Q: Another director at my company is trying to get one of my best employees to join her team. He doesn’t want to, but I think they’re just going to reassign him anyway. What can I do?
A: You’re right at the intersection of corporate politics and personal preferences, and careful strategy is needed.
The inner game
Step aside from annoyance or anxiety to a calm and focused place in your mind. Take some deep breaths and ground yourself in the belief that a solution to this situation can be found.
There are three parties involved — you, the other director and, above all, your team member. It is his life, after all. So, to think through the best solution, map out everything you know about each person’s preferences, needs and concerns. Step back from time to time to be sure you’re not projecting what you want on your employee (to keep him), and that you are not casting your rival as villain. Do your best to see the situation through their eyes, also keeping in mind that you’re all there for the benefit of the company.
Next, understand the bigger picture, focusing on the fit between your team’s work and the other director’s with the overall corporate strategy. If you’re on a core project, you’re in a stronger position. If you both report to the same person, think about your boss’ perspective, or the direction she may be getting from her boss if she’s in a different part of the company.
Then think creatively about other solutions you could offer. If it’s a particular set of skills that are needed, are there other ways for the other director to obtain them? Would your employee be open to a temporary shift to do training?
The outer game
If the tide is moving toward changing your team member’s role, you’ll have a harder path. Prepare a business case for keeping him in his current role, including his contributions and the risks to the team’s mission if he is transferred. Then talk to your boss about your concerns; if they are shared, then use your boss to get them escalated. Plan to be persistent, continuing to make your case as needed.
Depending on the situation and your working relationship, a talk with the other director may be in order. However, this could backfire if she thinks you’re trying to pressure her, so strategize about this with your boss. If you talk with her, try to brainstorm with her on other solutions to try to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.
A big part of the situation is also in your employee’s court. Confirm that he doesn’t want to make this change, and then work with him to communicate this to your boss and the other director. Keep in mind that he might not be comfortable sharing this directly, so be his advocate. Also be his adviser, helping him think through his options if you can’t prevent a transfer.
The last word
Strategize and communicate to manage this political balancing act.