I recently heard a story from a friend who was considered a “Hi-Po” (High Potential employee) with his previous employer. I was shocked when he told me he had divorced his employer…he’d had such an incredible track record of high performance and stellar results with the organization.
My friend explained that every time he had the “where is my career going” conversation with his leader, the response was always the same: “Just hang in there. We have big plans for you.” Leadership recognized his contributions, but did nothing to help him move up the food chain, nor did they offer him bigger projects or growth opportunities.
Since he wasn’t feeling the love, his eyes started to wander. He began looking outside his professional marriage and initiated an affair, discreetly interviewing with various companies. He received several offers and was in the final stages with one company when he decided to make a last-ditch effort to save his current professional marriage.
So, he went to his direct leader aka horrible boss and told him about the offer that was on the table. In a panic that their star employee might walk out the door, the organization’s leadership threw him a bone – a $10,000 salary increase. One of the senior executives even called him to say that the organization valued his contributions and hoped he’d stay. Really…whatever!
What a joke! Imagine receiving a call from a senior executive who barely knows you and rarely has anything to say to you, but suddenly is begging you to stay with the company. It’s like a father-in-law who barely talks to his son-in-law and then calls out of the blue to say, “Please try to work things out with my daughter…divorce should be the last option.” Right buddy – and you’ve been married how many times?!
Frustrated that horrible boss seemed to have selective hearing when it came to his career, my friend simply wanted them to promote him first and give him more money second. So, they threw him another bone and offered him a job that was billed as “the perfect fit” for him. He was tempted…until he found out they’d recently offered the same job to his mentee who had turned it down.
The leadership of this organization was in major relationship denial. They thought my friend would stay if they threw more money and another job at him. That sounds like an MIA (missing in action) husband who’s in denial about his troubled marriage. He attempts to buy his wife’s affections by buying her nice gifts, when what she really wants is his time and attention.
My friend discovered that leadership had heard him, but they weren’t listening to him. And, he realized that if the organization had truly valued him and his contributions as much as they said they did, they would have (or should have) given him the $10,000 raise and offered him the promotion long ago.
So what happened? He filed for professional divorce and is now happily remarried to another organization.
So what’s the point?
Professional divorce rates are on the rise. If you’re unhappy in your professional marriage, don’t take the easy way out. There’s too much at stake – you’ve invested too much time and energy in this relationship to just walk away. Look for the “love” you once had with your professional partner and do something to improve the relationship.
Brilliant Leaders, let me ask you: Why is it that you only throw employees a bone when they’re fed up and ready to leave? If you want your high potential stars to feel the love and stay committed to your professional marriage, consider the following before they tell you they’re thinking about divorce:
Listen to your employees (listening is very different from hearing). What are they really telling you? Remember the wife who wants her husband’s attention more than his gifts.
Ask your Hi-Pos what they need in order to remain committed to the marriage (the organization). Then work to make it happen. Remember – it costs your company more to replace Hi-Pos than to keep them.
Challenge them with juicy assignments and projects that stretch their skills and abilities. Promoting Hi-Pos isn’t always an option, but there are always ways to capture and keep their minds and hearts.
Engage employees in career discussions on a regular, ongoing basis. Having this discussion only during annual or semi-annual reviews simply isn’t enough.
Help Hi-Pos connect with and develop relationships with senior management – not because you have to, but because you want to. This will greatly enhance the “love connection” between employees and the organization.
Employees, let me ask you: Is leadership fighting to keep you? Are you worthy of being kept? If you’re thinking about a professional divorce, consider the following:
Talk to your direct leader or manager – early and often – about the state of your career. Do you feel undervalued, unappreciated, unchallenged? Then tell your leader. He or she can’t help you if you don’t communicate.
If your direct leader is the reason you want to leave the organization, seek a transfer to another division where you can re-engage with a different leader, reconnect with your organization’s core purpose and renew your energy.
Sharpen your professional skills to prepare yourself for the next level. You must be ready when the leaders of your organization come calling with a new opportunity, project or promotion.
Visit with the HR champion for your area. Instead of complaining about your situation, offer a constructive plan for what you’d like to see happen with your career at the organization. Remember – it costs your company more to replace you than to keep you.
Find and build a relationship with a sponsor (this is different from a mentor) who has some status and influence in the organization. Your sponsor will leverage his or her credibility to keep you in the organization by opening doors, making contacts on your behalf, and looking for opportunities for your growth and promotion.
I have a genuine desire to keep today’s professional marriages strong and healthy. Stay tuned for keys to being a brilliant boss and driving down the professional divorce rate.