first place.”
“One pep talk shouldn’t change what you’ve been feeling. Staying somewhere you don’t want to be for short term cash, or out of a sense of guilt, is a bad move. Invest in the long term career by sticking with your decision.”
“Selfishly, your boss knows you’ll be painful to replace (it’ll cost money, time, resources). Remember: this is short term behavior and driven from a selfish place on his or her side. It’s not about your well-being anymore, it’s about them protecting themselves.”
“Finally, and most importantly – it’s low integrity to accept and then change your mind on an offer. Reputations get damaged for doing that kind of thing. It disrupts the company you were about to join, they will have shut down other candidates in good faith. You don’t want to go there.”
4. Give the bear hug.
Of course, nice gestures and continued engagement with the candidate after getting a signed offer go a long way too…like a “welcome” gift basket with schwag sent to their home address, doing a social dinner/drinks with the team, or having Board Members/peer executives call to congratulate and welcome them to the company. These types of things can really work to cement a commitment, and either way, it definitely makes a candidate feel great about joining you!