Turnover, voluntary or forced, is part of the workplace cycle. As in nature, some changes take place a leaf at a time while in other instances a hurricane performs the serious pruning. This article addresses some things you should consider when an employee enters your office and says, “I quit!”
Let’s start off with a bit of prevention.
Best Defense is a Good Offense: To prevent a quality employee from making the leap, even from listening to headhunters or contacting competitors, you need to keep your promises (regarding promotions, compensation, space, whatever), praise publicly and often, show the employee the future and touch base (check-in) with the employee on a regular basis. Those are the essential steps for a good offense. Just as it’s harder to “fire a face” it’s also harder for most people to leave a boss they have a good relationship with. Keep that in mind and work on it.
I have mentioned my “Oh! Sh*t!” list before. The list consisted of the top 5 of my 600 staff members who, if they quit, I would think “Oh! Sh*t!” With these cherished few, I made frequent personal phone calls (remember phone calls?), took them to lunch where the conversation always focused on them and their careers. I knew about their personal lives and constantly thanked them and offered a vision of their next steps. I made sure mine mirrored theirs. I talked them up to senior management, so their names and potential was widely known, and made sure I was always fair with their compensation and promotions. I never lost a person on the list. An ounce of prevention…
If the signs are your employee is about to move, address it quickly and decisively.
Establish Contact and Show Concern: We all know we should have/could have been doing this all along, but now is not the time to beat yourself up. You need to get the conversation going. Show your interest in them and share observations. “You haven’t been around as much lately, anything up?” Give the person the opportunity to self-disclose (and a surprising number of people do) before you say, “I’m concerned you may be considering some sort of change and this is not something I would want for you or us.”
Make Sure You Have Been Fair: You wouldn’t be the first person to regret being stingy at bonus time or overbearing to someone on a point now irrelevant. Did the person ask you for something, like an exposure or project that you forgot or dismissed? Can you plug holes, now? What would it take to make the employee happy?
But what if it’s too late and the employee has already resigned. Well, it’s never too late. Trust me, I know people who started with other organizations and were back within the month. I don’t recommend it for either side but it happens.
IMPORTANT – Before doing anything, ask yourself if you really don’t want the person to leave or are you hurt and angry that they would do this to you? All of us are capable of an emotional reaction and it is no time to take revenge, when it is more important to hold on to someone who is a valued team member.
Don’t Accept the Resignation as Given: This might sound a bit bold but it works. If someone I really wanted to keep said, “I’ve taken a job at ____.” My answer would always be, “No you haven’t, you work for me and I don’t want you to leave.” This takes the already shaken person off guard and generally opens them up so you can hear the truth. The truth can be hard to hear but you must listen because here’s your opportunity to turn things around. If they hated your guts they would have quit with your HR Director, they came to you because you do have a relationship and they’re not sure.
Promise Nothing But… : Though you might be tempted to counteroffer, resist the temptation (plus you probably aren’t the only decision maker). Guarantee you will look into whatever is the driving force – money, title, reporting. Demand (I know it sounds harsh but this is war) 24 hours and schedule a next meeting. Ask them not to speak with their future employer or the headhunter until you get back to them. Then, get moving.
Make It Personal: This is the time to have a personal conversation. Out of the office and after hours is generally best. You are now their colleague and career coach. Everyone has fears and ambivalence about making a change, hear theirs and offer to play devil’s advocate. “Of course Josh is a jerk, we all know that, but have you ever worked on a team as cohesive as Emily’s?”
Shed Doubt: “I hear what you’re saying. I’m just surprised you would go with a start-up that’s having trouble getting funding.” Or “You know Matt in finance, he worked at that place for a short time, have you spoken with him?” Note to self: contact Matt in finance ASAP and find out what the story is. State how disruptive change can be and the risks. Make them worry they have made the wrong decision.
Put Yourself into It: Say, if you mean it, you are sorry this is happening and really don’t want the employee to leave BUT you want only the best for him or her.
See What You Can Do: I was never keen on counteroffers; however, sometimes they’re justified. You need to gather the powers that be and get what you need. It doesn’t always work but you have to try.
Be Gracious: If your efforts fail, wish the person well, privately and publicly, encourage the employee to stay in touch and say you have appreciated his or her contribution. Never bad mouth or ridicule the person or the competitor. Industries and sectors are very small, you never know when the two of you might meet, or need one another.
Finally, make that list of top performers and call them into your office or on their cells – NOW! Your former employee will make the call and so will that headhunter or HR person who placed him.
Preventing a resignation is an everyday responsibility of a good manager. Disrupting one is a skill that can be applied. Accepting the inevitable is a hard pill to swallow but not a fatal one.