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I Quit! Actually I need a Raise...

January 5, 2009
by Tim Tolan
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I never try to discourage candidates from getting the very best compensation package they can negotiate. Really! I want every candidate that my firm works with to get THE best overall salary, bonus and other perks available to them. Period. What I take issue with is how some candidates choose to get what they want at the expense of others involved.

It’s the classic scenario where the candidate is very much engaged in the search process, shows up for all of the requisite interviews and completes each and every task along the way that we require as part of our search process. I mean we really invest a significant amount of time in vetting candidates and do whatever we can to ensure that we have demonstrated all of the reasons we feel a particular candidate is qualified and should be seriously considered for the job. The offer finally makes its way to me and before I send the offer to a candidate I always present a verbal offer to make sure I communicate all of the details verbally in advance of just sending the document via e-mail or overnight mail. It gives me a chance to gauge the candidate’s reaction to the offer and their immediate response is usually a fairly good indicator of their willingness to accept the offer – or not.

What drives me insane is once we (all) go through a fairly lengthy process to naturally bring things to closure something strange happens. A conversation might go something like this:

“Tim, I appreciate everything you have done for me in this search but I need more time to think this over”. “You appreciate the time…WHAT? Think what over? Later, I find out that behind the scenes, Mr. or Ms. Wonderful decided to take things into their own hands and use my offer to gain a better deal in their current company by resigning their current role. Now that’s a bit slimy…

My clients invest serious cycles in a search process and so do we! We go though all of this and this happens? Are you kidding me? Yes - it does happen (although it’s rare). Just when you figure it out what’s happened - you realize that the candidate is on the verge of making a major career mistake that will haunt them as long as they work for their current company. Once a candidate decides to use another offer to resign and have their current employer come back with a better deal – the game (for them) is over.

What they may not understand is that once they resign they have sent a loud signal to their employer that they must be very unhappy to go to this extreme. Also, they are no longer considered to be a loyal employee and their actions will definitely have an impact on their career moving forward. Yes…this includes promotions and raises! Most savvy employers will wish them well and never give into this sort of financial blackmail. Just wish them well – but show them the door!

The probability for those that resign and then decide to stay is very high that they will leave (or be asked to leave) within a year or so anyway. This charade is a colossal waste of time for all parties involved. It hurts just writing about it!

Can we change the subject now? Thank you!

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Comments

Tim,
Have you noticed any patterns regarding where this happens?

As an employer, I've noticed that the fall-through rate is much higher for some positions than others. Your post made me stop and think, are there any patterns?

In my series, the larger the company and better recognized brand of the candidates current employer, the more likely the candidate receives a counter offer, and accepts the counter. To your point, that is AFTER the retained search firm and my firm have invested in negotiating an offer, and invested in building the internal 'good will' that is a critical part of the process.

I wonder whether you've seen the same association, i.e. the more bureaucratic the candidate's current employer, the more likely they'll effectively rescind their commitment to accept?

The other dimension to your post relates to life for the candidate, after staying based on a counter offer.  We've previously discussed, in your blog, 2 manager-tools perspectives, 'Hiring during a downturn' and 'Boomeranges' (hiring back people who've previously left).  Do you think those perspectives are more appropriate for non-C-level (ie below C level folks, mainly in IT)?   The gist of the former is that you really need to invest even more heavily in a good hiring process during a downturn.  The gist of the later (Boomerangs) is that given the relative shortage of qualified people with some specialized skills, and the dynamic nature of managment (i.e. turn-over of senior execs and their strategies), boomerange behavior has paradoxically become a different thing than it was 20 years ago. 

Your thoughts?

Joe:

I have not profiled the model company where this seems to occur the most. One could argue that even smaller companies would try to keep a gifted employee once they decide to play the resignation card. In some cases it is a situation where the employee in question has all of the data on the details of their job (they know where all the bodies are buried) and losing their knowledgebase could be a real challenge to the employer. In any event the outcome eventually is the same for the candidate. It is a very brave move and one that usually has negative consequences in the end.

Anthony:

You bring up an excellent point and their "standing" in the company can have a lot to do with their motivation to play the counter-offer card. It could also be a situation where, quite frankly their reporting manager is not providing leadership - or a whole host of other reasons.

And you are definitely correct when you refer to "going to the other side"... Their career will wind up reaching a plateau sort of like the song by Kansas 'The Point of No Return".

I wonder if there are other employers like mine, the Veterans Administration, who require that one demonstrate one is likely to leave one's job before qualifying for a "retention bonus".


Joe:

I've actually seen a situation when a resignation takes place the individual leaving throws their boss under the bus. It's usually premeditated revenge! Plain and simple they sometimes leave due to the working conditions and culture that is established by the manager/supervisor. In that example they were going to leave anyway — so the counter offer scenario I outlined above would be a totally different situation.

Hey — these are real people that we are dealing with! They walk, talk and change their minds whenever they want! God I love this business!

Perhaps the argument could be made that whether or not someone might play the "resignation" card can best be determined by the employee's positioning within their current company. By that I mean: is the individual, for example, a cantankerous programmer whose standing is based not on interpersonal relationships, but rather akin to a "stand alone application." What I mean to imply is that one whose positioning is not reliant on good will, or being likable, will have far less to lose than someone to whom being a team player, one of the insiders or part of the inner circle is important to their standing.

We have established, correctly I think, that what one risks when threatening resignation is to be seen differently than they had been in the past. Perhaps, in the past, it had been an "us versus the world" mentality, where an individual's standing is, to an extent, based on being part of the "us." Threatening resignation moves the person to the other side of that barrier, and they can never return. They may come back to work, interactions may seem normal, but nothing will every truly be the same. A trust has been broken, and that is the hardest thing to recover. The basic message, it seems, is Socrates' "Know thyself" before threatening to walk. Or, as Tim says, don't do it at all.

It probably happens all of the time. Extra money, additional bonus dollars and other promises may not be enough to stay around if you are required to work fora boss you can't stand to be around.

Anthony,
I think you nailed part of it with the "Us" observation, which brings us to the "resignation as disloyal act" framing.

Many people who I see resign don't like the "Us" of their immediate superior.

I had dinner a few years back with the SVP of HR for TeleCom Global (pseudonym for a multi-billion dollar, public corporation). He said that 80% of the time, when someone resigns, they don't like their boss.

The rest of the company, the "Us" of the company is often liked or loved. So,  resignation, the majority of the time does not reflect on company loyalty, in his extensive experience.  (Admittedly, that's a very tough industry.)

The other observation I can share is that, in my experience, the rescinders almost always have very, very strong social skills. They were apparent in the interviewing and the negotiation.

As Tim points out, there's an important question about their motives and authenticity being pathologic, when they rescind.  I've been on the receeving end several times and I  know the pain Tim describes.  I strongly agree that candor, honesty, and authenticity are critical to ones career.  Now, more than ever, people know about peoples past behavior, well beyond the reference check! 

This situation is an entirely different motif from the socially-impoverished "cantankerous programmer" Anthony described. I've never counter-offered such a person!  Attitude usually trumps production capability.

High Polish Or  High Frustration?  When I see a high degree of obvious, strong social or "soft" skills, the risk of rescission goes way up, in my experience.  On the other hand, if they're real frustrated with their current boss, the risk of rescission goes way down.  I think this speaks to management and leadership, the importance of one-on-ones, coaching and feedback with subordinates.  My guess is that a lot less offers go to subordinates who are happy in their current reporting relationship, whether or not they need a raise.

Tim Tolan

Senior Partner, Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice

@@TimTolan

http://sanfordrose.net/thetolangroup/

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