Rebuilding Your Leadership Pipeline

John was a fantastic employee with lots of potential. Everyone knew that he’d end up running a large company some day. Needless to say, the disappointment was great when John informed his boss that he had accepted an offer to join another company. The opportunity was something John just couldn’t pass by. Interestingly, he wasn’t taking his experience to a competitor, but rather he was entering an industry that he really had no knowledge of.

John’s boss was very upset and of course there was no going-away party, at least not paid for by the company. That doesn’t mean that John didn’t have a nice send-off. Several colleagues planned an event at a popular restaurant and lot’s of people attended. They were all going to miss him.

Several years passed and John’s former boss retired. His replacement, Sam, heard John’s name mentioned often and decided to ask a few questions about this former employee that made such a lasting impression. Sam looked at John’s LinkedIn profile and was impressed with what he saw.

Sam had an interesting approach to leadership development. He took joy in developing people and moving them up the corporate ladder, even if that meant that they passed him by. He also didn’t hold a grudge if one of his protégés decided to pursue interests in another company. Sam never burned bridges. In fact, his practice was to stay in touch with these former subordinates and peers.

It wasn’t always easy to do, given the corporate environment that he worked in, but several times Sam re-hired an employee that left to work for a different firm. Here’s why:

Public Relations:

An employee who is leaving your company on good terms and who is treated well during the transition and departure from his/her company will – more than likely – share their positive experience with others. At the very least, they will not say anything negative about your company. When an employee leaves our company we should wish him well, not try to harm their future careers.

Managers should support employees who want to leave their company. It does happen that an employee might not be a good fit for a job, struggle with change that has been implemented or gotten burned by corporate politics. Managers that show empathy for these employees and help them find a meaningful alternative with another company are the best cheerleaders for your company. Their personal investment will create positive PR for you firm.

New insight / new experiences:

I’ve worked at four different multi-national companies and one non-profit. All experiences were valuable and helped me grow. If I were to rejoin one of my former companies, I would take this acquired know-how with me.

After you get over the disappointment that one of your star players has turned his/her back on you, think about all the positives you could gain if you were to re-hire them sometime down the road.

Understand your culture:

If decades haven’t past, returning employees will have an easy time integrating into your corporate culture. They know it, understand it and can maneuver through it. Chances are that your culture hasn’t changed dramatically since they left.

Known quantity:

Returning employees have a track record in your company. You can look at their personnel file and review old performance reviews, talk to people who may have managed them and talk to peers with whom they worked. I doubt you’ll have any surprises.

Have a network:

If you’ve gone off to college and returned to your hometown after 4 years, chances are you will still have friends and acquaintances that haven’t left and will be happy to see you. Returning colleagues will experience something similar. How fun will it be to have lunch with a couple of colleagues you haven’t seen for 6 years?

Know your products:

Chances are that in addition to some new products in your company’s portfolio, you are probably still selling products that the re-turning employee remembers. They’ll remember the product launch, milestones that were achieved and disappointments the team experienced.

Know your market:

Even if they aren’t in marketing, returning employees will remember the challenges that your company faced in the marketplace. They’ll be aware of your competitors. The skills and experience they acquired at another company may give them a new understanding for the market pressures that your company faces. You never know, they might have some ideas that you haven’t thought of.

As you can see, welcoming a former employee back to your company does have its advantages. It would be shortsighted if your company has a policy against re-hiring employees. Especially today, when it is proving more difficult to find top talent, re-hiring former employees could be a source of top talent.

If you do decide to re-hire someone, you’ll need to work with HR to address several issues that might present problems. Returning employees might ask for some exceptions that haven’t been done before or that could be seen as “against policy”. They also might carry a steep price tag. These might include the recognition of past service for pension, vacation and other benefits. Hopefully these won’t be deal-breakers and HR can put together an attractive package for the returning employee.