Caroline Jordan explains why losing your staff to a rival isn't necessarily a bad news story

The shooting season is well under way throughout country estates, yet across the insurance sector it's the poachers who are clearing up. It can be a messy business, but far too often, those losing staff handle it all the wrong way and end up looking like rabbits petrified by headlights.

In recent months, Willis has trawled Aon and Heath Lambert for new property recruits, while Chubb has lost a liability team to Dual. Marsh has nabbed two forensic specialists from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Monument has snaffled the top dog and at least 10 others from Alexander Forbes.

Moving jobs is healthy and a sign of a robust economy. New staff can change the way a company does business, while ambitious people don't want to be held back and may want to move to a more entrepreneurial culture.

But what happens? When the news leaks out - most often as a result of a cheeky phone call or press release from the victorious poacher - the poached firm spins the "no comment" line.

This is the wrong way to deal with the situation, both in terms of the media and remaining employees. If a team or individual has handed in their notice, they aren't going to come back - so why deny they have gone in the first place? Surely it is far better to admit they have gone, emphasise that it remains business as usual and get out there to say what a great employer you are.

Robert Charles, associate director of Joslin Rowe, agrees: "If you say nothing, the rumour mill starts. The rumour mongers then put out their own versions. You affect morale and start dissent."

He says poaching has always happened and, as a headhunter, it certainly keeps him in business. He adds that people who are poached may well want to leave anyway.

"It can be time to take stock - a big plc won't be able to offer the same equity package as a small firm may be able to. It could be that those people who left were not contributing much anyway and a business may be able to restructure in a better way. Why throw good money after bad, when you may be able to make savings and employ better people?"

And he says that those who are devastated by poachers need to realise that being too reliant on one line of business is foolhardy.

All credit to Chubb, then, for getting back on the offensive this week (see News) and saying the staff who left were "fairly junior" and that it has big expansion plans despite the departures. This is a refreshing view from a US-owned insurer in a notoriously secretive industry. If a company is good at a particular class of business it will be a target for poachers. The real winners are those who ride out the storm and come back stronger - as Chubb has stated it will do.

PR man Vaughan Andrewartha says too often the insurance industry has a problem with openness. "I would always advise telling staff, customers and third parties straightaway if people are leaving. The sooner you get the message out, the more you are in control."

So, the next time those poachers strike, insurers and brokers should realise they gain little by going to ground - it's far better to come out with all guns blazing. IT