Skillfully choosing my manager?
April 8, 2011 8:18 PM   Subscribe

My manager just went to bat for me with Human Resources for an increased salary. But now, days later, another manager within the company is trying to recruit me. I'm tempted, but I feel indebted to manager #1. How can I best manage the situation?

In the computer software company I work for, Human Resources makes it difficult for employees to get paid well. Nonetheless, at my annual review, I asked my manager if there was anything we could do within the system to get me better compensation. He then assembled positive feedback from a number of other managers I work with at the company, and presented it to HR, and got me a raise higher than the standard 'good performance' percent. He also got me a nicer job title that better reflects what I do.

However, just after manager #1 went to bat for me, another manager in the company, manager #2, asked if I'd like to join his team instead. While I am in the middle of a number of projects for manager #1, I think I'm likely a better fit for department #2 in the long term. (Specifically, I've asked manager #1 what he saw me doing in five years, and he didn't have much to say, whereas manager #2 has named a number of interesting areas.) Problem is, I feel somewhat indebted to my current manager. I've enjoyed working with him, and he just did me a favor. He is pretty encouraging of me doing what I need to do for my own career, though. I just don't want to be careful to not burn any bridges.

What makes it more awkward is that the only people who know of this offer are me, manager #2, and the manager of both managers, manager #3. My current manager hasn't been asked or informed. Is it actually standard 'corporate etiquette' to do things this way? Doesn't seem fair to manager #1 to not ask for his input.

Anyway, I think there may be a third choice besides working for one or the other. Manager #3 actually has a fair number of people directly under him that aren't managers, who sort of 'freelance' within the company, shifting from project to project as needed. Which is actually similar to what I do... I get borrowed from my current manager on a regular basis to help other departments with their own projects. (And apparently they've wanted to poach me too.) I could try to talk myself into a direct-report position with manager #3. However, I haven't had much contact with manager #3, so I don't really know how he react. All I know is that he has liked my work so far, and helped manager #1 get me the raise. Would I be crazy to ask manager #3 for a meeting about this?
posted by Hither to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your loyalty to your manager should be exactly the same as his loyalty to you. Do you genuinely believe that he went above and beyond because he likes you and wants you to be happy, or because he felt that it would be better for him to keep you happy and focused on work? It sounds cynical, but his "altruism" has to be viewed through the lens of "a happy Hither is a productive Hither."

Go ahead and ask manager #3 for that meeting. Tell him, "Hey, I know that you and Manager #1 went to bat for me last week. I assume that's because you value my service to the company. With that in mind, and also keeping in mind that I like Manager #1 and am not trying to get out from under him or anything*, I'd like to explore this 'internal freelance' thing you seem to have going on..."

* -- This gets you off a little of that "disloyalty" hook, but don't worry too much about it. Manager #3 didn't get to where he is by keeping good people at low levels, disloyal or not.
posted by Etrigan at 9:08 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have a meeting with #3 and see what happens. You're not committing to anything, you're asking questions, which you're entitled to do. Explore all your options.
posted by mleigh at 9:23 PM on April 8, 2011

Etrigan has a good point. Manager 1, your manager, could have done this just to put you in this spot. Kind of like in prison. He did this for you, how you owe him. Because you owe him, you'll be less likely to go off and work where you belong and where you would be more productive etc. Obviously, if you are good for his department, he wouldn't want you to go, so that he could continue to be viewed as running a good team.

On a related note, I'm so glad I don't work in a typical office environment. All those managers, and manager's managers, and projects, and this and that. But, with that being said, people are people, regardless of the company, and people always lookout for themselves first (most of the time).
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:07 PM on April 8, 2011

Your loyalty is admirable, but misplaced. If there are better options for you, then you need to explore them, period. For all you know, your current manager could be gone in a month.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:08 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think if it was me, I'd see exactly what was being offered to me, then go to my current manager and say something like:

"I want you to know I really appreciate what you did for me regarding that raise, and that's why I want to be up-front with you about this. I've been approached with some offers within the company to do some work that's more attractive to me because of X, Y, and Z. Do you think there is a way I could stay with you and still be able to X, Y, and Z? If that is not an option, I'm afraid I will need to seriously consider one of those other offers. The last thing I want to do here is create any trouble or animosity between us because I really do think you're a good manager, but I need to go where X, Y, and Z is/are. What do you think?"
posted by Menthol at 10:38 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ignore the no-loyalty advice. Even if it is true, that's no way to live your life. Be the change you want to see in the world, etc.

Talk to #3. Explain that you are uncomfortable with the secrecy, ask if there is a good reason for it. Explain that you value #1's advice and judgment, and aren't willing to voluntarily transfer out of their department without getting their blessing, or at least keeping them in the loop. If that is cool, then proffer your suggestion to #3 about working directly for them.
posted by gjc at 6:41 AM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

If manager #1 decides next week that he wants to pursue another position within the company, he is not going to ask for your input.
posted by itheearl at 7:11 AM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: I wouldn't feel beholden to manager #1. Based on what you have told us, he is just doing his job. HR doesn't have your salary in their budget. They have no incentive to "make sure you don't get paid well". They do have incentive to keep turnover low and to keep salaries in line with market prices and in balance across the company. If your company is like most places I've worked, your manager has some discretion to give you a raise up to a certain amount, and there are extra approvals needed if he wants to go beyond that. What you are describing -- annual review, manager documents exceptional performance, you get a raise -- is pretty much how it is supposed to work.

Manager #2 recruiting you without talking to manager #1 is unusual. This sort of sniping can get out of hand, and some larger companies have formal policies about this. However, it isn't your problem to fix. If manager #3 knows about this, he can decide for himself whether to discourage this behavior or not.

Finally, if manager #3 already knows you are thinking about a move to manager #2, I don't see any harm in talking to him about one of the freelance positions you mentioned.
posted by kovacs at 11:11 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: kovacs: my manager had the discretion to give me an annual raise ranging from 0% to x%, where x is set by HR every year. What my manager went through hoops for was to give me x + 2%. On the whole, the result kind of disappointed me, but I appreciated my managers effort. The company is well known for being miserly with pay, and I'd very likely need a competing offer from another company to do any better. I know that he knows he's being underpaid, too.
posted by Hither at 6:51 PM on April 9, 2011

Best answer: It should be manager #3's job to sort out where you best fit and ensure that there will be continuity should you move to another department. I would speak to her about how she wants to handle communicating the potential move to manager #1 and go from there. If you speak to manager #1 about this, manager #2 may feel you are putting up a potential roadblock, and if you speak to manager #2 without speaking to manager #1, she could feel slighted as well. This is the kind of thing that manager #3, their boss, should be dealing with.
posted by Jason Wilmot at 6:50 AM on April 11, 2011

Best answer: If the new position is better for you, nobody should question why you want to take it. Plain and simple.
posted by Silvertree at 11:17 AM on April 11, 2011

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