Don’t Burn Your Bridges While You Are Still Standing On Them

Vindictive Leadership

Image by Noupload from Pixabay

Once you notify your boss you have a new job, you must leave. No back zees.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.” — Azar Nafis

I was working as a Site Leader at a Fortune Fifty aerospace company. I’d been with the business for four years, and it was doing very well. We were beating our goals: Profit and Loss, Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT), Quality. Our balance sheet financials were on point. We had improved our quality by over 40%. We were hiring great new people.

I met a corporate VP of another division at one of our training events. This VP was in charge of Lean and Productivity for our entire company. She worked for the CEO, which meant she outranked my boss; my boss worked for the corporate Operations VP. She and her team invited me to interview for an opening that would have me report to her, moving me up the ladder a level.

I interviewed well and won the position. I would need to move my family, but the promotion would include a relocation package besides an increase in status and pay.

When I put in for the transfer, my boss flew to my location. He came into my office, sat down, and talked to me for over three hours. We went out for lunch. He built an entire scenario to show where I could go in his organization and why the other organization was not good for me. My boss had charts and graphs to show me how I was part of his personal “think tank.” The upward pathway he offered was quicker and better. He also agreed to raise my salary to the amount the other team had offered me.

It seemed like a good deal. The position my boss offered me was better than the position I would have been taking. His offer would allow me to oversee another factory and that seemed great.

I turned down the Lean position. I told the VP that I had changed my mind: I would remain in my current position. It took her team about a month to fill the job.

Then, two months later, my boss called me in. Yes, the same boss who had all but promised me future promotions. He put me on a performance improvement plan (PIP). What, you ask, is a PIP? It’s a plan for people who are performing poorly — an easy way to tell an individual, “Hey, you know what? You are on your way out of this company if you don’t change.”

Normally, there’s a detailed process with checkpoints that you must go through to place a person on a performance improvement plan. At the lower levels of this company, a person first received a friendly warning. Then they would get a verbal warning. Next, they would get a written warning. Then, and only then, could you put them on a performance improvement plan? If you followed this pathway, there would be no doubt the person was informed that they weren’t doing well.

However, at the upper levels of the company, no documentation was needed. All the boss needed to do was say, “You’re performing badly.” I went from being fantastic to being horrific, but the only thing that had changed was that I had attempted to take a different position.

All my metrics had stayed the same. We were still beating our profit and our sales. We still had excellent Quality. We were still building great teams. But I had “betrayed” my boss by attempting to leave the organization. As soon as he had the opportunity, he punished me.

Image by Harald Matern from Pixabay

I ended up leaving the position because the performance improvement plan was like dancing on hot coals. No matter what I did, there was always another bullet on that plan when I came in to see him. The PIP processes should provide a defined number of issues and a defined amount of time to straighten up.

The goals are “SMART” goals — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Timed. I didn’t have SMART goals. I had dumb goals. As soon as I dodged one bullet, a new stupid bullet would show up.

My team and my organization began to suffer as I struggled to adjust to the new reality of being a bad performer. My boss’s behavior did not deserve my loyalty, so I withdrew it. My actions became mercenary as I worked to save myself. I took fewer risks. I laughed less. It took 45 days before I recognized that I was turning into the person my VP wanted me to be. I stopped and found myself another place to work.

“Never push a loyal person to the point where they no longer care.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

My boss dissuaded me from taking a better position by appearing to be my friendly mentor. He advised me how I could achieve success in his organization. It was not true. Bullets and bosses don’t have friends.

If you tell your boss you are leaving, you must leave. It doesn’t matter if you are quitting for an internal transfer in the same company.

It doesn’t matter if you are exiting the company altogether. You must leave. There is no reversal. Ninety-five percent of the time your boss will punish you for your lack of loyalty. The odds are not in your favor.

Once you communicate your plans, to depart, you cannot change your mind. You have got to go, so go.


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