In the October 25, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job candidate explains that an employer made a mistake when it hired another applicant. He wants advice about how to help the employer rectify the mistake. Don’t laugh — it’s easy to get caught in this trap of frustration.

I recently made a lateral move to a large firm in a different state. Here is the problem: I was originally interviewed for the Senior Vice President (SVP) job, but the executive recruiter thought I didn’t have the right experience. So she recommended me for the next level down, the Vice President (VP) job. The client offered me a good package for the VP job, and I took it.

The same recruiter then brought in several other candidates for the SVP position. They gave the job to a person from a big firm in a different industry, who has less experience than me (three years versus my seven years), and who was unemployed for one year. Overall, he’s far less qualified than me, in my opinion. But now I’m reporting to him.

What do I do? I’m tempted to call the recruiter who brought me to the client and tell her that she screwed up. I also want to tell the head of HR (who interviewed me) about this situation, but I’m not sure what to say. That is, how can they rectify this situation? Any thoughts?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

Wow — time out! You can’t “rectify” a company’s hiring decision that you disagree with, because it’s their choice. I know you’re frustrated, but please step back and look at this calmly.

If you were to approach the company or the recruiter about this, you would come across as presumptuous and arrogant. You have no idea what their reasons are for the choice they made, or what criteria they used to select an SVP. You are not the decision maker, nor do you have any place in the decision process. Please be very careful. It’s easy to feel that someone else has made a huge mistake — but it’s not your place to suggest that they rectify it.

I think the reason you don’t know what to say about this is that you realize it would be inappropriate to say anything.

This is actually a common problem among job hunters at all levels. Some of the smartest people I’ve known get a twitch when they feel usurped by a competitor. The twitch is unjustified, but they make themselves suffer deeply, convinced they’re right and that the employer is wrong — even when they lack information about why a decision was made. They really believe they must — and can — “rectify” the employer’s “mistake.” It’s painful to be rejected, but I think the best cure is to accept the truth behind a profound quote from author Vladimir Nabokov: “You are not I; therein lies the irreparable calamity.”

Though we should learn what we can from rejection, in the end it’s often about the differences between people, not about errors or failures. No offense intended, but the decision you need to make is whether you want to work for this company and whether you will be content with the VP job.

Please think about this carefully. If your behavior betrays your frustration, it could contribute to failure on the job. You accepted the VP job, and I assume you had good reasons for doing so. Part of your job is to work closely with your new boss, the SVP. If you harbor serious reservations about this, you should consider resigning. Otherwise, make a commitment to having a good working relationship, because your employer is not about to give you the SVP’s job.

Ah, the pain of rejection! And the pain of getting over it. Have you ever gotten bogged down in resentment over a lost job opportunity? How’d you get past it?

: :

  1. You said it when you said he didn’t know what to say because anything would be the wrong thing.

    He wants to position himself to eventually become the favored inside candidate if the guy burns out, have a successful career if the guy survives and keeps the job.

    Which means never, ever, ever telling them they made a mistake.

  2. Stephen,

    You nailed it! Ironic as it is, this guy’s best move is to become the indispensable lieutenant of the SVP. That will solidify his standing within the company and position him for good things in the future.

    Speaking out about being “wronged.” Hell even thinking about being wronged will screw him over. I should know, I did that once and it didn’t go well.

  3. Always enjoy your comments Nick. Last week I was facilitating a workshop with the Medical Leadership team at a very large hospital. We got onto the subject of the Dunning Kruger Effect – you might want to share this with your readers. Best. Izzy

  4. In my previous job, I once found out that they considered a candidate that had been one of my students when I did my PhD. At that time, when still a lower grad student, the guy had shown little understanding of the topics, and his marks were not good. I warned my employer.

    Despite that, they hired him. He turned out to be very bright, a fast learner, and one I today consider not only a good friend, but would also recommend to my current employer.

    Lesson: “They” may have good reasons for hiring a candidate “you” question. Give the candidate a good chance, and make the judgement afterwards.

