This is a true story. A career military officer – let’s call him Joe for simplicity’s sake – retires after 20 years of service with a valuable and highly marketable skill set. Joe receives several offers early in his job search. He accepts one based on his interest in the work, the small size of the company (that would allow him to grow with it), and salary among other factors. Two months into his employment Joe is happy with his decision.
One day Joe receives a call from another company he had spoken with during his job search. They want to lure him away. He is intrigued with their offer of a shorter commute and more money. He believes in being honest and direct, it is the only way he has ever worked, so he goes to his manager and lays it on the line. His manager makes some concessions, to include tele-working a few days a week to reduce the commute, but can’t justify a raise given it has only been two months since Joe was hired. “We want to keep you, but you have to do what you have to do.” Because Joe appreciates the good faith effort to improve his situation, he decides to stay.
Four months later the same thing happens: another unsolicited job offer from a competitor. Following the same personal code of ethics, Joe again sits down with his manager and lays the whole thing out very openly. This time, however, his manager is less receptive. “This is the second conversation we’re having about this, and you are clearly not happy or committed to being here. We haven’t reached your one-year anniversary. I’ve said we want you to grow with us but I can’t promise when the promotion will come. Frankly, I am not going to have this conversation again. You’re either in this or not, and I’m sensing you’re not. Maybe it’s just not a good fit.”
The manager doesn’t have to go any further than that to suggest a bridge has been burned. Trust has been broken. What Joe expects to be a logical problem-solving conversation is actually a poor career move that ultimately has him marginalized in the minds of leadership who lose confidence in his commitment to the organization and, as a result, invest their energies elsewhere. In time, Joe becomes genuinely dissatisfied and leaves the organization.
When Joe recounted this story to me at a dinner party, I did a mental head-slap and tried to keep my expression neutral. He was obviously still bitter about how things had turned out. I wished I could have been a fly on the wall during Joe’s negotiations, because it would have gone more like this:
Joe: Hey, I got another great offer today and I’m going to sit down with my boss again to see what he can do!
Fly On Wall: NO! STOP! CANCEL THE MEETING!
FOW: Because what you are thinking of as integrity – informing your boss directly and giving him the opportunity to match the offer – is going to come across as high-maintenance whining! You can only play that card once (or once every 5 years….maybe).
Joe: But I like my job and want to stay if I can. My boss should be happy about that and work with me, right?
FOW: Maybe, but your intentions are going to be interpreted as an ultimatum and overall lack of commitment, a sign of hassles to come. Remember: as good as you are, you ARE replaceable!
Joe: Oh. Wow. I'd better rethink this.
I hear this kind of story all the time. They are invaluable windows into the cultural differences between the civilian business world and the military. The transition from military service to civilian employment is fraught with such lessons-learned-the-hard-way. (That is, if their lessons are recognized and integrated.) Perhaps Joe’s story will raise an eyebrow for someone, and prevent them from making a similar career limiting maneuver!