A business is only as good as its people, and great people are hard to find. Therefore, at some point many people end up involved in the poaching game.
As the successful poacher, it’s an exciting feeling as you secure a highly capable new employee — perhaps one you’ve been following for a while. And, as the target employee, it certainly is flattering and can present a great professional opportunity.
But for the manager or CEO on the receiving end of this plot, emotions can run high. The act of poaching is a great way to start a war or cause huge distress, and being targeted by poachers can be a horrible feeling — it’s easy to understand why kings literally put to death any poachers of their game in the feudal ages!
As a founder and chair, I’ve been on both sides of this poaching world. I don’t find poaching unethical and believe it’s a reasonable part of the dynamics of business.
However, as an emotional person, I still get very angry when I lose a superstar to poachers, particularly if the hunter is an acquaintance or even friend, or I felt close to the employee (sadly, it’s a good reminder that staff are not your friends).
Therefore I have formed some ethical rules for how to behave in these situations, and these now guide my views on all parties involved. Keep in mind, I’m always on the employer side of the table.
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11 ethical lessons for poaching staff
- There is nothing wrong with poaching, provided no one is breaking a contract or the law.
- Companies that make deals about poaching each other’s staff are breaking the law. And it’s also unethical (a big multinational company once tried this on with me and I just pretended not to understand. More on this below).
- Employees are within their rights to progress their careers, and are silly if they don’t do so.
- If an employee leaves, it means they didn’t feel the company was right for them anymore. The best way to avoid poached staff is to make sure staff want to stay. That’s what I told the multinational company. Admittedly, it’s not always possible (see next point).
- Sometimes it’s time for staff to go, even great ones. There’s no next role for them, or someone else believes in their ability more than you do. I find it hard to accept this point, but it’s true.
- On the way out, staff should take the time to personally thank those who helped them and took care of them. Maybe it will help professionally, but more importantly it’s the right thing to do. Even (most) senior people have feelings and appreciate gratitude from people they care about.
- If you poach someone from a company where your friend or professional associate is a top leader, call them up. Don’t ask permission to poach (see point 2), and wait until the deal is done. But when it is done, give them a polite courtesy call, and be kind. Don’t email or text, call and stand up straight. Also, don’t be shocked if they’re angry and aggressive.
- Don’t bad mouth your employer on the way out. Or ever. Be classy, it’s one mark of professionalism. I no longer hire people who tell me how the current boss doesn’t appreciate their magic. In my experience, their boss is right.
- Counteroffers rarely work in the long term; they can delay the inevitable, but if someone has decided to go then they have fallen out of love. It’s over, and money can’t save it.
- If you’re being poached, stop. Even if you’ve decided to leave, think about whether this is the right next role because a mistake can be costly. It’s easy to feel flattered and loved when approached, but a more analytical approach is required especially if you haven’t been looking. See what else is out there and get advice, because if this role fails, the days of poaching might be over. If you do leave, don’t take co-workers with you for six-to-twelve months. It is very bad form and might breach contracts too.
- Don’t take it personally when someone leaves. I can’t do this because I’m too emotional, but I know it’s right.
This is an extended version of a post that was first published on LinkedIn.