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So you’ve spent the last several weeks returning calls from the office hallways, conducting early morning Skype interviews from home and sneaking through the back entrance of your competitor’s offices. Finally, the covert conversations with your potential new employer have paid off. You have been presented with an offer and you are delighted. You walk into your manager’s office to hand in your notice of resignation – “I’m leaving, it’s time to move on.” But wait! Your manager won’t accept any part of it. To your surprise, he tells you that you are too valuable, appreciated, respected and loved to possibly let go. You’re a key member of the team and they are going to prove it to you in words, action and money. Things are going to change and he will personally see to it – he promises. How could you refuse? After all, who doesn’t want to be told they’re so important that the company created a package of goodies to make that letter of resignation go away? Talk about an ego boost!
But wait! Do you really think your manager counter offers because he finally came to his senses about your contributions to the organization? Think again. You haven’t suddenly become a more valuable employee than you were yesterday, just a potentially disruptive one. The reality is that your manager simply does not want to deal with the headache and disruption of your departure. Interviewing, hiring and training are costly and time consuming and he has too much on his plate to deal with this right now. After all, it’s coming to the end of the quarter and they simply cannot afford to be a man down.
A counter offer is purely a defensive reaction to the fear of your departure. They have little to do with your value and everything to do with your timing. For the time being, it is easier to keep you with a counteroffer than it is to replace you. Beware, because once the crisis is over, so will be the incentive to keep you.
There are a number of reasons why counter offers never work out. For one, your relationship with the company has just shifted. Accepting a counter offer is the kiss-of-death to your existing relationship with your company. You threatening to leave the organization has just forced your manager into a position of having to create a new opportunity, which may be looked at as being blackmailed or bullied. Threatening to leave has now put you outside the leadership team’s “inner circle” of trusted confidants. You are no longer a team player and cannot be trusted. After all, you must have invested some pretty serious time with the other company for you both to have come to agreement on title, salary and start date. What about the next time there’s a round of promotions, raises or layoffs? Where do you think the disloyal one that can’t be trusted will end up? Studies have shown that the average employee stays with his employer less than one year after accepting a counter offer.
I often use the following analogy when coaching candidates through the counter offer process. “Think about the impact of accepting a counteroffer in your personal life”. You confess to your partner that you have secretly been seeing someone else and have decided to move out to be with him or her. Suppose your significant other desperately convinced you to stay on the basis that things will get better. How do you think your relationship would be moving forward? All trust and loyalty is gone. The relationship may be better for a week or two, but eventually your deceit and the things that made you consider leaving in the first place will resurface.
These similarities are mirrored within the corporate world. Short term, maybe you’re happier, maybe you’re a little richer, but the underlining job dissatisfaction issues will always come back.
So, what should you do if presented with a counteroffer? I recommend that your first step should be to shake off the false flattery and remind yourself why you wanted to leave in the first place. Ask yourself, what will the counter offer really change about your role, duties and environment? Why did it take a real threat of losing you for your employer to step up to the plate? What are the elements of the new job that are absent from your current employer that led you to accept the offer? Do you really want to be that disengaged member of the team that returned for more money? Above all else, think about your long-term career goals. Examine the situation from all angles and if presented with a compelling offer you just can’t refuse, take it and don’t look back. If you are easily persuaded by the counter offer of a little extra money you haven’t done a good job of searching for the best opportunity. Do your homework and career soul-searching so that the next time you decide to move on, you have the confidence to stick with your decisions.
My advice to employers on the opposite end of the counteroffer is to avoid this practice at all costs. In the classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins makes reference about getting the right people on the bus and putting them in the right seats. Part of leading great organizations also includes letting people get off at the right stops. When someone activates the stop signal cord, what greatness can come from trying to convince one of the riders to remain on for a few additional stops? Let them get off the bus.