Things can break down at this stage. Not very often, but it happens. It can be very stressful and the uncertainty unbearable. You have been through a long and time consuming process. You have spoken to many people. You have had extensive internal discussions and they have met other people. You think you have found the right person.

You make them an offer, but they refuse it. They stay where they are. They make an internal move, or they take another job. Maybe one they have been looking at while they were talking to you. Or your process may have been delayed, and something else better came along.

This can be devastating. You have put in so much work. You have spoken to so many people. You thought you had found the right person. You were looking forward to working together. You turned down other people. You made them what you thought was an offer they would accept. It feels like a betrayal. It is embarrassing. You feel let down. You are not sure what went wrong. You wish you had known how to avoid this before you made an offer. You don’t want something like this to happen again.

But don’t worry. It is easy to avoid. Human behaviour can be unpredictable. But there are some basic principles. If you follow these then the uncertainty can be reduced to a minimum. To make sure you close the deal, the secret is to raise all these issues at an earlier stage. Then you both know exactly where you stand. Being open and honest on both sides removes the risk of unexpected surprises.

Understand their motivation


This is the key. Ask them if they are talking to other employers. Ask them if they are looking at internal opportunities. Find out what is driving their interest in other opportunities.

Are they feeling frustrated? Do they feel like they have reached a glass ceiling? Does someone else need to move on so they can get promoted? Do they want to do something different? Do they want to take on more management or P&L responsibility? Do they want to move to a different location? Do they just want more money?

In general there is a prejudice against people moving just for money. And you need to be careful if this is what the deal comes down to. The candidate may be playing off their current employer against others, or one new employer against another. What employer’s generally want, and they are generally right, is someone who wants the job first, and the money is second.

That does not mean that you should not offer them a pay rise. In fact you almost always should: a minimum of 10% is the rule of thumb. The exception is where people are out of work unexpectedly.  It’s just that their primary motivation should be that this is an opportunity of a lifetime for them.

Other exceptions can be in very performance driven roles like banking or sales, with high bonuses. In most other roles, after the initial uplift, long term financial gain, based on their contribution to success of the business is the rule.

You also need to be careful about having too strict salary bands or upper limits. They are usually set by what their boss is being paid, and that means you! But what if you find someone who is truly outstanding? Someone who will make a major difference to the top or the bottom line? It is always worth having a wild card scenario in mind in case you do. And that would be good news!

The other prejudice is that the best people aren’t looking to move. They are so good that they are succeeding in whatever they are doing. And if they are smart, they made a good decision when they joined their existing employer. This is sometimes true, but not always.

There are always unforeseen circumstances, like takeovers or economic shocks. Even the best people make mistakes, though they may be rare. And anyway if you follow the process I have set out, you will be talking to the best people already. This is more of a problem with advertising or other passive forms of recruitment.

If you have done all this, and there was something they had not told you, then you are probably best not to work with them anyway. Make sure you don’t reject other people until the offer has been accepted. Then you can go back to them if something goes wrong. It is very rare for someone not to start work once they have accepted the offer and resigned. So this is the critical phase.

If they receive a counter offer, there is an easy response. Most people who do receive a counter offer, and accept it, leave within a year anyway. This is because the underlying reasons that motivated them to look elsewhere have not changed. Which makes understanding their motivation so important.

A long delay


When I first met Gus he was responsible for upgrading the technical leadership in mining for a major steel producer. This was crucial for improving the environmental impact of the business. Gus was under a lot of pressure and was anxious to get the right people. We searched the whole world for someone to lead the section dealing with waste products. This came up with ten people whom he interviewed. At this point Gus was offered a job in his native Brazil and decided to take it. So I started working with his boss Gelson, the CTO for mining.

By the end of the process almost a year had passed. But the candidate they wanted still took the job. This was because we understood his motivation. It was an opportunity for him to move into a corporate leadership role. He had spent his career in technical expert consulting and site based leadership roles. This opportunity to work in Head Office would complete the circle of his career. It would bring together all of his technical and leadership experience and apply it to corporate leadership.

So despite the lengthy delay, when other people had dropped out and taken other jobs, he was still interested. He took the job and Gelson was delighted. He had added significant expertise to his senior leadership team, in a crucial area for sustainability. By understanding the real motivation of the candidate, we were able to close the deal despite a long delay.

The back up

When I met Janet she had responsibility for putting together a leadership team for a major public project. This was for the Renewal and Restoration of the Houses of Parliament. It was extremely high profile. It houses the British Parliament and had millions of visitors each year. She needed to find a truly eminent and diverse team. She was under enormous pressure and understandably anxious.

We put together the main board, which was half female, but we still needed a Chair. They had their hearts set on a man with a very safe pair of hands who was leading the major national infrastructure body. But he could see the crucial importance of diversity in such a high profile appointment. So they offered the job to a female candidate who was little less high profile but still excellent.

We had had in depth discussions with her and we knew her well. We understood that this would be an exciting addition to the portfolio of positions that she held. We also understood the motivation of the man, and why he was reluctant to go forward. When we turned to her to offer her the job, she was delighted to accept. We had closed the deal by understanding their real motivations and achieved a successful outcome. Janet had delivered a majority female board of the highest available calibre. She was delighted and relieved. She had delivered on the challenge of a lifetime.

Closing the deal is easy when you understand your candidates.

Working with people can be unpredictable. But there are patterns of behaviour. If you understand the underlying motivation of people you can make safe assumptions. It can be tense sometimes when you make an offer and someone needs time to think about it. Or you are preparing an offer and you are not sure if you have got it right or whether they will accept. But you can ask questions at an earlier stage that enable you to limit this uncertainty to a minimum. Why are they interested in this position? Do they have frustrations in their current situation? What are their personal circumstances? How will this position provide opportunities or solutions to these issues? What are their material circumstances and how will this improve them?

Find out more about how to do this by entering your email address to receive my complete guide to an alpha sustainability team. If you know anyone else whom you think this article will benefit please share it with them. Thank you for reading and good luck!