  5. “The client offered me a good package for the VP job, and I took it.” It was a good package when he took the job. I assume it was not reduced when they hired the SVP. His responsibility is to do the best job he can for the package he agreed to or quit in a huff.
    Any thing he says will sound like sour grapes.
    His attitude may indicate the lack of a certain maturity level the company wanted in the SVP role.
    Nick, you are correct he has only two choices,1) shut up, adjust his attitude and do the best job he possibly can or 2) quit.

  6. The writer says that the other candidate had three years experience and he had seven. I don’t think that that is the whole story. If so, the person who got the SVP job would be in their mid to late twenties. Large companies do not promote people that young into SVP jobs. It looks like the experience issues was cherry picked to support his case.
    The recruiter knew what qualities and experience the company wanted and choose her candidate accordingly.

  7. Ahh, the pain of rejection…

    I am with Nick and other posters. You don’t know how well he interviewed or the type of experiences the other canidate had.

    Any questioning, especially after you accept a job offer from a company will look bad. I don’t think asking for feedback from a recruiter as to why they don’t think you aren’t a good fit is necissarily a bad thing in the correct context.

  8. Time will tell if the company picked the right person. Your job is to be next in line if they decide he wasn’t right for the job.

    That being said, I have applied at 3 companies where about 6 months later, they are rehiring for the same position. I myself feel funny about reapplying to the job-but, I’ve figured out that you have nothing to lose by doing so.

  9. Excellent advice, Nick. As for the writer of this letter, perhaps the other candidate was selected because he demonstrated more maturity and sound judgment. Qualifications for a job are not only about quantifiable things like years of experience—a good hiring manager picks someone for their intangible virtues, too. The writer needs to learn that as part of his/her growth process.

  10. I’m in lock-step with Nick.

    Lot’s of assumptions made by the complainant. So what if he had X more years’ experience…it’s not the hours of work you put in but rather the work you put in the hours.

    Also, so what if the other guy was out of work for a year. It may have been part of a severance agreement. Or, as Clinton said, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

    “It’s not fair, it’s not fair.” How old are we?

  11. It might be helpful to remember with regards to rejection, Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting out of 900 during his entire lifetime:

    “Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.” Vincent van Gogh

    If you do good work, eventually it will be recognized. Perhaps not as quickly as some would like. As Nick and others have noted, attitude and maturity may be more important than perceived qualifications.

  12. When I received the question that I published in this week’s column, I replied to the person with essentially the advice I’ve published here. This is how he responded:

    “You are correct – I don’t know all the reasons behind the company’s decision and I had also realized that I’d be putting myself in a very awkward situation by opening up this topic with them. Yet, it was bugging me and I needed to get an independent, expert view on this. Thanks as always. I sincerely appreciate your advice.”

    Rejection certainly gets the emotions going, and we’re not always thinking straight. To his credit, this person stepped back and asked for advice. I’m sure he asked other, closer people, what they thought. To do him justice, it’s important to let you know that he agrees with our once-removed comments and opinions.

    I think the other lesson in this story is about how sometimes emotions take over, and how important it is to step back and take time to think things out before taking action.

  13. @Steve Amoia: I dunno about that van Gogh story… It’s not good to be dead when you finally get paid…!

  14. Nick, I guess in van Gogh’s case, he couldn’t take it with him but what he left behind was a treasure trove that unfortunately wasn’t appreciated in his lifetime.

    My point was that rejection can teach us valuable lessons for the next opportunity. It is all in one’s perspective.

  15. There’s an old joke about experience: ‘Does he have 10 years of experience or 1 year 10 times?’

    (No connection to the original writer is implied here.)

  16. The company knew that the SVP position was open when they were recruiting for the VP role. Regardless of the recruiter’s opinion, if the company felt the person was qualified for the SVP role, they would have presented it as an additonal option during the interview process. I would be more concerned that the top positions in a department are open at the same time. There could be something deeper going on at the company.

  17. Wow! What a bitter pill this was for me to swallow and I had to swallow such pills not once but twice at the same firm over the course of 4 years! Finally, I left. But, I was the one passed up and passed over by other candidates with not even an iota more credentials or experience over mine! Their strength was their more youthful ages! Period! Yes, I filed age discrimination charges the second time. The arbitrator ruled against me because I looked “too young” and she felt that age discrimination was not the issue! I moved on, but I can’t wait to retire to be done with all this employer crap! I’d rather live in poverty than to go through all the turmoil again!

