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Breaking up is hard to do

Break ups are tough – both in your personal and professional life. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of both parties, things just don’t work out. Often enough, one side wants it to work out more so then the other side does. Typically, the other person knows this and when they have made the decision to move on (instead of trying to work things out) they often use the line, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Important to note here, it doesn’t matter if I am referring to personal or work relationships here!

Breaking UpHere is the thing, as employers, we sometimes have to face the fact that sometimes things just aren’t meant to be between employer and employee. You can try and make things work, you can do your best as a leader and/or HR Pro, but it simply doesn’t work. The reason being, the other party has their mind made up in terms of what they want (to do) and there is no changing their way of thinking.

Case in point, my good friend Brian who works as a Sales Manager recently experienced a break up with one his employees. “Roger” came to Brian’s company a few years ago with a solid base of experience and a good track record, albeit, he had a bit of tendency to change jobs every 2-4 years. Brian took a chance on hiring him and for the first two+ years things really paid off. Roger took to Brian’s approach and flourished under his leadership and quickly became one of Brian’s rising stars in his department.

Brian, whom I consider to be a great manager, did all the right things when it came to Roger. He coached him on a regular basis and invested a lot of his time advising and mentoring Roger and supporting his development. When Roger expressed an interest in doing and being more, Brian invested in leadership training and broader technical sales training for Roger. Brian kept the lines of communication open with Roger and always made sure he and Roger were aligned in terms of Roger’s career goals, etc. Year over year, Brian invested in enhancing Roger’s knowledge, skills and abilities and Roger continued to receive pay increases above the norm due to his job performance.

At the same time, Brian’s department continued to grow and he added more and more staff. Some of the new staff were junior and some came with more experience then Roger. However, Brian continued to make it clear to Roger that he was his #2 and he continued to pay for Roger’s training and development and kept coaching and mentoring him. A few months back, things began to change. After each training course he went on, Roger started to ask for more money. As Brian continued to develop him, Roger wanted more money because he thought he was continuing to become “more valuable.” Brian did all the right things; he spoke to Roger about how he would continue to reward him based on his performance. He explained how Roger was paid and what percentile he was in, etc. and made it clear the training and development was in investment in Roger, not a pay for skill model. In short, Brian was as transparent with Roger as he could be. He continued to paint the picture as to what Roger’s (bright) future was and would look like at the company. Three months later, Roger quit.

So what happened? Brian was devastated when Roger put in his resignation. Brian started to question himself and his management approach. What did he do wrong? What should he have done differently? I had to reassure Brian that there was nothing he could have done differently nor should he have. Roger told him it was time for him to move on to a different challenge, but the reality was that Roger was (mostly) leaving for more money (salary). You see, in his career, Roger was never told “no.” He was used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. In his previous jobs, he either got more money or he moved on for more money. He used paid training as a way to build up his personal portfolio to leverage it for more money with his current or other employers.

Some secondary reasons also emerged. Turns out, Roger was a bit insecure. Despite Brian’s constant communication and reassurances, Roger panicked when growth occurred and other talent was hired. For some innate reason, he didn’t feel like the “top dog” anymore and he felt threatened/insecure in his role. It is possible he tried for a money play because he thought he might not be as “valuable” to Brian with more staff on board.

Brian found out about these things because he has a great HR team at his company who did a thorough job with stay interviews and their final exit interview with Roger. During his exit interview, Roger indicated that he was moving on for money (contrary to what he told Brian). Brian was confused as to whether Roger was really moving on for a better opportunity or if he was just using this as a way to get more money from Brian (something Brian stuck to his guns on).

As well, the industry Brian works in is pretty small, so he found out about some of Roger’s insecurities (through others) after Roger had left. All of which, left Brian feeling a bit down. Worst of all, for both Brian and Roger, Brian came to find out that Roger left for $6K more in salary and is by no means happier in his new role/company, but he is, however, “making more money.”

I had to “counsel” Brian not to take this personally. Sometimes things just don’t work out – they just aren’t meant to be. You can do all the right things as a manager; however, if your employee is hung up on wanting/thinking they need to make $1k, 2k, 5k more, you won’t get them past that, no matter what else is happening. That is, if direct cash compensation is the #1 driver of job satisfaction, there will always be an insatiable appetite to have/make more. Additionally, employees that can only focus on making the next dollar more will never get past being told “no.” They will always make their next move for more money and more money alone. That in turn will make them happy for the short term, but in another 2-3 years, they will need to move on again.

The best move for Brian is to live and learn. He made the right call – he wasn’t going to be held hostage by giving more money just to retain Roger. Roger was competitively paid and well supported by Brian. As tough as it was for Brian, this breakup was almost inevitable. Brian had to let Roger make his decision and move on. If he didn’t, and gave Roger more money, they would be revisiting that conversation every 6-12 months as the “Roger’s” of the world are always focused on how/why they should/need to be paid more (than everyone else) and they are simply incapable of seeing the bigger picture. At some point in time, the “Roger’s” hopefully reach a level of career maturity whereby they can look at a total employment compensation/experience package and make better (employment) relationship decisions. Until then, the “Roger’s” will continue to cycle through different jobs to make a few bucks more. As I told Brian, sometimes it’s not you…it’s them! Break ups are tough and you need to move on. No amount of relationship evaluation was going to make the Roger situation work out any differently. I advised Brian to broaden his evaluation of the talent on his team. He needed to invest more of his time and energy into development a few key employee simultaneously. Continue to keep the lines of communication open, but know what you are getting into. The break up with Roger could have been predicted based on his past work history. It wasn’t a reason to not hire Roger, but Brian shouldn’t have been surprised when the break up happened. Much like in our personal lives, there are people that struggle to commit, the same applies in the workplace and that is when the break ups occur. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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