Finding out an employee is interviewing with the competition

Jan 12, 2009

If you have a firm of any size and have been in business for any length of time, you will at some point discover one of your key people is interviewing with a competitor. You may think you know what to do— but do you? Your first reaction might be to get angry. “Fire ‘em now before they quit.” I’ve been there (with that attitude) myself. But that could be a huge mistake. It is hard to find good people and even harder to hire them once you do. It’s harder yet to replace them after they have spent years learning the ins and outs of your firm and your clients and how you want things done. The bottom line is you cannot afford to fire a good employee just because they are disenchanted with your firm. You may also think you should immediately offer more pay, a promotion, or some other “goodies” in an attempt to convince the employee to stick around. This, too, could be a huge mistake that gives all of your people the idea that the way to get ahead is to start interviewing elsewhere and the firm will bend over backwards in an attempt to keep you around. Bad message. What I do think you should do is start investigating. Talk to the employee. You don’t need to tell them you heard they were interviewing elsewhere but you should try to find out what is really going on. Don’t make any assumptions about what they are thinking or what the real problem is. Talk to the employee’s supervisor. Get his or her take on the situation. Also try to discreetly talk to the employee’s peers. Find out what you can to determine if anything’s wrong that you could fix. It may be the employee is having some sort of problem with their supervisor. You may want to let the employee move to another team, department, or office. It could be a personality conflict of some sort with another employee. This, too, could be relatively simple to solve by making some reassignments or changing some roles. It might be that the employee is concerned about the health of your company. Perhaps if you openly shared the financial performance of the company with all employees, they would feel less alienated. Or maybe letting everyone participate in the business planning process would be a good thing. It could be ownership is the problem. Maybe it’s time to reach down a little lower in the organization with stock purchase opportunities. It’s also possible there is nothing you can do. It may be the other company has a job opportunity in an office location you simply cannot match. If this turns out to be the case, you have to smile, wish the employee your best, and hope he or she wants to come back some day. Whatever happens, keep yourself calm. Think rationally. Don’t get vengeful and don’t give away the store. Be smart. People will talk to other employers. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they will take a new job elsewhere. Get to know your people. Treat them with respect— always— and give them all you can afford to give them. If you do these things, you’ll be rewarded with a long-standing and loyal workforce over time. Originally published 1/12/2009

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.