  18. The Dalai Lama once said: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” While I agree that the VP must not go to his company and attempt to rectify their “error”, I wonder whether there may be room for a professional discussion with the recruiter along the lines of “What kinds of experience do I need to get in order to make myself eligable to similar positions coming open a few years down the road?”

  19. Great advice, Nick.

    The writer was satisfied enough with the salary, benefits, perqs, and title of VP to take the job, and while I can understand his dismay, disappointment, and even anger, I agree that any attempt to rectify the matter with the company will come across as petty, immature, jealous, and sour grapes. Granted, amount of experience is important, but it isn’t as if the person hired for the SVP job was completely lacking in experience; he just didn’t have as much as the writer. And, I’m going to assume that both the headhunter/recruiter AND the company assessed both candidates and their experience carefully and decided that the other person’s 3 years of experience was close to or equal to the writer’s 7 years of experience. Or, there were “intangibles” possessed by the other person that made him a better candidate for the job than the writer. Maturity is one that comes to mind. Another could be connections to others in the industry at a particular level. Maybe education and/or leadership experience or with particular issues were the tipping points.

    I wouldn’t say anything, but would make myself indispensible to the SVP. You never know how long the SVP will remain, and who knows, he might recommend writer for the position if he should leave.

    It could be that the recruiter and the company made a mistake, and if so, it will become apparent in due time, and if writer proves himself, then he might be considered for the job.

    But I think something is hinky to have 2 senior positions, the VP and the SVP, both open at the same time. I’d be a little wary of the company and would try to find out why. Did the previous VP and SVP both retire? Leave for other jobs? Were they both fired due to mismanagement, misconduct, fraud, theft? Is the company “restructuring”? Are they having problems (financial, personnel)? Was there a board takeover or is there a new president who decided to clean house and bring in new people? Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe not.

  20. Great advice Nick, could not have said it any better. It is telling, however, that he accepted the VP position yet truly wanted the SVP. Why did he settle? How did he know what the other candidates credentials were? There seems to be a lack of maturity present here and the devil known as the ego at play. If it stuck in his craw at the onset it is likely to continue to do so. As a recruiter, I would never have gone back to a client and questioned their judgemnet on whom they hired. Although I have disagreed with clients choices on occassion it is not my role. Recruiters send the best candidates and it is up to the company to choose AND the candidate to convince them they are the right choice. I have seen it many times. “you were not chosen for the position but the client saw good qualities in you and would like to offer you another position”.”What? Are you kidding?” Most never get over it. It is part of their inherant nature to want the “best”, the “top spot” and they fret over “titles” and fail to concentrate on their own position because they are so worried about what someone else has. I truly hope it works out for him. One other point, I agree with M.L.. I would be concerned about both the VP and SVP positions being open at the same time. Hmmm? Perhaps that SVP position will open up quicker than he thinks. Be ready…not fretting!

  21. You never do know about why you weren’t picked. Could be the new SVP is younger (or at least looks younger). Might be that he is older by several years, or at least showing some distinguished gray around the edges. Could be be the new SVP is the CEO’s cousin who needs a job to move out of his parent’s house after a year. Could be he’s a vet and you are not. Could be he’s not a vet and you are and is nervous about having vets in senior positions. Could be you haven’t been seen at Our Lady of the Inner Springs parish bingo in a while. You just never know.

    I really, however, loathe advice like “suck it up” or “buck up buckaroo” or “adjust your attitude” or “this is part of the learning process”. Pres. John F. Kennedy’s take on businessmen was probably dead on, especially in an economy where corporations can make market expectations with some 27% of the workforce with un- or under-employed.

    In concert with Mary Davin: Can’t wait to get off the merry-go-round.

  22. That should have read “Could be he’s not a vet and you are and the CEO is nervous about having vets in senior positions.”

  23. Excellent advice, Nick!

    By the way, what the hell does having “…been unemployed one year…” have to do with anything? Sounds like this person has some entitlement issues to contend with…

  24. Ah, the “other” issues! @M.L.: The fact that the VP and the SVP (the VP’s boss) positions were both open – that begs your question. Why were both open at the same time?

