Employee Poaching: Should You Poach Staff After Jumping Ship?

Beware of the pitfalls.


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Last updated: April 23rd, 2024

Poaching employees

Last updated: April 23rd, 2024

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you‘re in the process of jumping ship to another company, the temptation may be great to take your top talent along for the ride. After all, you know they can perform.

Bringing a little bit of the known with you as you leap into the great abyss can lend a lot of comfort. And, if you’re a beloved leader, that same talent may be begging to head overboard with you – or at least heavily hinting at the possibility.

What should you do?

Is it wrong to take them with you? Or do they deserve the opportunity to come along, if they so wish? Here are a few dynamics to consider before you start making overtures.

What Are The Legal Ramifications Of Employee Poaching?

Assuming you’re going to a new company, did you sign a non-compete with your former employer?

Is there the potential your new employer may suffer consequences?


Don’t assume. Do your homework.

If you didn’t personally sign a non-compete and you’re going to a competitor, your former employer may have an overarching non-compete agreement with your new employer.

The Apple vs Google Poaching Affair.

Some time ago, an email exchange between Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt was shared publicly on this very topic.

The punchline is: a Google recruiter was fired on the spot for even contacting an Apple engineer.

Even if you’re moving from one part of a company to another, check with your HR Business Partner before you fire up your recruitment software and start cherry-picking your new team.

Have You Considered The Culture?

As a leader, you have the responsibility to hire the best team for the future of your new organisation.

But here’s the rub – its culture may be vastly different from where you’ve been.

Even if you’re moving to another organisation in the same company, the same dynamic may apply. In the American version of “The Office”, the episode called Branch Wars sheds humour on this potential conflict.

When Karen threatens to poach Stanley for the Utica branch, Michael asks Pam (his receptionist) to get Utica’s top salesperson on the line:

  • Pam: I have Ben Nugent on the. He’s the top salesman in Utica.
  • Michael: Hi Ben, Michael Scott.
  • Ben: Hi Michael.
  • Michael: I’m going to cut right to the chase here. Do you like magic? Because I’m a genie in a bottle and I’m going to grant you three wishes. To move to Scranton, to have a great job, and to be my best friend.
  • Ben: Aren’t you the guy who hit the woman with your car?
  • Pam: [giggles]
  • Michael: [To Pam] Get out. [To Ben] Uh, yeah. I also saved her life, but I guess that’s not as grabby.
  • Ben: Everyone says Scranton Branch is worse than Camden. Didn’t everyone form Stanford quit, like immediately?
  • Michael: No, I fired them, and you’re next … So what do you say?
  • Ben: Seriously?

Comic interlude aside, don’t discount the culture and the talent where you’re going.

No matter how good you are, you’ll need a support system of colleagues who are in the know—people with history and context.

People who are already succeeding and can help you start your new role like a rock star.

Have You Considered The Employee?

For a moment, think about the other.

Employees who thrived in one environment with you may not thrive in another. Before you approach someone to poach, think hard about why.

Are you putting your needs before what might be best for them?

If so, this could be a wake-up call to check your ego at the door. Otherwise, you risk alienating an employee who was formerly loyal to you.

Whether or not you believe in karma, bridge-burning can damage even the best reputation.

Remember the Golden Rule. How would you want to be treated if you were in their shoes?

Don’t Take The Easy Option.

Take the time to figure out what’s needed in your new environment before you assume that what worked before will work again.

Look at your trusted team members with fresh and critical eyes. Assess them as you would any prospective candidate for fit in your new culture.

Push yourself beyond your codependence (don’t worry, we’re all a little bit that way) to be the best hiring manager possible. You never know, you may just be able to find a better candidate than the one who feels cosy and familiar.

Final Words About Employee Poaching.

In his book Fire in the Belly, writer and philosopher Sam Keen says there are two questions you must ask yourself in life: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is “Who will go with me?.”

He then points out that if you ever get these questions in the wrong order, you are in trouble.

Leaders, I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice.

Be bold enough to go where you’re going alone. Reassess once you’ve arrived.


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