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Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Accepting a Counteroffer

Accepting a CounterofferA fter weeks of interviewing, a friend called me to say that he had accepted a job offer with a 15% increase from another company after going back and forth on negotiations. He then went in to deliver the news to his boss. Not wanting to lose a high performer and an important member of the executive team, his current boss came back with a counteroffer consisting of a title change, no change in compensation, and vague promises of a new set of responsibilities. Had he called before he had ventured out into the market, he might not be in the position of having his “word” (accepting another job offer) challenged. By the time he reached out, he turned the offer down and decided to stay with his current employer.

Initially, things were great; there was enthusiasm about having his new duties defined and getting rolling. Slowly, over the following month, the enthusiasm dampened and by the time the third month passed, an icy chill seemed to set in. He called to ask me about opportunities available in the market – confirming what most research indicates: Executives taking counteroffers usually leave within 9-12 months of accepting.

By accepting an offer from a rival company – only to then turn down the offer and accept a counteroffer, a candidate has done the equivalent of shooting himself in both feet. First, the rival company will think twice about considering him in the future. In this case, the rival company was aligned well to his experience and capabilities, but they will not forget being rejected. Secondly, his current company will begin to doubt his future intentions, and the environment might turn icy as a result.

Before accepting a counteroffer, it is best to ask yourself these three questions:

1. What made me curious about joining another company to begin with?

The question, “What problem will be solved by leaving the company?” is at the heart of every decision to depart. Executives are convinced it cannot be solved by the current organization or leaders, yet they never asked to begin with. Please consider the previous article, “Four Legitimate Reasons to Leave a Company”.

If tempted to leave the company, put the issue on the table and see how they respond. All jobs present problems (the current company and the possible new employer, too) and who can truly say the new company will be able to solve them? Exchanging one set of problem for another isn’t always the best strategy.

2. Why am I so suddenly valuable after I announced my intention to leave?

My friend pointed out the flurry of activity taking place once he announced he was leaving. “There was a full-court press,” he said, “and it came at me from all sides.” Of course! There is always an effort by the company to maintain the status quo. The truth is most organizations have problems they deal with daily, and until you announce your departure, your position was not one of them, but now they are forced to react. Much of the time the reaction is just that – a reaction. Once seas calm, the organization’s leaders are resentful about having to react without a plan to keep talent in place. They also will start to question how loyal you are in the future. Imagine going home tonight and saying to your significant other, “I have been cheating you for the last six weeks, but because you agreed to listen to me, it will not happen again,” and see how the climate changes. Icy may be a distinct possibility.

3. Who is least happy when you agree to stay?

In my thirty years of experience, the answer is usually you. You may rationalize your reasons for staying, but in the end, you may begin to doubt your own ability maintain belief in your own promises. You put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues and question what they think about having you as a trusted member of the team. You have forced leaders to react to your personal desires and they may resent the tactic (trust me, they do). Also, you might constantly wonder about the condition of the grass on the other side of the fence. On bad days (and there will be bad days) you may silently wonder “what if?”

If you think the answer is the company you rejected, you’d be incorrect. While they are certainly upset initially, but after it has happened, they say things like,” I’m glad it happened now rather than six months from now.” Some even say they dodged a bullet. They will not be back for institutional memory is long.
I always believe it is important to put issues on the table at your current place of employment before you consider leaving. Give the organization a chance to improve. If they will not attempt to change it when there is no pressure, then do not be surprised when they resent it when leveraged.

About the Author:

Tim Pappas is a principal with Pappas DeLaney, LLC, a Milwaukee-based consulting firm specializing in working with CEOs and top-management teams on leadership strategies and organizational alignment for corporations nationally.