    And @Tim Cunningham: Why didn’t the headhunter explain to the candidate (VP) why he didn’t qualify for the SVP position? Sounds like he did, but I don’t get the sense it was a helpful discussion. The VP should indeed ask for more info and guidance.

  25. @Lynda: Now we’re getting into more of the subtleties. Why did the writer accept the VP position at all? As a headhunter, I would have been very careful about re-submitting an SVP candidate (who got rejected) for the VP job. The candidate would have to make a convincing case for the lower level position. How the employer handles this is separate. As the headhunter, I’d want to be sure I wasn’t creating a nightmare scenario for everyone involved. Consider the outcome if the new VP actually went to management to “point out their error” and told them they should “rectify” the situation. At that point, the headhunter’s role surfaces – he’s part of the problem. Food for thought for headhunters reading this.

  26. @GBB: I was waiting to see whether anyone flagged the comment that the SVP had been unemployed for a year. Two things. I also question why our VP candidate even raised this. It’s immaterial. The other thing: Here we have a company that actually hired an SVP who was on the street for a year! Good sign!

    I really get a kick out of the analysis. I’m not a fan of reading a lot into a situation or over-analyzing… but we don’t know the company or the individuals. So the point here is for everyone to think and to learn something about interviewing and accepting a job. And you guys are doing a great job. This Q&A has turned into quite a little seminar…!

    Let me ask you all something. Google+ now has something called Hangouts – small video gatherings. Anyone interested in doing one of these on a specific topic? I haven’t looked into how it works yet, but it sounds pretty simple.

  27. So here is a situation where two positions were open at the same time? DING DONG! If that is not alone the major red light issue to run like a bat out of hell. Do you want to be at a firm were both the SVP and VP have been fired or bailed out at the same time? That is the precursor. And frankly a top run firm would hire the SVP who would then hunt for a subordinate, not bring in people to play with over both positions there is the example of that HR departments incompetence in my opinion.

    I am going to be blunt; this story is a prime example of the power of being able to say NO and WALK. What I read from a number of responses is that many people here are clearly too accustomed to taking what they can get, being subordinate, kissing arse and grovelling for crumbs. There is huge psychological power in the confident ability during a time such as applying for a SVP position with nearly a decade of experience and being offered a VP position (that today is given to any moron off the street) to simply tell them to go fuck themselves.

  28. late comer to an interesting discussion. Anyone who has recruited for any period of time has come across candidates who KNEW they were perfect for the job. In their eyes no one else could measure up (to them). the VP is caught up in this woulda/coulda scenario. Be that as it may, he took the job with what he said was a good offer. So work with it, and working with it is as someone put it, excel. Show your stuff. Actions speak loudly. but whining does too. And whining is what comes to mind when I read it He said it’s a large firm so likely we’re not talking about only one SVP possibility. So suck it up and put energy into being a shining star, not a whining thorn.
    What also jumped out was a large firm that had at least 2 and more than likely more executive openings..Nic’s point is well taken. It can be a red flag…but it can also be a green light. There is opportunity in chaos. If the candidate didn’t notice this from either viewpoint he has no cause to complain. Whether he asked or the recruiter explained the background on the openings isn’t clear, but even so, that’s why God created networking. A useful exercise would be to find people who could provide non-spin answers.
    As to beating up HR on doesn’t compute. This is an executive recruiting effort and that doesn’t happen in a vacuum (unless you’re HP apparently). The recruiter is working with a hiring manager/ or executive hiring team who made the call on SVP viability, for this person and the selected party. But also felt this person was a good hire. So he walks in the door with a good package and visibility. That’s not a bad deal and that’s why taking shots at someone (his boss) that he doesn’t know is a waste of energy.
    Work with it or leave.

  29. @don: I didn’t get the sense that HR was involved in the hiring either, based on the Q&A Nick posted. It is possible that they were, but that’s not the sense I had. Nor do I know whether the same recruiter found the person who filled the SVP position or not. It didn’t hint either way in Nick’s Q&A, and even if writer’s headhunter/recruiter did, it is irrelevant. The headhunter’s duty is to the client, in this case, the company that hired him/her to find candidates to fill the job.

