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Dealing with counter offers


Arguably retaining your star employees is more important to the development of your business than attracting new stars – talent is worth fighting for. Inevitably, despite your best efforts, the time will come when a star employee utters the dreaded words, “Can I have a word please?” Following is a guide to dealing with such an occasion.

Stage one: sowing doubt

  • Stay cool, ask lots of questions and listen hard. The questions you could ask include: what made you accept call from the company in the first place? Have you done your due diligence on them? What really excites you about this new job? Is there something we can fix so that you will stay? If we fix it, will you stay? (Jeffrey Christian: The most important thing you’ll ever do. 2002.)
  • Your job is to get your star employee to reconsider the new job offer under a slightly darker cloud. Try to emphasise they are not comparing apples with apples because they’re comparing all sides of your business (including the bad) with only the sunny side of the brand-­new company. Good questions to take the shine off a new offer may include: it’s a big job they are giving you. Why do you think it was available? If you think money has been a prime motivator you may also ask, money and job title aside, why do you think this new company will be a better place to work? (Jeffrey Christian: The most important thing you’ll ever do. 2002.)
  • In keeping with your magnanimous stance, ask your star employee that if they were you, what would they do to retain people like them in the business?


After you’ve sown some doubt in the mind of your star employee you may want to ask for a period of time to consult your manager, between 24 and 48 hours.


Stage two: creating an effective counter offer

  • Star employees will have personal friendships and connections so make sure you understand them and work them to your advantage.
  • A key part to creating an effective counter offer is trying to re-engage your star employee in the exciting future the company has and their key role in it. Get used to the idea that flattery could get you everywhere!
  • If during the questions you asked in stage one areas of change were identified that may motivate the star employee to stay, acknowledge the changes need to happen and together set a timetable for the changes.
  • Address the money issue. While you don’t want to simply throw money at the problem, be prepared to eat some humble pie, acknowledge you may not have been rewarding them correctly, and commit to renegotiating their package.
  • Be more specific about their career options in your business. If your competition is prepared to offer them a more senior position should you? Have a frank discussion with them about where they want to go in your business and whilst managing their expectations put a clear plan in place for them to achieve their career goals.


By following this two‐stage process you will increase your chances of effectively dealing with a counter offer. You will not always be successful and on those occasions it’s important to learn the lessons to try and bullet-­proof your company for the future. Things that you may want to consider doing include the following:

  • Have your very best people form an experienced emergency retention team, peer pressure can be very powerful.
  • The best weapon for keeping talent is success. On a daily basis convince your top talent their best future lies with you.
  • And finally, keep learning the lessons when people do leave; this should motivate you to create an environment that nobody wants to leave.