I Quit the Company, Not My Manager

Author: Keith Allen

The conventional wisdom when it comes to employee performance, engagement and retention is that’s it all about the manager.  We’ve all heard something along the lines of “People leave their manager not their company.”  Poor managers!  They get most of the responsibility, stress and blame when things go wrong and often don’t get the credit when things go right. 

Well I’m a living example of leaving a great boss and a less than great company – at least for me – not once but twice!  I loved both of these bosses – they were supportive, communicated well and truly cared about my development and well being.  The main reason I left in both cases was to pursue development and experience I felt I could not attain by staying with the companies.  The secondary reasons were the culture and politics as set, in large part, by senior leadership.  Both of these companies suffered from something I see in many companies working as a consultant – what I call the ‘just like me’ and the ‘it’s all about me’ syndromes.  When I look back at my experience these two syndromes didn’t totally push me away, but they certainly didn’t do anything to strengthen my tie to the companies. Here are a couple of examples:

I came to one company after spending 3 years in a HR generalist role in a manufacturing plant to join a Human Resources Development Program.  After being there about a year I learned that the program wasn’t the rotational program I had been told about in my interviews but really a pool of talent for the HR VP’s to use to fill jobs where they saw fit.  At about 14 months with the company I learned they wanted to send me to (guess where) one of the manufacturing plants! 

I had just spent three years in manufacturing, the job was in the middle of nowhere, and my soon to be wife would not be able to find work there.  I was flattered to be chosen but this job wasn’t going to work for me and I learned that the decision was virtually already made yet the VP’s never bothered to discuss it with me before the decision was 90% finalized.  The VP’s never bothered to talk to me because they assumed I would just go and be happy about it.  After all, that’s what they had done all of their careers (none of their wives worked) and moving me there was what they needed; didn’t I want to be like them and help them out? 

They were surprised, and rather indignant, when I asked why they’d not asked me if I was interested before they set up an interview for me for a job I knew nothing about.  They just couldn’t seem to understand I actually wanted to do the rotations they had said I’d go through (I wanted this for my development).   They also couldn’t quite understand that handling the situation this way left a bad impression of them in my mind – didn’t I want to be just like them? I stayed with this company for several more years and ended up working for a boss I really loved.  I learned a lot from him and he was very supportive.  But the cold, cliquish, it’s all about making the VP happy ‘feel’ of this company never changed so when it was time to move on for my own development, there was little to hold me there – other than my boss, and that wasn’t enough. 

I joined the second company to gain the training and OD experience I would have potentially waited years to get at the first; that function simply wasn’t valued at the first company (and still isn’t today).  In my new role I loved the job and value I could bring to my clients and I also loved my boss!  He was very supportive, gave me a lot of developmental opportunities and taught me many things I use today in my work. 

I found the executives in this company to be good at running the business, but fairly unconcerned about the employees.  We did great engagement and OD work up to about the Director level, above that is was a wasteland.  Each year started with dire news of how bad things were going to be so no one should expect a raise or bonus; but interestingly enough the executives always received their bonuses.  Strategy was so unfocused that the sales force was reconfigured three times in less than two years.  Many great sales reps and managers I worked with left because they didn’t want to move their families yet again.  We had a mission statement on the wall but no one believed it – frankly it was the source of many jokes. 

In this company, just like the first, the ‘just like me’ and ‘it’s all about me’ syndromes were alive and well.  To get ahead at high levels you had to act like, mimic, hang around with and be just like your boss and the ‘in’ group.  For people at or below a Director level, getting the VP their bonus (it’s all about me) was the name of the game. 

Every company has politics, cliques, bad executives and its share of troubles – and folks work in them for years and are ‘relatively’ happy.  These are fine companies, no better or worse than many others, but they are a good example of the effect that culture and senior leadership, over and above the effect of one’s immediate supervisor, can have on an employee.  Their cultures and the two syndromes were not the main reasons I left, but there was not enough pull from the culture of these companies to keep me from moving to other situations where I could build my skills and my paycheck much more so than had I stayed.  My bosses didn’t push me out the door, on the contrary, they kept me there longer.  But, great was they were my bosses were not enough to keep me there.

Keith Allen Bio

Keith Allen, SPHR

Service-Oriented Consultant, HR Generalist, Sr. Sales Professional, Trainer and Entrepreneur. As a Managing Director of Performancepoint, Keith works with companies to increase revenue and profit by focusing on the productivity and retention of key employees.

Keith has 25 years of experience in Human Resource Development, Organization Development, Employee Engagement, Performance Improvement, Talent Acquisition, Business Development, Consulting and Sales. Working in several corporate settings and consulting with the Fortune 2000 (including Operations, Sales, Support, R&D, IT, Customer Service and Finance) he has helped organizations produce bottom-line, tangible results through lower turnover, better communication and structure and higher job and team productivity.  He has also produced millions of dollars in product and service sales to date in his career. 

Keith’s industry experience includes manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, accounting, electronics, consulting, medical, telecommunications, education and many others.  He has experience working with associates from the factory/service floor to the C suite. Companies and clients he has worked with include Frito-Lay, Abbott Laboratories, Schneider Electric, Harley Davidson, Hewitt Associates, Crowe Chizek, the Mayo Clinic, Federal Express, Cummins Engine, SBC, U. S. Cellular, DeVry, Career Education, 3M.

Keith holds a B.A in Psychology and English Literature from Drury University and a M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Texas A&M University. He has a wonderful family, loves to ski and golf and will gladly discuss HRD, performance improvement and how to better your short game!


2 thoughts on “I Quit the Company, Not My Manager

  1. Excellent post, and excellent position. The “I quit my manager line…” has become almost cliche. As you put so well, it is so much more likely to be a combination of both. Managers are the product of what the company culture will tolerate. Some remain excellent managers, many are horrid.

  2. Hi,Keith Allen,
    I read above article,very interesting post i enjoyed by reading this post.thanks for posting this article and sharing with us.

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