    This is probably a question Nick could answer best: if you provide a client with two candidates for two different jobs (VP and SVP), do you “owe” any explanation to the one who got the VP (especially if he applied for the SVP job) as to why or what happened? My gut answer is no—because your duty lies with the client, and if the client thought that your candidate (writer) was a better “fit” for the VP job and chose someone else (either someone you put forward, someone another headhunter put forward, someone related to the president, CEO, or whomever, someone who benefitted from nepotism or political favors, etc., then that is up to the client, not the headhunter. Nick, forgive me and correct me if I’m wrong.

    Don, I guess I’m just wary…2 senior positions open at the same time and I’m thinking the worst. But you’re right, and it could be an opportunity for the right people. Maybe the previous VP and SVP were dead weight and they both left or were relieved of the their positions at the same time. I briefly worked at a company that was experiencing “challenges”, and the owner decided to fire all management (leaving us workers alone) and hire new people. Well, the new big boss came in, knowing what the problems were and he decided to fire not only the new management (except himself) but all of the workers too. I had been there for less than 2 weeks, and wasn’t expecting this. His rationale was that as a big boss, he didn’t want “inherited” help of any kind, and wanted to build his own team and own workers. It backfired because there was no one left to do the work, much less anyone with any institutional memory. The company went under very quickly. Sometimes chaos does create opportunities, and sometimes it just creates even greater chaos.

  30. @Nick re your question about Hangouts on Google+: I’ll have to check it out and see if it’s something I can do. I don’t have a computer at home, so I’ll have to see if it is something that I can access at the local libraries.

    Would timing be an issue? I’m thinking that those of us here may not all be in the same time zone, some work and may not be able to join at a set time, others of us may have other commitments or limitations (such as not having a home computer or limitations set by public libraries). If it is easy, then yes, I’m interested.

    And thanks for another great topic; this one ranks up there with your “how do I tell my boss that I’m burned out/have too much to do” topic from earlier this spring. I’ve been getting your newsletter for about a year, and I’ve really learned a great deal. Now the challenge for me is to actually get interviews so I can put my new knowledge to use!

  31. Mary Beth, in my view whether the recruiters are internal working for HR, or someone else, external, or HR as a whole, they can get you 80% of the way, once a candidate engages with the client directly, hiring manager(s) it’s up to them and the client. In this case, the recruiter and/or HR may have had input in a consensus review, and let’s say their input was respected, they didn’t “decide” anything, the hiring manager decided and also should be laying out the staffing strategy at that level.
    As many have pointed out, the candidate isn’t privy to the decision making process. In another company he may very well have been selected as the SVP, but all things being relative, not this one. Too many unknowns to 2nd guess. The hiring team saw something they liked for a VP but not something they wanted for an SVP, and very well may have been in a position to compare.
    Like I said, the two (or more) slot sure begged a question as to what is transpiring. and begged for some networking, researching and sleuthing. Since the person said zero to Nick about checking into the context of the job, or someone misleading him, you can’t help but get the sense that he didn’t ask. He appears to have not followed the advise Nick espouses, he seems to have simply fallen into focusing on the job, not the company
    As to reorgs, restructuring, I’ve lived my life in F100 companies. A way of life is “new man/new plan”. and it’s not always rationale. You get whipsawed about quite a bit and if you survive long enough you get to see an executive and/or strategy recycling program. The “exciting new world beating strategy” is the same one from 10 years ago or just cookie cut from someone elses. Your experience was about the worse I’ve heard, but someone(s) sat there and watched the person shoot himself and the company in the foot.
    Steve Jobs is one of the exceptions, losing him leaves a vacuum. But in most cases losing a CEO, or a SVP doesn’t mean as much as losing your best programmer/designer etc.

  32. @don: thanks for the additional insight. I’m not a recruiter, nor have I ever worked with a recruiter, so getting this kind of bird’s eye view is illuminating, but also commonsense (when you think about it). It sounds like the writer in Nick’s Q&A wasn’t thinking about it but just having a gut reaction pique over why he didn’t get the SVP job when that was the job he applied for. You and Nick are right; there’s nothing to rectify here, and if no red flags or even questions were raised in his mind re why 2 such positions were open at the same time (but he did think to question why they’d hire someone for the SVP job who had been out of work for a year–also irrelevant, if this person had what the company wanted), then he’s not looking at the bigger picture.

