I now manage the guy who hired me — and I’m afraid he might quit over it

A reader writes:

I was recently promoted to a department director role, and while I’m very excited about my new responsibilities, I have a dilemma that I need some help with: one of my direct reports is my former boss who hired me into the company.

Backstory: I’ve been here for eight years. I was hired into a junior role by a middle manager in the department. Call him “Tom.” He was a great boss, and I learned so much in the years I worked for him. He’s an all-around terrific supervisor who coaches well, provides clear goals, gives flexibility to meet those goals, provides opportunities to learn and grow, advocates for his team, the works. He’s also a really good talent spotter. I counted it up — of the 15 people Tom’s hired in the past decade, all but a couple have risen in the ranks at our company, in our division and others where division executives have recruited them.

After a few years working for him, a promotion opened up in our department and Tom urged me to apply. I got it, became his peer, and built my own effective team using his style as my model. Last year, our department director, “Mary,” announced her intention to retire, and as is corporate policy the job was posted. Tom applied, and I wasn’t going to but another colleague encouraged me to go for it. I did, impressed our relatively new division VP, and got the job! Tom congratulated me and I prepared to take the job.

Days after my promotion was announced, I found out through a colleague who is a mutual friend of both Tom and mine that Tom was very disappointed, even though he hasn’t expressed that to me. Apparently Mary and the previous division VP (who retired a year ago) had told Tom that he was a “shoo-in” to be promoted to Mary’s role when she retired. In fact, I was told that he turned down some outside opportunities in the past couple years that would have paid more because he was anticipating getting this promotion. As I’ve stated, he’s a great employee and manager who would have done a great job. I had no idea that this was Tom’s expectation, and when I learned, a I felt a little guilty about even applying for the job. A few weeks later, I had to do the annual update of our internal succession plan documents, and Tom was listed as the designated preferred internal successor for my job!

Tom has been nothing but professional and complimentary with me, but now I’m really concerned about how I can manage him effectively. I really need him to stay—he has longstanding personal relationships with all the key clients my department works with. (I led the operations side so I was less involved with clients.) If he left suddenly, we would be in a real bind — partly because of his success with hiring good talent, that good talent has moved up within the company and now his team is all relative newbies hired in the past few years who are all still building their own client relationships.

I recently met with HR and our division VP and they emphasized the need to keep Tom on staff due to his role as a talent spotter and for his client relationships. I asked about getting him a raise and seeing if we can do an intermediate promotion, but our corporate structure is pretty stratified and there’s really nothing between his level and mine. What do you recommend to navigate the potential awkwardness of managing my former boss, as well as keeping him happy despite his disappointment in not getting this job—and his missing out on the raise that came with it?

Tom may leave.

That would be true if someone else had gotten the job or even if Tom himself had gotten it. The reality is, people leave jobs and you can’t always predict when it will happen. Tom could have a much better offer dropped in his lap without ever seeking it, or he could have a health crisis or family emergency and need to leave to tend to that, or his spouse could get an offer across the country and he’d need to move, or he could have a sudden epiphany that he’s meant to be protecting endangering species in Brazil. Or he could, of course, decide to job search.

I say this because you never want to be in a position where you “must” keep someone at all costs. You can do everything right to retain someone, and they still might leave. That’s something you have to be prepared for as a manager and as an organization.

And in this case, Tom sounds extra likely to leave. He turned down other jobs in the past couple of years because he was told this promotion was a sure thing, and now he’s been passed over. Not only that, he’s been passed over for someone he hired and trained. Wouldn’t you job-search in Tom’s shoes?

That’s no slam against you. You applied for a job and presumably got it on your own merits. The new division VP who hired you may have different priorities for the role than their predecessor did. That’s allowed.

But it’s not reasonable for your VP to believe that someone who was promised this promotion for what sounds like years, who turned down other jobs because of that, and who has now been passed over for it will stay without some kind of significant recognition in title and/or pay.

You were right to ask about getting him a raise and a different type of promotion, and it’s BS that you’re being told it’s impossible. If they want to keep him as much as they’re saying they do, they need to put real money behind that (and possibly a title change from Director of X to Senior Director of X, or Director of X and Y, or so forth). If they’re not willing to do that, then the reality here is that Tom is likely to leave. You can try going back to them and something like, “Most people in Tom’s shoes would job search after being passed over for a promotion they were promised they’d get. If we can’t offer him anything to keep him here, we probably need to start preparing for him to leave us at some point. If he does end up resigning, is there anything we’d wish at that point we’d offered earlier? If so, I’d like to offer it now.”

