I have a situation that has me in knots tonight and am hoping someone can help me get some perspective... (sorry this is a bit of a lengthy story, huge thanks to anyone who hangs in through the end :) )

I have a position reporting to me to which an internal candidate has posted. This candidate is currently on a project which has been deemed critical to the company and the senior management of the division has thrown its considerable weight around to discourage other groups from recruiting its staff (a fact that defies our HR policy and is apparently not generally known by the team members). This candidate has expressed an interest in joining my team in the past, and recently applied for my opening both to move away from her current project (which is widely regarded as a death march) and to move to my team. Being aware of the potential politics of the situation, I encouraged her to discuss her interest in posting to my position with her manager and director. Both were supportive of her application for my position at that time.

Following the interview process it was clear that she is a good fit, and in the last couple of days I began having conversations with her manager and director regarding potential transition scenarios (prior to any offer being made to the candidate, who has received positive feedback from me but does not know I planned to make her an offer). Understanding the potential impact to the death march project and not wanting to make waves with the vice president involved (who carries considerable weight in my division although I do not report into him), I suggested a phased transition through the rest of the year rather than trying to hold them to the company's 30-day release policy (that is, no manager can hold an employee from starting a new internal position for more than 30 days).

OK, now to the point: the candidate's director has now refused to release the candidate (which is of course contrary to our HR policy), citing her criticality to the project. My director was behind me until the potential career-limiting impact of angering the candidate's vp became clear. Now I am in a position in which I am being asked to back off the candidate and not make her an offer. The candidate cannot be made aware that I want to offer her the position, because by policy her current management cannot hold her. Any HR involvement will incite the ire of the vp and my career at my company will be severely limited (he is widely considered to be the next in line for C-level exec in my org).

The ethical implications of this are killing me... first, that this candidate's career opportunities (as well as those of many other talented people) are being limited despite the fact that my company has clear policies to the contrary, without her knowledge. Second, that the company is at risk of losing these same talented people because of the arrogance of the project's management team. Finally, that I am being expected to turn down this candidate who is very qualified, with the resultant impact to her ego (I have no idea what this conversation should look like, and above all I can't be honest which goes against everything I am). I have always been very proud of my company and the integrity with which it functions (and this is no small company, it is a large international corporation). Now I find myself in a catch-22 and am having trouble finding a positive outcome.

jhack's picture

Tough situation, indeed.

Take the perspective of a senior VP or C-level person. What's right for the company? How critical is this project? And how critical is she to its success?

Now play out the scenario where you don't make her an offer. Do you think she'll quit the company in frustration? If she's that critical, she's probably got other options.

Now, what kind of relationship do you have with the VP? Could you go to him and say, basically, "I want to do what's best for the company overall. What is the concern you have?" I don't know the answer, but maybe there is another way his project can succeed, with your help. Could she stay on the project even though she's transferred to you? Can you provide other assistance to the project that might make a difference?

Anyone else have some ideas out there?


bflynn's picture

File this under "sometimes things don't work out." Its a tough one.

Look, there just isn't much you can do. Your director isn't supporting you, the other VP isn't supporting you, the other director and manager will be more than happy to have this person stay on board their team. Do you expect to pull HR policy out of the woodwork to overrule a VP?

Yes, they're not following policy. And, there is nothing you can do. Do not bring it up with the new candidate. I'm not sure what you tell her right now. But, you cannot make her an offer if all the people aren't getting in line.

Would your director support "hiring" her as soon as this project is completed? What's the time frame? Is this a position you can keep open that long?


tomas's picture

The HR policy might say that you can hire internal freely, but that policy is the creation of senior management and they have decided that this project is so important that it forms an exception to the general rule.

As for your concerns about the employee's morale, that is really in the hands of her manager and the chain of command. Senior management seem to have decided that they are willing to live with the risk of losing staff in the long run if it means that the project proceeds and you are really not in a position to second guess them.

You really don't need to tie yourself up in knots over it. It would be nice if you could convince management to make the informal policy known to staff but as a manager you sometimes have to keep certain information confidential. It should not be an ethical problem unless you are actually being asked to lie. You shouldn't need to lie in order to not make an offer, and the desire to explain the situation to the employee would seem to be self indulgent as it puts your relationship with the employee above the overall good of the company.

