BurnedBridges
Living around and working with Marines, I was used to seeing people come and go.  As a Marine, you don’t control your career.  The Marines Corps does.

As a manager of Marines, I had to accept and plan for unexpected arrivals and departures.  There was no negotiating or “2-weeks notice” – you just responded to your customers’ needs with whatever resources you had on hand at any point in time.

That was part of why I had a job.  Many military bases have civilians that provide continuity in the midst of constant personnel changes.

In the private sector, individuals can come and go as they please.  Whether it is within a company or outside, employees can pursue new opportunities and basically control their own destiny.

Once I moved to the private sector, I started seeing trends in what motivated employees to make a change.  Too often, I saw folks run away from a current situation, rather than run towards a new opportunity.  If the job they are running from is from within my team, well, I want to know about it.

I have been known to say “No one gets out of this team without going through me.”  It may sound sinister, but it is nothing of the sort.  It’s a way for me to connect with individuals on my team that are considering another opportunity.

Over the last 10 years, my teams have gotten larger and more distributed.  As a result, I don’t get the same one-on-one time with them that I would if I were their direct supervisor.  I do my best to get to know them individually by interacting on projects together, but it’s not the same type of exposure and awareness that I would have if they worked for me directly.

When I hear that someone is looking at an opportunity on another team or in another organization, I’ll bring them into my office for a discussion.  I ask about the potential job – what would they be doing, what are they looking for in their next career move, and what is it about this job that’s appealing?

In some cases, by the end of their description, I’m shaking their hand and wishing them luck because it sounds like the next right move for their career.  I’ve even gone so far as to reach out to hiring managers to put in a good word for someone I think would be a good fit for their team and the open position.

It is human nature that we will assume, draw conclusions and otherwise speculate to try and fill in the gaps of whatever information we possess.  Our perception is our reality, regardless of whether it is technically “true.”

While some career discussions result in me shaking someone’s hand, in other cases, I shake my head.  More than once, I have provided my perspective to balance an individual’s perception because I’ve discovered they didn’t have all the facts available to them.

Many years ago, I had a top performer who was looking at another opportunity because he didn’t think he could get promoted on my team.  I was coaching and mentoring him, providing him with targeted assignments to help him get to the next level and, I thought, making his progression opportunities clear.

From my point of view, I had communicated clearly what he needed to do to get to the next level and even had a promotion recommendation on my manager’s desk!  From my employee’s perspective, he was working at the next level and his path forward was not clear.

By having an open discussion about his motivations for looking at another opportunity, I could determine the disconnect and do my best to address it.  After that, the choice was up to him, but at least he wouldn’t leave with a misperception at the core of his decision making process.

The discussions I initiate with my employees are not meant to dissuade them from looking at other opportunities.  Though I’m sure going into my office to talk about a job interview on another team is not high on their list of things to do today.

Done right, these conversations are mutually beneficial.  They provide an individual with additional insight to limit misunderstanding and presumption.  They provide me with opportunities to root out underlying issues that might be going on within my team that I wouldn’t otherwise see.  They also give me a chance to recognize when someone is looking for a new challenge, and either provide it to them, or help them find it elsewhere.

All of us have heard the old adage – “don’t burn any bridges” on your way out of a job or company.  As a manager and leader, career discussions are my way of making sure that bridge is always on solid footing, going both directions.

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