Starting from a position of choice in manager-employee relationships

By Elisabeth Goodman, 17th May 2019

An article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review has, as is often the case, triggered some lateral thinking on my part.  Borys Groysberg (2020) explores a case study of whether a manager should fight to keep a star employee who decides to leave the organisation without any apparent prior indication of wanting to do so.

There follows some very valid discussion, from the author and from two contributing experts, on the merits or otherwise of various remedial-style actions.

What are your options when an employee says they plan to leave your employment?

As the manager you can:

  • Make various forms of counter-offer to the employee
  • Find out why the employee is leaving and see if the reasons can be addressed in a way that would stop them doing so
  • Promote their colleague to stop them leaving as well, and to fill the gap even if they might not (yet) have the necessary skills
  • Give their colleague the incentive to work towards promotion by developing their skills to fill the gap
  • Put your own work to one side in order to fill the gap until someone else can be found to fill it

What the article also begins to explore is what preventative actions the manager could have taken which might have prevented the employee wanting to leave in the first place, or helped them to be better prepared for them wanting to do so.

What are your options to pre-empt an employee taking you by surprise with their career choices?

I believe that such preventative options could be even better positioned were managers and employees to adopt the mindset that:

  1. People work for a company by choice, just as a company chooses to recruit people for specific jobs
  2. The relationship between an individual and their manager is a collaborative one, which combines meeting the organisation’s requirements and supporting the individual in their personal development plans
  3. An individual may find that their personal development is best continued elsewhere
  4. A company’s requirements from an individual will also evolve over time
There are various tools that can support discussions between managers and employees about their respective expectations. Most important is to have the conversation itself. [Illustration based on various RiverRhee courses for managers.]

How to start from a position of choice in manager-eMployee relationships?

If we start from a position of choice in manager-employee relationships, then some good practices, which the HBR article does mention, could be re-cast as follows:

1. Have regular one-to-one discussions which are not only task-focused, but also reflect on how things are going in terms of :

  • The individual’s expectations for their personal development
  • The organisation’s requirements from the individual

2. Discuss succession planning:

  • How the individual’s career might evolve within the organisation in terms of potential gaps from other people leaving
  • What the individual could do to develop others who might fill their role if they move to other roles within or outside the organisation

3. Perhaps most importantly of all, regularly demonstrate, through positive feedback, how much you value the individual’s contribution to the company



Groysberg, B. (2020) Case Study: Should you Fight to Keep a Star? Harvard Business Review, May – June

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

Leave a Comment