Q: I’m a midlevel manager in a highly specialized department. One of my employees, Susan, has been asking for a promotion. Yesterday she told me that she received an attractive offer from another company, and I think she is hoping we’ll counter the offer.
My VP thinks that Susan can be easily replaced. I don’t think the VP realizes how much knowledge she has and how difficult it will be to fill Susan’s position. What can I do to try to change his mind about making a counteroffer? — Terese, 50, senior director, strategy group
A: The key is tying her contributions to the things your VP cares about most.
This may not be as easy as it sounds. Sometimes highly specialized tasks can sound mundane and are only linked indirectly to higher level outcomes. Nonetheless, they are essential and it’s up to you to tell the story of Susan’s value.
Make a list of the top tasks she performs along with the skills and knowledge needed to get the work done. Be detailed so you have a supply of information to draw on to make your case.
Then tie each of these to your company’s key strategic objectives, focusing most closely on those that are aligned with your VP’s objectives.
For example, perhaps Susan monitors macroeconomic trends. The work she does may include determining what information to gather, where to find it, aggregating the information and delivering it in a useful format.
To the uninformed, this may sound like something anyone just out of college could do. In fact, it requires in-depth industry knowledge, company knowledge, data savvy and storytelling, among other skills.
Now, let’s say that this VP is responsible for determining market potential, for example. Explain how each step she takes enables this assessment to be completed in a way that optimizes the accuracy of forecasts.
Then demonstrate the risks that will be incurred if she’s no longer providing this information. Find an example of how her work supported a key decision that will, frankly, scare him into realizing the risks of proceeding without her.
On the financial side, provide an analysis of the cost to replace her, including recruitment and training.
Also do a salary analysis. It’s an ugly fact that many people who have been around an organization for a while end up underpaid. Realistically, you may have to pay someone as much as she was offered elsewhere without the benefits of retention.
Consider how hard you want to fight to keep her. This could stir up some conflict between you and your VP, even if you are keeping it respectful. If you really want to push it, if there are other key users of the work she does, you could let them know she’s considering leaving. This is a high-risk move, though, and shouldn’t be done lightly.
Be transparent with her that you are fighting to keep her. It may buy you a couple extra days to make your case. And, in any case, it will be gratifying to her to know that you see her value to your organization.
Then ask yourself, “Do I want to work for a company that sees people as disposable?”