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How to counter-offer when an employee attempts to leave

You’ve heard the begging and pleading. You’ve heard the “Well then you’re fired!” outbursts that lead to potential liability dangers. But I am always surprised to hear that companies…big companies with big HR teams…still don’t know how to effectively counter-offer.

First and foremost, the success rates of counter-offers are relatively low to begin with (though I am guessing that has some to do with people not knowing how to use them). But if you are willing to go through with it on a valued employee, here are some best practices:

  1. Listen to why they are leaving and probe if they won’t give it up. If you are going to even bother with a counter-offer, you should make it to what they would like to do. Some people don’t want a promotion or more money.
  2. Read between the lines. Is there a business change that has impacted this employee? Has something else happened at work that might lead them to move elsewhere.
  3. Based on numbers 1 & 2, craft a formal counter-offer that takes into account their concerns (and your reading between the lines). No used car sales tactics (“write down what you want on this sheet of paper and let’s see if we can do it”).
  4. Know when to stop. Sometimes an employee really wants to leave and makes unreasonable demands in order to stay. Get yourself out of that emotional attachment and logically evaluate what is being presented to you.
  5. Don’t set a precedent. Reserve generous counter-offers to exceptional employees. If word gets around that you are so desperate to keep people but are not so desperate to give them the things they would like before they turn in their resignation, then you might have another problem altogether.
  6. If worst comes to worst, keep that connection alive. Having respected former employees are better than disgruntled former employees. Ultimately, you want to respect their decision because they could be another future employee, a future customer or a future reference to other people looking for a job.

I almost feel silly posting some of these things because they seem so obvious. Bullying or begging your employees to stay isn’t useful though.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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