    Most states are at-will employment states, meaning that an employer can fire you for any reason or no reason and you can leave for any reason or no reason. Is it awful to be on the receiving end of someone who thinks that because he’s a boss one of the perqs is that he gets to decide who to hire because he doesn’t want the help he inherited when he took the job? Yes. I wasn’t there for very long, the overall economy was better at the time, and having worked for two retail businesses previously that had gone out of business, I was shocked but it didn’t roll me the way it did those who had been with the company for 10+ years. Businesses can go under, get bought out, etc. everyday. And yes, the owner/CEO who brought in this manager gave him unfettered power and watched him shoot himself and the company in the foot. In hindsight, maybe that was what the owner wanted and didn’t have the guts to do it himself. The company was struggling financially and went through turmoil every time people went into management. Management fought among themselves, sometimes dragging workers into their fights (I had been warned about this behavior by other workers when I got there, and that things got very nasty), and when they spend that much time fighting, they’re not acting in the best interests of the company. To make matters worse, it was a small, family-run company, so their arguments were particularly bitter because they couldn’t leave them at the office. After that experience I vowed never again to work for a “family” company. One of the managers died, leaving his shares and position to his wife, which his son challenged and his brothers challenged.

    You’re also so right about losing a SVP or a CEO. Every once in a blue moon you get someone exceptional, like Steve Jobs, but most of the time, it is the workers, programmers, designers, lower-level managers who keep the company running.

    It is the same in academia. I remember a woman who worked at the university where I worked telling me that it never phased her when a dean resigned or retired, or even when an associate dean, dept. chair, or graduate program director left. But….she used to worry when she heard that the dept. sec’y left, or one of the professional staff (like me) left, because it wasn’t the dean, associate dean, dept. chair, or gpd who ran the dept., it was the professional staff and in very small depts., it was the sec’y, so when those people left, she knew that things would be chaotic for a long time.

    I’ll leave you with a saying from one of the two good bosses I had at my last job. He was dept. chair, had been at the university for more than 30 years, knew a lot, but he had a sign in his office that read “Do you want to talk to the person who is in charge or do you want to talk to the person who knows what’s going on?” He was smart enough to recognize that his dept. sec’y and professional staff knew more than he did when it came to university policies and procedures, and didn’t have the ego that required students, other faculty and staff to bow to him. He was in charge as dept. chair, but he’d send folks to the dept. sec’y and to me, professional staff, for what he called “the real answers and help”. He only signed the paperwork.

    I guess it works the same way in the private sector, but not all managers understand what my old boss understood.

  33. OK it’s step down in title but; 1. If he was a SVP before, he could do the VP job in his sleep. 2. The new firm gave him a “good package”.

    It’s more money for less work. What is there to complain about?

  34. Mary Beth, let me tell you one of my favorite stories. It’s somewhat relevant to the discussion as it shows the cynical view that can develop on the ground level, when confronted with frequent executive movement. It also addresses the puncturing of executive preening and pomposity.

    It took place in a small computer/hi-tech company back in the 80’s. But it is timeless.
    The 20,000 person company was growing like a rocket, poised in the view of the CEO & Board for loftier things. So they started recruiting IBMers the giant of the industry at the time. Several SVPs were in the wave of newcomers, and the company started moving away from a pretty flat structure to one rich with executives, Some came, some went.

    I worked in a remote (from HQ, the center of the universe) R&D facility, and it was executive SOP when coming aboard to go forth into the wilderness to meet their troops.

    A new SVP placed over all of R&D came aboard by the name of Bob. . I don’t think in this case he replaced someone; he absorbed a bunch of someones who at one time or another were top of that R&D pile.

    So he came down for a visit and we all (about 160 people) were assembled to meet (see really, as clearly he wasn’t comfortable getting too close to what one oil & gas executive recently referred to as “the small people”).

