In the past few decades, pro-active career exploration while in a secure employment situation has become increasingly normalized, and the notion that a leader’s choice to exit an organization somehow indicates disloyalty has fallen by the wayside in most industries. This change coupled with historically low national unemployment numbers and higher-than-average demand for top talent means that executives now have more leeway than ever in forging their professional paths. It also means that counter offers are becoming more prevalent. But just because it is common for companies to extend counter offers does not mean that it is always wise for leaders to accept them. If faced with the decision to pursue a new role or accept a counter offer at one’s current organization, leaders should bear in mind that accepting the counter may not lead to an enhanced trust bond with the organization or increased long-term professional stability with the current employer.
Greg Barnes, leader of the Mission Enterprise Division of FaithSearch Partners observed, “No one in a healthy organization is irreplaceable. Transition offers the opportunity for organizational introspection and the chance to bring in new energy and new ideas that can raise your game. While there is always a sense of loss when a productive contributor moves on, succession planning is the key to having the right answer when an unexpected departure occurs.”
Counter offers can’t account for everything
Since Gen X-er’s entered the workforce in the ‘80s and ‘90s, attitudes about what makes a career worthwhile have evolved significantly. Leaders, and employees in general, are no longer considering compensation alone when they evaluate professional fulfillment. They are also accounting for an organization’s mission and values and whether or not there is opportunity for individual impact on social issues that fit with personal passions. These intangible values and cultural character elements are often especially meaningful for leaders at faith-based non-profits, where these organizations are expected to provide them with the tools and resources needed to find such fulfillment in their roles. If you find yourself considering a counter offer in the face of an opportunity to move to a new platform, remember what motivates you personally. Determine if the current employment setting best allows you to experience your full range of career satisfaction goals, or if the new setting you’ve been offered has a higher potential to enhance your career and offer you the chance to involve yourself in a culture that encourages contributions beyond your work duties. Then, you can consider the dollars and cents of the two offers and let that kind of full-range consideration inform your decision. Doing this will undoubtedly promote long-term professional satisfaction in a way that flatly accepting a counter offer may not.
Counter offers can delay the inevitable
Many times, even if a candidate does accept a counter offer, he or she will end up leaving the organization within twelve to eighteen months (or less!) anyway. In some cases, a leader being made a counter offer may signal a lack of strategic preparation or some deeper fundamental dysfunction within the company. Succession planning and transition preparation are healthy organization fundamentals. While there may be completely legitimate reasons to make an attempt to retain certain mission-critical leaders even though they have gone as far as exploring and being selected for an offer from another company, a flourishing organization would use this option very sparingly.
Perhaps the leader sensed vital differences or conflicts between leadership and the board. Perhaps there were founder/successor transition issues at play. Unless these challenges are specifically identified and addressed, the leader kept in place with a counter offer will likely continue to explore other jobs in the not-so-distant future, and both the organization and the exiting executive will suffer greater fall-out from delaying the inevitable.
Counter offers don’t address the real issue
Because so many executives are no longer influenced by money alone when they think about what makes an attractive career, simply accepting more compensation does not resolve the deeper issues that may be motivating transition decisions.
FaithSearch President Ed Fry reminds, “With faith-based organizations in particular, a candidate’s motivation for a professional change is often something other than compensation. While compensation cannot be ignored, it is important that the initial offer, as well as any post-counter conversation, focuses on what’s really driving the candidate and how the organization can meet that need.” Thus, leaders considering counter offers should bear in mind their original motivations for wanting to exit. When they do, they may discover that although extra compensation is attractive, it is not ultimately what they are seeking.
The bottom line: As top talent at both faith-based and secular organizations face the career quandary of whether to remain in their current roles or transition to new ventures, leaders may find themselves increasingly on the receiving end of counter offers when they announce their plans to exit. But before rushing to accept, it is wise to consider the reasons for wanting a change in the first place, and understand that counter offers may not be the answer.