Several years ago, I had lunch with a friend who had just left his employer for a much better opportunity.
He told me that when he resigned, the company was genuinely surprised… and tried to get him to stay by making him some promises.
“We’ll give you a 10% raise!”
That sounds great, right? But if the company knew he was worth more than what they were paying him, why wouldn’t they just pay him what he’s actually worth instead of waiting for him to resign before making an offer? A last-minute pay raise offered in desperation usually can’t make up for years of stingy annual merit increases. Too little, too late.
“We’ll change the reporting structure so you report to someone more senior!”
Reporting structures are irrelevant; top employees want responsibility and accountability, and if your structure prevents people from feeling like owners, that’s a significant challenge.
“There are a few great jobs coming up, and we promise you’ll be a top candidate!”
This is perhaps the most lofty promise of all, especially since they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) commit to anything specific. And why would any top employee turn down a great offer they have in writing for a “maybe, soon, to-be-determined” role?
Great companies don’t make desperate promises.
Great companies ensure their employees are satisfied every day. They don’t underpay them just because they can, they make them feel valued by offering them what they are worth in the market. (And great employees usually know what they’re worth in the market.)
Great companies give employees the autonomy they need to do a great job and recognize them appropriately when they accomplish their goals. Great managers don’t micro-manage and take credit for the best ideas; they allow their teams to shine and receive the accolades they deserve for a job well-done. (Hint: if your employee is doing all of the work for a given initiative, they should be the ones presenting the fantastic results to your senior leadership team, not you.)
Great companies have ongoing dialogues with their employees about their career aspirations and the personal development that may be needed to get there. They don’t make empty promises about “future roles” (for which no specific details are available) and ask employees to have blind faith that the organization will provide for them.
Companies can continue doing what most do now: ignore the signs of discontent, act surprised when top talent resigns, then make desperate counteroffers to try and keep them.
But things can be different.
And they certainly should be.
So... what are we waiting for, exactly?
I wrote this post a few years ago for the blog I maintained back then, and it found its way onto the Medium site to which I would occasionally post. Due to a recent change in Medium's policies, I decided to pull most of my content off that platform, but in doing so, found a few good pieces living on there that (based on the stats I was provided) people seemed to like... so I'm moving them over here for you to enjoy. Eventually, all my content will live in just one spot. Eventually...