But the reality is, your organization did screw over Tom, and moving on is probably the right move for him.

As for managing him meanwhile … I’d say get aligned with him on big-picture goals, defer to him on how he wants to meet those (assuming you don’t see big problems, which it doesn’t sound like you will), make it clear you trust and value his expertise, and have contingency planning in the back of your mind so you’re not caught off-guard when/if he leaves.

You can also ask him what he’d like from you. Tell him you feel incredibly privileged to be on his team, that you have huge respect for him, and that you want to work as a partner with him in whatever way will work best for him. (That offer doesn’t obligate to accept a response like “Great, the way that would work best for me is for us to speak once a year and otherwise not at all” — but it also doesn’t sound like Tom is someone who will say something like that. And it sounds like his work is strong enough and he’s senior enough that you should be working with him more as a partner than a top-down manager anyway.)

And you can advocate for him as hard as you can — for raises, for promotions, for recognition generally.

But assume Tom will likely leave at some point. Tom should leave at some point! So I’d also reframe your thinking to figure out how to be okay with that. (Really, being pro-Tom requires being okay with that.)

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 303 comments… read them below }

  1. Turquoisecow*

    Also, this wasn’t mentioned, but don’t blame yourself for getting the job, OP. There was always a chance the company could have hired someone outside to fill the role as well. You didn’t cheat Tom by applying, the company hired the best person for the role.

    1. londonedit*

      Definitely. If the company had wanted to promote Tom into the role, that’s what they would have done.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yep. They didn’t pass on promoting Tom because he wouldn’t do the job well. Based on the fact that they want to keep him, they clearly didn’t want to move him out of a role where he’s already incredibly effective. Unfortunately, their decision may not align with his career plans.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This was my first thought. OP you have nothing to feel guilty about. You applied for a job and got it on your own merits. If Tom is reasonable (and it sounds like he is), he shouldn’t blame you for getting the job, he should be disappointed in those above him that made it seem as if him getting the job was guaranteed.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        That whole “you’re a shoo in” thing, and in keeping him in a role they love him in at the expense of allowing his career to have a natural upward progression. Even if he was given full consideration for the promotion, he’s apparently hit the ceiling at the current company. Tom sounds like a great candidate for a new job.

  2. Prof. Kat*

    If it’s helpful, perhaps reframe it as “Tom wants to move up in his career, and there isn’t a position open here for him to do so.” This is just something that happens, depending on the workplace and hierarchy! It doesn’t mean that you’re not deserving of the position, nor does it mean that you should take it personally if he opts to take a position elsewhere. Naturally you like him, and he may be disappointed about not getting the role himself, but if he wants to move up, he’s going to have to go elsewhere!

    For example, this is really common in academia. If someone wants to move into an administrative role, the first step is to usually be department chair/head. If that position is filled, even if by someone you like and respect, you’d look elsewhere for a position. When I was getting my doctorate, 5 professors from our department left in the span of 2 years, all to fill dept head positions at other universities. They liked our department head, and my advisor (one of the people who left) worked closely with him and considers him a good friend. At the end of the day, they wanted to move into administrative roles, and there was just no way for them to do that in the near future without moving to another institution.

    1. Emily K*

      LW may also want to consider letting Tom know that while she’d very much like him to stay because of XYZ, she knows that his first loyalty needs to be to himself and his own career, and that if he does start looking to move on she would be happy to provide a reference and keep it confidential until he’s ready to give notice (assuming she can keep that promise). If he’s been there so long he may not have many current reference options.

      My company is one where people tend to stay a long time, and while we’re fairly non-hierarchical it does still limit the ability of some people to advance in the direction they want to when there’s a 20-year veteran with no plans to leave occupying the next logical step, and I’ve had several coworkers who themselves had been around 7-10 years announce their departures and later learned from talking to them that their managers had all provided references to help them move on. It really goes a long way towards helping folks leave on good terms when their manager can be supportive. One of those people actually even returned to us several years later in a different role.

  3. Trout 'Waver*

    I’d also add that you should have a contingency plan for Tom leaving and half your team going with him.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, this. If he’s invaluable, the division VP needs to treat him like he’s invaluable. Regardless, there needs to be a succession plan for what happens if Tom leaves (esp. vis-a-vis client relationships).