    And he pontificated on his vision, the great things in store for the group and the company under his stewardship, his strategy, tactics etc. Nearby were the lesser beings, some of his management team and of course our local management team. By and large the rank & file were mostly techies, hardware and software engineers. Engineer being the optimum word.

    This took awhile. I think we were all standing. And it got to the point where he opened the floor for a Q&A. There were a few business questions. Then one fairly junior engineer just a few feet away from me raised his hand and was called on.

    He said. So Bob…..This all sounds pretty good, but how long are you going to stick around? You guys keep dropping in and lay out your plans, which are much alike, and then you’re gone. And we do it all over again. So how long are YOU going to be with us?

    All went quiet on the floor. And the body English of Bob and his Senior Managerial and of course this guy’s boss was memorable. And alas there was no hole in the ground to crawl into and disappear. They couldn’t click their heels and wish they were in Kansas.

    Bob I’m positive never had anyone in his land of OZ ever even think of asking something like this. But my company had a feisty start-up culture where there weren’t many holds barred.

    He fumbled through some kind of answer, way off balance. The meeting eventually closed, Bob went back to the snuggly warmth of HQ and never came down again. I think in about a year & a half he was gone. Executive reset button hit and repeat.

    Except the engineer was calibrated on his soft skills and he learned tact, and all about smiley faces.

  35. Don, thanks for sharing this wonderful story! As I was reading your post, I could imagine how it played out, like a scene from the movie “Office Space”. Good thing I wasn’t among the troops that day because I would have had a hard time keeping a straight face. I don’t fault the engineer for asking that question. It was a good, legitimate question, and if he asked it, I bet that there were more than few others among the troops who had the very same question. I also liken it to the “Emperor’s New Clothes”. Sometimes it takes a wise and gutsy person to call a spade a spade. Bob and his senior management team must have had a very different idea of what visiting the troops in the field would be like. Visiting the troops is a wonderful, useful idea, if the command doing the visiting plans to use it to learn something. If they just want flags and parades and accolades without really meeting the troops and discussing what’s going on (what’s working and what’s not working), then it’s pointless. Don’t waste my time or yours.

    When I worked at the university, though I wasn’t senior management, I had a similar philosophy re visiting the troops. In my case, the troops were the folks in the Graduate School, one of the depts. I had contact with. My office was a 20 minute walk from the Grad Sch., and while phone calls and emails were always answered, I always always always learned much more when I visited the troops. I learned about their policies and university policies, learned how to handle the problems that arose in my program and to do so in a way that meant that I followed university and grad sch policies, when I could deviate and how, and much more. Plus I got to put faces to the names on emails and to the voices on the other end of the phone, and it made any future calls and emails easier. It made working with them easier, and as a result, I was able to run the program more smoothly. One of my former bosses had the same philosophy–he’d pay a visit to the grad sch when he had questions rather than call them. I remember thinking that this seemed to be a sound idea, and did the same after he retired. When a new boss came in, she didn’t share the same philosophy, didn’t treat the grad sch staff as a valuable resource but as faceless slaves. So she’d make up her own policies, which were the opposite of univesity and grad sch policies, and caused much chaos and hard feelings. She never visited the troops, and if she happened to be in their building, she’d never stop by grad admissions or records to say hi and introduce herself. I preferred my old boss’ way–go in person (if you can, and you make the time), work with people, not against them, find out about policies, and if you need to make exceptions, ask how it’s done. The new (difficult) boss was gone, to be replaced by another difficult boss who also didn’t see the grad sch and their staff as human beings and a valuable resource. I remember being in the same position as Bob, and the grad sch staff quickly corrected my assumption and misunderstanding. They were polite, but direct, and I do prefer direct. You can be direct and polite. No one should have to play the game of having to guess and tell her what I think she wants to hear, even if it is so wrong that it will get us sued.

    I hope that I am fortunate enough in my next job to work with people like the grad sch staff and like your “but the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes” engineer. What are the chances that management will be able to accept those kinds of workers?

    Don, thanks for sharing! I’m chuckling now, because it is a good story and because I’ve seen this kind of thing myself, albeit in different circumstances.

  36. Would love to try a google hang out some time….