Your Best Employee Is Leaving

by Stanley H. Davis

Your best employee just accepted a new job. If you can’t reverse this loss (and maybe you shouldn’t try), how do you avoid the next one – and there will be a next one. To complicate what may be next, we’re now in an environment where job security is more uncertain and people are more receptive to job alternatives. Plus we’re early in a new year which is an annual venue for elevated turnover.

The best people have value to sell, and the initiative to sell it. As employers we’re either sources or consumers of that talent. How do we protect what we have?

A noteworthy example for how, is modeled by the not-for-for-profit leaders who hire and keep great people – without paying them. How do they do that? They ensure that their volunteers have valued work clearly described, with programmed recognition, and easy access to training. “We always remember what they’re giving us”, one Director of Volunteers explained. “When we don’t manage them well, they just stop showing up.”

Any business in the hunt for your best people can easily offer them more money. But can they undo or outdo your relationships? Through the studies by Frederick Hertzberg, we know that pay (the only tangible difference between employment and volunteerism) is in fact a “hygiene factor”, not a motivator. That is, pay is only a maintenance factor. It’s just expected. It’s not a “plus”. Paychecks can’t motivate loyalty any more than they can buy passion. We know from the recruitment for our clients that top performers will readily leave a mediocre environment for a real opportunity. And, consistent with every survey and study, pay is not the swing factor.

To support our business clients (the consumers of talent), most of the candidates we attract to leadership positions are currently employed, and most of these are not looking for a new job. Fair compensation is expected. But it is the career environment and the culture that are the real draws. It’s clear that we need to recheck how we think about exciting the best people. The big aha is to make sure people see the promises of challenge; growth opportunities; appreciation and appropriate rewards; and an organization environment and culture that offers affinity for them. Above all they look for an inspiring leader who will cultivate positive relationships.

That’s what gets them through your door. But we don’t hire a new leader just for the first day. A newly hired leader or professional will only stay if the environment stays right. They’ll leave if it doesn’t. In every economy there are job alternatives for the best people, and the best people will pursue, or be pursued for, a great opportunity. Their initiative, and their confidence to take a prudent risk will enable their jump to a new job

We’d all like to think that we can keep people on our own terms, yet the most accomplished and valued people at every level will make their own decisions. You may lose this best employee. We’re confident that we can recruit a great replacement for you. But consider the changes you can make to help you keep the next one.


Standish Executive Search works with business owners, executives and boards to position their companies for accelerated growth, change, and succession.