    2. Marissa*

      Agreed, clients might choose to follow him too. In truth, it’s something that is good to think about with any star employee even absent this situation.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yes, clients may very well leave with him, which may end up being disastrous for the company overall. So the company needs to have a plan in place for that possibility as well.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      I think he’ll leave (in fact, I have no doubt – I would if I were him; I’ve left companies for less), but why do you think half the team will go with him? Presumably, these people like the company, they like that they have growth opportunities there (OP is proof of that), and there’s no guarantee that Tom will go someplace where he can take them with him or that they’ll find another company that offers these opportunities. Basically, just because Tom reached the ceiling at this company doesn’t mean that’s true of everyone else.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I don’t mean half the team will quit in protest or be more loyal to Tom or anything like that. I just mean that Tom will presumably take a job where he is in position to hire. And he will know where to find a pool of talented workers that have already proven themselves in that industry.

        On top of that, the team will devalue any promises made to them after they see what happened to Tom.

        1. NW Mossy*

          It’s also clear from the OP’s telling that Tom has an affinity for hiring well and setting people up to advance, and that makes staff slightly more of a flight risk. Granted, a good portion of his success there is likely tied to environmental factors (ability to offer competitive pay/benefits, strong management, etc.) that may not be the case at a future employer of his, but when you’ve got a rep as a good mentor, people remember that.

          1. Bostonian*

            Right. If he was such a good boss, I could see the possibility that for some of his staff he’s the only reason they stay in their job. I know plenty of people like that in my department.

          2. Jen S. 2.0*

            This. Common wisdom is that people don’t usually leave jobs, they leave poor managers. That means the inverse can also be true: that people go with good managers. If Tom is a great manager, it is very possible that some people might choose to stay with him, given the opportunity. Obviously it’s not that simple, but if a couple of key people leave with him, either to join him at his new company or because they don’t like the way he was treated, I wouldn’t be surprised.

            But, as everyone else has noted, however you slice it, Tom’s days there are numbered.

          3. Witty Nickname*

            This. I like my current job and company. I really like my current manager and team. But I have one former boss who, if she called me today and said “come work for me” and named a salary that was equal to or more than I make now, I wouldn’t even ask what the job was, I’d just say yes (in fact, that’s kind of how I ended up in my current job. I did ask her what the job was then thought “oh, that sounds incredibly boring and tedious,” but it was a promotion, and I wanted to work for her again. And it turned out that she knew my strengths and skills better than I knew them myself because the job was a perfect fit for me).

            I have a couple other managers that I would give serious consideration to working for them again if the role and salary were right, even though I’m not looking to leave my current job. I’ve been lucky enough to have several really good managers in my career.

        2. Lora*

          Can confirm, this is a thing. It’s rational for the people who go with him: he’s a good manager, they like him (OP likes him too!), they are familiar with him and know what to expect. OP’s management may have some sort of written “no poaching employees/noncompete” clause they try to get him to sign, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the end – they are rarely enforced and even rarely enforceable.

          1. TootsNYC*

            in fact, when you come into a job with high expectations attached to it, often the fastest way to do a really good job is to bring with you people you already work well with, people whose quality you know.

            That happened at my job–we hired a department head, and she essentially cleaned house and brought her team from the previous job. We were a little miffed for our colleagues, and we scornfully thought of it as a form of nepotism.

            But her team was great–they worked really well with her, she could completely trust them, and they just ROCKED OUT that work.

            It really opened my eyes to the power of a network for the person who is doing the hiring.

        3. DCompliance*

          This is a very good point. I think there is a valid concern that the rest of the team will see that the promises management made to Tom were not kept and will keep that in mind if other opportunities come their way.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think there’s a good chance the team won’t see what happened to Tom, because Tom won’t tell them. It sounds like he’s been extremely gracious and discreet about the situation.

          1. DCompliance*

            Tom may not say anything, but over the years who knows what conversations people overheard. I have certainly heard about promises made through casual chatter.

                1. Aurion*

                  The OP got access to (presumably confidential) planned successor documents…but that only corroborated to what Mutual Colleague told OP: that Tom has been groomed to take over for Mary for a long time.

                  Tom sounds like the height of professionalism and grace, and presumably the Mutual Colleague to OP and Tom is pretty discreet and professional as well, but it’s not outlandish to believe that colleagues over the years have noticed Tom being groomed for Mary’s position, and have talked about that.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Sure, it’s definitely not outlandish to think that could be the case. I don’t disagree with that. I also think it’s possible it won’t spread around because Tom is so gracious. Either one is possible.

          2. Fortitude Jones*

            That was my thinking too, Alison. From the way he’s described, he doesn’t sound like the petty type to tell everyone what happened.

