How to react to the resignation of one of your best team members.

Robert Bigaignon

Engineering Manager at Yelp



One of my best engineers, who was a very valuable for the team, told me in a one-on-one meeting that he would be leaving our company in a month. He had been head-hunted by another company who had made him a great offer that he had decided to accept.

Actions taken

I was very surprised and asked for a few hours to gather my thoughts to see what I could do as we both were stressed and emotional. I asked my engineer some questions to understand more and to gather more information:

"What is the other company?", "What position are you considering at the other company?", "How much are they offering you?", "Have you faced some discontentment at work recently?".

Then, I took time to process his answers and discussed the situation with my managers. Together, we assessed how valuable this engineer was, and the immediate loss that his departure would represent, as well as the long term loss. Since this engineer was performing and growing in his role, we definitely wanted to keep him. We offered him a counter-offer and discussed the kind of impact that he could expect to have in the coming months and years at the company. We contrasted the impact he would have if he stayed on our team to the type of impact he could expect to have if he joined the much larger company, with specific examples of contributions and projects we anticipated offering him. Unfortunately, he decided to leave anyway and he resigned a few weeks later.

Lessons learned

I used to view this story as a failure on our part to retain him, but looking back, I realized that it was crucial to think about the person's best interest in terms of career path. I think that I could have anticipated this more and should have asked him whether he would be interested in another position in the company. Having these types of conversations can be uncomfortable but are crucial to have, especially when people hit certain career milestones. An anniversary of their work at your company or at the end of a major project are good checkpoints.

My advice for retaining your best team members is to anticipate their needs and to be very explicit about it. You can do this by asking them very candidly "You've been working on the team for the past three years. You've just completed project X; did you find your role on the team challenging and inspiring? Would you be interested in this specific project? What are the projects that you'd find particularly exciting and challenging? Does anything outside our group really excite you?", and by making them understand that you really care about their career path, within and outside of your company.

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Robert Bigaignon

Engineering Manager at Yelp

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