THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

What to do when that valued team member tells you they have been poached by the competition

It’s really hard to swallow isn’t it?

When a member of your team hands in their resignation and tells you that they are moving to another practice in the area for a few more pounds/dollars per hour?

20 years ago I was running a dental workshop in my home town of Manchester, attended by a Practice Manager without her Principal (who was on vacation).

Unbeknown to me, during the lunch hour she was approached by another Principal attending and asked to interview after my event.

She subsequently took the new job.

The first Principal mysteriously blamed me for the loss of his Manager, wrote a very abusive letter and never spoke to me again. To this day, when he sees me at conferences, he crosses the road.

I can appreciate the emotion, if not its target.

In the small business world, we call this POACHING and regard it as unethical.

In the big business world, they call this HEADHUNTING and pay bonuses to those who succeed.

My youngest son, Joshua, used to do this for a living – enticing legal professionals away from their current employers on behalf of ambitious clients – he won awards for it.

I’m not sure where the line is between poaching and headhunting – perhaps poaching is what happens when a small business owner says:

  1. look at all the hours I put into training that person

  2. look at the trust I placed in them

  3. look at all the times I gave them extra time off

  4. look at the courses I paid for

The key word is betrayal.

Big business isn’t capable of emotion – someone leaves – shrug – move on – recruit.

The independent whose staff are poached has sleepless nights, blaming themselves for what happened.

Here are some rules to help when you experience that betrayal:

  1. don’t negotiate with terrorists – do not make a counter offer to match the higher salary. If accepted the news will get around the team and everyone will know that you can be played. If the higher offer is rejected you just feel worse;

  2. don’t believe the reasons given – people create stories to rationalise their actions. You may well get a song and dance routine about the failings in your organisation that have led to the person moving on. It’s all BS – they are moving for their own reasons and its unlikely that you will get the truth;

  3. don’t get your priorities wrong – post-resignation, the most important people are the rest of your team. Set an example – thank the leaver for their contribution, organise a leaving party, move on;

  4. don’t immediately look outside – consider internal promotion first;

  5. don’t advertise – the best external recruitment candidates are those recommended by your existing patients. Write to them (I have draft letters) explaining that a new position has become available, spelling out the job description and describing the characteristics of the successful candidate;

  6. don’t let the leaver work their notice – no matter how indispensable you think they are – legally settle for cash in lieu and move them off the premises ASAP, otherwise they will be a rotten apple in the barrel;

  7. don’t let a lynchpin work without an apprentice – always make sure that key members of your team have an understudy – not just to cover their holidays but to cover you if poaching happens.

Harsh?

Maybe so – but simply based on my 47 years in full-time employment and observation of human nature.

For the lynchpin members of your organisation (the true stars), remember that salary has to be a pair of golden handcuffs – so that when the going gets tough, or when the poacher approaches, they are too well paid to consider the move. Just saying.

Like I said – its tough to create super people and then see them move on – but that’s a characteristic of a successful business – it happens – be ready.

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