July 23, 2009

Counteroffers – The Cliff Notes

Filed under: insights — Paul Kilman @ 7:30 pm

Does this sound familiar? You have thought carefully about a career move and weighed the benefits for you, your family and your career. You have decided to accept the new position and are now ready to give notice. When you speak to your boss, he or she says some version of: “Wait a minute. You won’t believe this, but we have big plans for you and I was just about to tell you about them! Let’s discuss what can be done to make you stay.” Surprising and enticing promises are made. You find this is flattering. Others involved in this drama, however, begin to view you as unfocused, indecisive or even opportunistic. You start getting emotionally confused and pulled off your center. What’s happening here?

Understanding and handling various types of counteroffers are very complex subjects – ones that can not be fully addressed in one short blog post. Anyone who has been involved in any amount of hiring will have experienced this drama at some point in his or her career. Down deep, no hiring authority really likes it. After more than 20 years experience in the hiring trenches, let me cut to the quick for you on this subject:

Why should you leave one job for another? The simple answer is because the new position can provide you with the role and level of responsibility, the career path, the personal fit and the remuneration that, given the aforementioned career factors, is right for you. Also, these things are either unavailable or would likely take a long time to achieve where you are at now. How can you know this, if you do not have a good sense of your career prospects already? Because you can test this out with your employer before you start interviewing somewhere else.

If you are seriously tempted to explore opportunities outside of your current circumstance, do yourself this favor: I would recommend that you first sit down with your boss in a relaxed manner to discuss your work performance, career interests and needs. Find out if your goals and interests are achievable with this employer. If your compensation is of concern, ask what kind of growth you can expect over time. The tone of this conversation should be friendly and interested, with your only desire being to form proper expectations regarding how your career will unfold, assuming good performance, within this organization. This conversation will not be fruitful if it sounds like you are frustrated or presenting an ultimatum. In this kind of discussion, you should receive an honest response regarding how this employer views what is possible for you. There is no leverage being applied by you. You are just asking about what is real and what you can genuinely expect. Now you know your employer’s “real truth” about you.

If you do not like what you hear, then feel comfortable about exploring a change. More importantly, don’t second guess yourself down the road if you do decide to leave for that better opportunity. When you give notice, please know that, in most cases, your leaving is creating a stressful situation for your employer. Promises of a new position, more money or that change you were hoping for are sometimes made by employers to entice you to stay. Why is this? Because it is easier and cheaper to try to keep a good employee than to find a replacement. Therefore, counteroffers are extended. However, long experience shows that, even with the best of intentions, employers can not and will not change their systems or culture in any substantive way for the desires of just one employee. (Remember that you have already learned what your employer can do for you.) The promises of more money and/or change can be that quick reaction made by employers to tempt a valued employee to stay a little longer to “work things out” (and, very importantly, turn down that new offer.) Here is the reality: Follow through on these extraordinary promises is much more difficult and, in the long term, most employers regret having had to extend a counteroffer to retain a “disloyal” employee. Guess what – in accepting a counteroffer, you have, in most cases, just burned a bridge with the employer who hoped to hire you and tarnished your reputation with your current employer. Even with the best of intentions, very recent studies have shown that 50% of the people who have accepted such counteroffers are no longer with that same employer just 6 months later! This is usually because not much changed – the real reasons a person wanted to leave in the first place were not materially impacted.

The moral of this story is that you should take your time up front and think through your career options in a balanced and careful manner. If you do make the decision to leave, show decisiveness and do not play the counteroffer game – you will most likely get burned.

There are helpful ways to approach making a career decision and to effectively – and smoothly – give notice, but these will be the subject of further posts.

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