I now manage the guy who hired me — and I’m afraid he might quit over it — Ask a Manager

Remember the letter-writer who was promoted over the person who hired her, found out he’d been promised that promotion himself and was afraid he’d quit over it? Here’s the update.

Thank you so much for answering my question! I have an update that is pretty much what you expected…

Tom gave notice this week. He has gotten a job as head of sales and marketing for a small but fast-growing startup that produces a similar set of products to the one my team is responsible for. It sounds like a perfect setup for him — they are ramping up with additional product development, he’ll get to lead a big team, he will be paid more plus get equity (which we don’t have available to us). And even though the company is based elsewhere, he’ll work remote from our city.

Tom’s timing was very strategic. Our company had a very broad non-compete in place that would have barred Tom from making the move he did — but there’s been a case with a former employee challenging the non-compete. A week before Tom gave notice, the non-compete was invalidated in court, and Tom gave his notice before the company was able to draft a narrower one for everyone to sign. It seems clear he was waiting for that decision to make his move.

I am actually worried. He knows our clients really well, and Tom’s new company’s product is frankly superior to our legacy product. I had hoped to get more client exposure for my newer team members, but there’s only so much opportunity in the space of a couple months. We’ll see what happens. For what it’s worth, I kept trying to get my boss and HR to give me something tangible to incentivize him — I raised this with my boss in person at every one-on-one and documented my concern that Tom was a flight risk in emails at least once a week.

And I’m more than worried — I think I should leave myself. After Tom gave notice, my boss and HR hastily put together a counter-offer (that still didn’t equal his new offer). I told them this was a bad move and I thought it would be tone-deaf disrespectful to Tom, but my VP directed me to make it. Tom obviously refused. Then the COO, who my VP reports to, came to my office (!) and said that Tom was very important to the company and asked why I hadn’t done more to keep him. I was so frustrated with this, I told her that I had been pushing and pushing for something to offer Tom and had been turned down, and that I would be happy to share the email back and forth. She responded that “Money isn’t everything. If you want to succeed, you need to create a team culture that is magnetic to people like Tom.” Well, that sealed it for me — I’m a manager, not a miracle worker. I guess I wasn’t exposed to this kind of weirdness from our higher-ups before my promotion, but I don’t want to stick around if those are the expectations I have to labor under. I’m trying to figure out my own exit now.

I’m really grateful in all this for the grace with which Tom handled this. When he gave notice, he confirmed everything I’d heard from our mutual friend but emphasized that he had no hard feelings against me, and that he thought I was a great team leader and manager. He said he would have been happy to work under me if the company had come through with the money to match his promised promotion, and that he was leaving not because of me but because of the broken promise. I asked why he hadn’t raised the concerns to me before, and he said he didn’t want to put me in an awkward position or feel bad about my own achievement. He only brought it up because I asked in his notice conversation.

Not a great update but probably not a surprising one either. Thanks for answering my question!

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