She Needs for Me to Lose Her

May 1, 2012

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

I was having coffee with my friend, Deb, who works for a well known regional enterprise. Deb was telling me about her own career, and about one of her direct reports. She surprised me when she said, “She needs for me to lose her!” She was referring to Sue, who reports to Deb, and is extremely well qualified and anxious to move to another position. Problem is, the organization is not large enough to accommodate a promotion of the sort for which Sue is qualified. That’s the bad news – that eventually Sue would have to leave in order for her career to blossom. But there’s good news in here: Deb, unlike many other managers whom I’ve come to know, is more interested in Sue’s professional welfare than in her own temporary inconvenience of having to replace her.

How refreshing.

I can think distinctly, in my 30 year career in corporate human resources, about the many times that I had to approach a manager who kept holding on to their best employees, choking their career growth, in order to satisfy their own agenda. The conversation would go something like this:
“Harry, I’ve been approached by several engineers in your group who complain that you’re not signing paperwork so they can do exploratory interviews in other parts of our company.”
“That’s right! I’m not letting them go until we deliver this project!”
“Okay, I see what you mean. One in particular, Jaime, is wanted for a promotion in another group.”
“Look, I need him here, so he can’t go.”
“But Harry, what paperwork does he need from you so he can interview for positions with our competitors?”
Harry would give me a cold stare.
Many talented young people would leave the company unless I could persuade managers, like Harry, to release them for promotional opportunities within our company. And, of course, in the process I became persona non grata to Harry. He saw himself as the victim – and me as the perpetrator. What’s the answer?  I would turn to the engineer.
“Jaime, you’ve been in your position for three years, and in the company for five. Do you know any other good engineers, like yourself?”
“Sure I do! There’s Keila, Letty, and Diego.”
“Great! Can one of them step up and take your place if you transferred to another department?”
“Yes, I think Keila is ready.”
“Good, I’ll talk to Harry.”
I would then propose to Harry that Keila could backfill for Jaime, then backfill Keila with a new graduate engineer. That way there was one addition, two promotions – and no loss of talent.

Sometimes all that is needed is a broader view, a non-parochial perspective. Harry wanted to retain Jaime, for good reasons, but at a significant risk of talent loss to the company. By getting Harry and Jaime to collaborate on a mutually satisfactory solution we broke the logjam.

Back to Deb and Sue.  Are you a Sue?  Or are you a Deb?   Or are you a Harry?

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