Preventing Your Assignee from Being Poached by Another Company

It’s the one thing that you may not have seen coming, but in retrospect, should have kept in mind. Unlike most homegrown members of the workforce, assignees or foreign nationals who come to work in the United States do feel and show a deep loyalty to their employers. Their sense of gratitude to you, the global mobility specialist who made it happen, can also be very tangible. You — and possibly your superiors — must have also made it clear to them that you are looking at his long-term professional development. Everyone is happy with the arrangement, and it seems like a match made in heaven.

Until you start sensing something is off-key somewhere. Maybe it’s a slip of the tongue or an evasive but pointed question from your assignees about how other cities and regions are doing on the technology scale. Maybe you see some travel brochures on their desk — and they are about relocation, and not vacation. During one lunch or dinner, they ask about schools for children his age in another state. Then sometimes, they ask about their contract, their compensation package, and other legal requirements with a frequency and sense of urgency that they have never shown before.

Trust your instincts on this one; they may not be jumping ship yet, but someone somewhere has made overtures to your assignees — and they are looking at the best options possible, and what it would take to make the necessary change.

That’s because tech is booming and entrepreneurs are setting up shop in other cities as well, although they may not have the idyllic climate conditions of northern California all year-round. At one point, just right after the American presidential elections, Canadians joked about accepting software engineers who wanted to leave the U.S. Talent will always be sought after, and the more talented, skilled, and culturally adaptable your assignees are, the more they will be courted. Winning their heart may not happen overnight, but you can lose them if you ignore overtures others are sending their way.

Here are three ways to douse that particular flame:

First, deploy the stick. Check his contract.

There has to be an iron-clad clause that can prevent their immediate resignation and transfer to another company. Many assignees sign on for a specific period of time, e.g. one to two years, and the company would have invested a lot of money in their accommodations, training, and compensation halfway through that time. A certain return on investment is expected from them also within that same period of time. Not honoring it can lead to legal squabbles which nobody wants, especially if they are on a working visa. At the same time, they could be ostracized for not living up to their obligations. The same pirates courting them would think twice about being embroiled in those legal scenarios—or they just might realize that the assignee can ditch you.

Second, bring out the carrot

Show him the opportunities available only in your company and in the area it is located. You might have to do this subtly if your assignees have not made any hint of their intent. Mention career development programs with exciting compensation packages that can whet their appetite. Casually discuss long-term rewards and other perks that the more senior long-staying assignees in the companies enjoy.

During weekends, show them around town with special detours to beaches, restaurants, and diversity-friendly communities that they would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Let them see that the network surrounding them would go a few extra miles to make them feel welcome. California Corporate Housing, for example, can redesign apartments to suit their taste as long as they are reasonable.

Support his career plans

Assignees all want to excel and they have their own dreams and goals that they want to accomplish. As advised by the Harvard Business Review, make them know that you will support them in these efforts, whether through added training, increased travel, or a mentorship program. Impress upon them that you are not just allies but friends who are after their best interests. Once that trust is established, it would be very hard to break, not even by a competitor’s so-called best offer.