On the Way Out? Opportunity

When a valued employee plans to leave in order to take advantage of a new, promising opportunity, you are in a terribly weak position.  I’ve been in the employee’s shoes a couple of times in my career, and by the time I announced my intentions there was nothing the company could have done to change my mind.

I remember quite clearly the first time this happened.  I was working in a project management job, and was looking for the chance to make the leap into management.  The problem was that my current employer was overstaffed and shedding employees in a slow, downsizing death-dance.  Opportunities were quite limited and no one was talking to me about where my career was headed.

So I quit.  While there was no counteroffer in this particular situation, the manager I worked for and his boss both expressed a great deal of disappointment over losing me.  But by that stage it would have been pointless to counter, anyway.  I was committed to moving on.  This was primarily due to four factors:

  1. The new opportunity appeared to be better than anything my present employer could possibly offer.  At least it looked that way to me, given what little they told me about my potential with them.
  2. Any counteroffer the company might make after I announced would have felt like blackmail.  I knew that short term it might be nice, but longer term my relationship with my bosses would have been fundamentally changed by the event.
  3. Pictures painted of a bright future would have been a bit disingenuous (or maybe more than a bit).  If I wasn’t worthy of new opportunities and a great long term career path before I was quitting, why would I believe that I was afterward?
  4. By the time I announced, I had done the heavy lifting of preparing my family for the disruption caused by a job change.  While that might technically be a “sunk cost,” there would have been a price to pay for getting them all worked up and then backing down.

But I still could have been stopped.  Those actions that companies normally take to try to hang onto quitting employee would simply have had to come BEFORE I announced I was leaving.  BEFORE I believed they were responding because they were backed into a corner.  And BEFORE I prepared my family for the move.

And before I was emotionally and irreversibly committed to my new employer, as well.

This is why it is so critical to watch for the signs that a highly-valued employee might be “On the Way Out.”  And why early intervention is going to be much more effective than anything done after the announcement is made.

A friend of mine was recently applying for new positions, and made the short list for an opportunity he was quite excited about.  He had worked for his current employer for a few years, and while he was fairly happy, the opportunities for advancement seemed distant and unclear.

A few days before the final rounds of interviews with the target company, his boss called him into her office and presented my friend with a substantial raise and a change in title.

It made all the difference in the world.

All of a sudden he saw his current job in a completely different light.  He was valued.  He did have a future with his current employer.  They were thinking about him as a part of their long term plans.  When he completed the final round of interviews with the prospective employer, his expectation for pay and title were so high that they couldn’t be met.

The message here is clear – proactive action is far more effective at stopping an opportunity-based departure than anything you can offer in reaction.

And what are the downsides of being aggressive?

  • You might make a mistake and offer pay, title, position or other “rewards” to a valued employee by mistake, concerned that she might be looking for a new job and simply incorrectly reading the signs.
  • You might offer more than you really need to in order to keep the employee – more than the “minimum necessary reward to get the job done.”
  • You might create some unintended consequences with other employees, ones that see the action and don’t understand (or misread) the rationale.

I know no manager likes to promise things they don’t have to, but in this case it is probably the only way to prevent this kind of quit.

And this is why you only apply this type of strategy to your top, most important performers.

Moving early and decisively is the best strategy to stop an opportunity-based resignation by a critical employee.  If you wait too long, you’ll almost certainly be shopping for a replacement.

If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.



This is the cover of my latest novel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released in April, 2014.  This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI.  The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives.  When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.