Management Hack #4: Just say no to counter-offers

by Kevin Shockey

In the military they are very big on succession planning. This mentality comes from their heritage -- armies exist to go into battle. In combat situations, everyone is vulnerable, so they spend time making sure they have a replacement for any critical function. Even in non-combat units, they share the principle and prevent the single point of failure.

In business, we are aware of this logic, and everyone agrees it makes sense, but unfortunately businesses does not share the same culture as the military. So for many different reasons, sometimes we find critical skills trapped in just one employee. Inevitably she is under-appreciated, overworked, and looking to advance. So the dreaded day comes when she "needs" to talk and before you know it, there on your desk is her letter of resignation. She has been looking for a new opportunity and has found another company to appreciate her and provide the advancement she desires.

Your first thought is typically "How are we going to survive without her?" Which is quickly followed by "We can't survive without her! I know! We'll make a counter-offer!" Before you let that train of thought continue, let me say, just say no!

Consider for a moment her fidelity. By the time she drops the letter on your desk, her fidelity is no longer with your company. It took effort on her part to pursue this new opportunity. This effort typically changes a person. In the end, when her mind was made to accept the new offer, she also decided that your company was no longer in her best interest. So briefly consider whether you want an employee who no longer believes there is a future in your company?

I say cut your losses and be done with it. Suck it in, do your cross training during the time given, and start your search for her replacement. I've seen the counter offer used on several occasions and in each case, both employees eventually left the company for another new opportunity.

Another twist to consider as well concerns trust. Typically when someone informs their employer they are resigning, they have already accepted the new position. When they accept your counter-offer, they will have to inform the other company that they have changed their mind. So do you want an employee that does not honor their word?

Now of course, there are situations when this advice is not appropriate. I'm also aware that filling a gaping hole left by a key resource will not be easy. Neither am I saying that an employee who resigns and accepts a counter-offer is a bad person. I urge you to consider carefully your decision when this situation occurs. What I've found is that a counter-offer will only buy you some time. You'll end up filling that hole now or later. So unless there is a really good reason, get out your spackling, patch things up, and move on to the next fire fight.

Have you ever accepted a counter-offer and stayed at a company?


2005-02-24 19:29:50
I've never accepted a counteroffer after I've accepted an offer from another company. It's not necessarily the employee that's being disloyal in these situations. Often, an employer will claim they can only give a small raises and then suddenly comes up with a much larger raise when the employee is about to leave. I think the employees should "just say no" to the employer's counter-offer as well. The employer has shown their slimy side at this point (in this particular scenario).
2005-02-25 06:59:00
I Agree
A couple of years back, I took an offered, went to resign and got offered a *significant* +25% raise in a counter offer.

I took the counter offer, but when the next round of layoffs came about 7 months later, there I was ready to be picked off.

Seriously, if you get one, don't take the counter offer. Move on, just don't burn bridges.