Must still suck, though!

klee's picture

Thanks for your responses, I apologize for not posting answers to the questions you've all raised, the last week has been a whirlwind and I haven't had a moment to breathe...

Short story is that the current team just agreed to release the candidate for me to hire, yeah!

This came about after a series of conversations with the candidate's manager and director on how to communicate this to the candidate. I let them know that I was fine with them holding her but that the conversation with her about why needed to be driven by them, since they were making the call. They did engage HR in the conversation which was a relief to me, as the whole thing was originally being handled in a shady 'under the radar' manner which just didn't sit well with me at all. As a result I think they came to realize that they would ultimately lose this person one way or the other (once it became clear she was trapped in this unappealing project she would likely leave the company). So they decided it was best to at least have some control over when, which led to my victory :wink:

Actually I'm not looking at it as victory for me, but rather for this employee, who is very talented and trapped in a disfunctional project. And at the end of the day the company is much better off as well!

jhack's picture

Good going. You went to the right people, you had the right conversation, and you got the right result.



bflynn's picture

[quote="klee"]Actually I'm not looking at it as victory for me, but rather for this employee, who is very talented and trapped in a disfunctional project. And at the end of the day the company is much better off as well![/quote]

Glad to hear it and you have the right attitude about it. Refiling under "Twists that make things work out."


tomas's picture


Thanks for letting us know how it went. Sounds like a good result all round. Its nice to see a manager who is willing to go the extra mile for employees.

US41's picture

I'm glad this resolved itself, but it is still an interesting topic to take up. Some thoughts:

I think that I as a manager have a responsibility to speak up if someone in the company is violating the HR policy regarding release of current employees. If someone posts for a job, meets the BFOQ's, is the best candidate, a good fit, and wants out, then they should be allowed out. Some companies have a 30 day period, some have a 90 day maximum before release. At any rate, my responsibility is to the company, and it is bad for the company for good people to leave it because internal politics were holding back the person's career.

As a manager, it seems wrong to hold back anyone's career. Part of my job is to use coaching to get my folks ready for their next job, their next promotion, and to improve productivity and efficiency. If I try to hold them down internally, they will simply search externally. Therefore, they cannot truly be held down.

There are several potential solutions. The problem most of us have is that when we are faced with a stressful situation like this that we tend to go black & white and see a false dichotomy where multiple possibilities exist.

You found one of the possibilities: simply confront the candidate's management quietly and politely and explain that they can either lose them to you or lose them to the outside world. Most will see the reason in that.

You could go to HR and ask about the unofficial policy of refusing to release from a particular project (and probably would have found that the unofficial policy was BS and in fact unapproved).

You could ask your director to quietly contact their director and politely ask them to go ahead and release.

And of course there are the myriad ways of phrasing yourself when asking for them to release. "I'd like us to discuss a timeline for release" is a lot more sublime than saying, "I hear you don't release people, but in this case, you need to or I will tell on you."

I'm really glad it worked out. You solved a typical management riddle: How do I balance politics, the company's interest, my own interest, and the candidate's interests and nudge things in the "right" direction without ticking a bunch of people off or falling on your sword when it wasn't necessary.

klee's picture

Great points, and you covered much of what went through my mind when confronted with this situation. When my boss had the conversation with me to say 'we can only hurt ourselves on this one' I argued with him (and he agreed!) that this did not pass the smell test and there was an ethical boundary that was being crossed.

The night I wrote my original post I didn't sleep at all; I was consumed by the frustration that the right thing and the policies that are in place [b]to ensure the interests of the company overshadow any particular manager's interests[/b] were being cast aside by someone who felt he had the power to do so without fear of being called on it. The core of my frustration was that he was right not to be afraid, he wouldn't get called on it. The activist in me railed against the injustice and wanted to lay it bare for examination... but at the end of the day I have a husband and three children to support and don't have the luxury of forcing the right thing if the risk is too great. (That was the hardest reality of all... I will often go to great personal lengths to support the careers of those I manage/mentor/have formerly managed. I didn't like finding I had a limit.)

But wow, it felt great to find that a simple insistence on the manager having the right conversation with the candidate led to the right outcome. In the end this was the best approach, certainly better than painting picket signs and staging a sit-in in the vp's office :D. And it restored my faith in what I was afraid had been lost.