People, Talent, Teams

Q&A: Underhand moves call for strategic rethink

Frustrated business owner from Edgecliff, New South Wales asks:

I’m having a bad run at the moment with ex-employees. No sooner do they leave than I hear about them trying to poach my remaining staff. I’m hearing this from loyalists who’ve been approached and from mercenary employees who exploit my vulnerability to demand a pay rise. What bothers me is opportunism from insiders and the silence of those who aren’t telling me they are considering leaving. I’m trying to avoid being blindsided and having my team decimated. What should I do?

Kenelm Tonkin
, Chairman, Tonkin Corporation answers.

There is an opportunity here to act defensively and offensively.

First, fully recheck your employment offerings. Are you paying competitive salaries? Is your workplace environment optimistic? Does your managerial style impede good morale? Do your people enjoy professional autonomy? Can your managers teach to enhance staff careers? Conduct this due diligence on your company and adjust immediately if necessary.

Your next defensive step is to place each employee into one of your three categories: loyal, mercenary, silent. Reward your loyal people without hesitation. Further divide your ‘mercenaries’ into those who are successful, versus those with average, minimum, inconsistent or unacceptable performances. Offer the first group a ‘loyalty’ bonus, in whatever form, based on performance and continued service for a period appropriate to your business. If this means changing existing incentives to now include tenure for the first time, a new job title or accelerated promotion, so be it. Offer the second group nothing. Let another company take them. Then, actively cultivate the silent, sounding them out about poachers. Respond similarly as for your mercenaries.

Concurrently, take an offensive posture. Telephone those former employees who are poaching your staff. Confront them. Tell them you know what they are doing. Make the point sharply that you and your staff think less of them for their duplicity and that all the talk is about their behaviour. Warn them that they are being watched. History shows this solves 99% of cases. For the 1%, there is always a skilled employment lawyer or a hungry HR agent to counter-punch.

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