Picture this: It’s late in the day. You’ve finally made it back to your office after another crazy day. Just as you plop down into your chair to begin digging through what’s been haphazardly dumped on your desk by your all-too-willing to “dump it on the boss” staff and there’s a knock at your door. Usually, it’ll be around 5 o’clock — at least, that’s when it would be for me.

The next thing you see as you look up from your desk is one of your staff standing in your doorway saying something like, “Hey, boss, you got a minute because we need to talk?”

And suddenly you can feel your body tighten up because you probably already know what comes next. More times than not it’s the raise ultimatum or notice that they’re leaving. It’s what I’ve called through the years, “The 5 o’clock knock.”

Most times a staff member has already made up their mind for quite awhile that they’re planning to leave and all you can do at this point is make a hard sell to try and keep them. The timing tends to be tied to when they sense they have you over the barrel because it rarely happens in your slow season when you’re carrying them.

It’s just human nature and nothing personal but still it leaves you feeling like another ton of bricks have been piled on you. Don’t know about you, but I learned to hate feeling like a hostage. And I took the necessary steps to minimize that “Hostage Feeling”. It all started when I chose to be more proactive about staffing.

Start being proactive

I changed my mindset and began to think in terms of recruiting, hiring, orienting, training and retaining. The reason for this is because it takes all five to be really good at escaping the hostage syndrome. It’s also the cornerstone for anyone who wants to build a company with people that have the right stuff. Without this ongoing, aggressive, never-ending effort you’re not only going to be a hostage forever, you’re never going to build the kind of company you’ve dreamt of when you first got into the contracting business.

I also learned that when an employee is at the point that they’re in my doorway to either hold me up for ransom by asking for what is typically not a merit-based raise or they’re just letting me know they’re going and it’s too late to really save them.

Yes, you can play the raise game and you might save them but at a very high cost. The high cost is not just the ransom money, but it’s now opened the doors for everyone else to come in and renegotiate.
If you do capitulate, you’re left feeling you were taken advantage of if that is what it took to keep them. Even they come away worse for having to come to you and act like a kid who has to ask for an increase in their allowance. Many times, the hard feelings don’t subside and they’re leaving was only postponed. In any event, no one wins.

The other thing about waiting for them to come to you is it’s almost always too late. They have had to summon up the courage to break off the relationship and now they must defend this position. Hard feelings are bound to surface. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In my next installment, I’ll let you know how to deal with this with three questions you can ask right now, three certain answers and a plan of action.


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