Should You Convince a Key Employee to Stay?

A key employees has come to you to let you know they have been offered a role at another company. Or perhaps they are letting you know that they are starting to look for a new position. Either way, you have a decision to make, should you convince a key employee to stay.

A contributing employee, no matter the level, is tough to lose. Understanding why they are considering a move is the first step in determining if you can meet their expectations.

The more senior the role, the more important it is to have an open, honest dialog about their career goals and aspirations. A departure from the executive ranks can have lasting impact to the organization.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently had a article on this topic. In it they talk about steps to take to keep the employee and how to let go gracefully. One of the first things the article mentions is meeting with the person on neutral ground and listening.

“Take the person out for coffee. Find out what they’re thinking about. No matter how open and supportive an environment you think your organization has created — you might be wrong. Ask about their concerns and their hopes for the future. Be prepared that you may hear a few things that are uncomfortable for you. Sometimes you are the last person to find out some of the problems within your group — no matter how approachable you try to be.”

You may need to take some time after the meeting to digest what you’ve heard and consider how you can work with the employee to address their concerns. Can you meet their needs? Are the issues mentioned easily addressed or are they systemic problems that will take time to resolve?

For example, if it is a case of salary or benefits, this can usually be fixed quickly. Top employees easily outperform their salary, but this is not something that is always monitored or managed by HR, except during annual reviews, and sometimes not even then. If they are worth a bump in pay, make it happen. The cost of losing them is most likely higher.

Usually though, the issues are about more than salary. Based on your conversation, did you uncover anything that you could offer to help the employee meet the next stage of their career? Are they interested in learning new skills? A departmental transfer could help them grow into a more well rounded leader. Perhaps there is a special project they could take point on.

You can also ask yourself how you can help them. You can do this by providing constructive feedback on where you see their strengths and opportunities for growth. Maybe mentoring them or identifying a mentor for them. Can you commit to supporting them and helping them succeed?

If there is nothing you can do to keep the employee, make sure to congratulate them and let them know how much you appreciate their contributions. After all, by the time you find out it will often be too late to change their mind.

But taking the time to meet with them to discuss the new opportunity and seeing what you can do to encourage them to say builds on the relationship between you. This can pay dividends in the future. They may find out the new job is not what they anticipated and realize how much they enjoyed working with you. Or they could be highly successful in the new role and be a top candidate for a more senior opening at your company in a few years. Either way, boomerang employees (those who eventually come back) are a growing trend in the workplace.

By being supportive and letting them know they are always welcome, it doesn’t necessarily matter if they come back or not, they are most likely going to remain in your network. They may recommend your company to clients, partner with you on future engagements, or refer colleagues who are looking when you have an opening.

The article sums it up nicely, “Business is not a zero-sum game. The more people out there in the world with a positive impression of you and your firm, the more opportunities you will have down the line to succeed. Even the people who leave may still end up being valuable.”

For more information on handling employee departures, or guidance in the event you need to conduct an executive search, send us a note or give us a call. Our executive recruiters are here to listen and learn about the needs facing your organization and provide insight with potential solutions.