            I, on the other hand, totally would, so I admire Tom’s discretion, lol.

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            I really hate it when companies get away with poor behavior because people are expected to be discreet and not communicate publicly about how they got hosed. Tom was promised a promotion, made personal sacrifices based on the word of the company, and then was denied the promotion. To put any onus or pressure on Tom to cover these simple facts up is unethical.

            None of this is OP’s fault of course. But why would anyone question Tom’s professionalism if he simply said, “I’m leaving because I was promised a promotion, turned down other jobs based on that promise, and now am being denied the promotion.”

          4. Sarah N.*

            I think either option is possible — maybe Tom will tell, maybe he won’t, maybe the gossip will get around anyway (as it sounds like at least one other coworker strongly suspected Tom was being groomed for this position). But it would still be wise to PLAN for that possibility, since there’s definitely a strong chance it may happen.

        5. Observer*

          On top of that, the team will devalue any promises made to them after they see what happened to Tom.

          If they are as good as the OP says, then they SHOULD.

          I get that things change for the company, but *Tom* was clearly never told about this change. Not cool.

          1. Ama*

            Yeah, I feel for the OP because it seems like senior management at her company really dropped the ball on this one (assuming no one gave Tom a heads up that he wasn’t the shoo-in for promotion he thought he was). And now they are compounding the situation by putting pressure on the OP to keep Tom from leaving even though they had to know this would be a possible outcome if they didn’t choose him for the position.

            OP, I would continue to advocate for a raise for him, but prep for the possibility that he might leave. However, if he does decide to leave, it’s not you who failed here.

            1. Coyote Tango*

              I feel really badly for both OP and Tom because it sounds like the new VP came in, liked OP better and then called an audible on existing plans. I kind of hope Tom does leave so he learns an important lesson.

        6. Triumphant Fox*

          Yes. Also, the tone will just change if he’s gone and people will start looking for a variety of reasons. I almost stayed at my last job longer just because I loved my boss so much. She ended up being pushed out a year later and the cascade of resignations that followed was amazing to see from the sidelines.

        7. QC*

          I was Tom once, except with an outside hire rather than someone more junior. I didn’t breathe a word of the disappointment or promises that had been made to me, and it still got around. A lot of people lost trust in that leadership team as a result.

          1. gbca*

            Yep – people are not stupid and they love to speculate about this stuff. When someone has a great professional reputation and they don’t get a job that they were heir apparent to, people are going to make assumptions and talk even if that person doesn’t breathe a word of it.

      2. WellRed*

        The company is showing that there is a limit, to be promotion and salary because they are so far unwilling to extend even a token raise to Tom despite being desparate not to lose him.

      3. Jadelyn*

        It’s not that they’ll choose to leave independently, or in protest or anything. Beloved leaders often poach their old staff once they get a new position. I’ve seen new managers “clear out” an existing team so that they can start bringing in “their” people and basically rebuilding the team they’d had at their previous job. So if Tom goes, I’d be ready for him to find a new leadership role and then start reaching back out to his former staff and offering them positions at his new company.

        1. Chaordic One*

          Beloved leaders don’t even have to “actively” poach their old staff. If someone is a great manager, their former team members will want to work with them again and will actively seek to follow them where they go.

      4. Kiki*

        It’s a really common thing to happen. Even if people really liked their job and the company before, having someone they really truly loved working with leave (especially in a situation where people perceive the company as not giving the departing employee their due) tends to make others follow suit. I’m sure LW is awesome and is completely worthy of this promotion, but I’m really surprised the higher-ups didn’t factor this heavily into their decision about who to promote– it’s *such* a common instigator of a mass exodus.

    4. M*

      Clients may decide to also follow him if they found out how he is being treated. I wouldn’t want to hire a company that promised a job to someone who was loyal and an excellent employee and then looked him over.

      I also say this. I have many colleagues (and I do not do this) who are hiring managers. Some say they are careful who they hire because they don’t want to hire someone who will be better than them or one day get a promotion over them. This right here is an example of why some people don’t always hire the best person for the company. Tom always did what was best for the company, even over himself. Time for your organization to step up and show how invaluable you all think he is. Might also be the new VP was discriminating against Tom because of age or they did not understand his value since they were also new.

      Time to step up for Tom like how he did for you. And yeah I would leave if I was Tom and I wouldn’t hide what the company did to me to clients either.

      1. A*

        ” This right here is an example of why some people don’t always hire the best person for the company. Tom always did what was best for the company, even over himself. Time for your organization to step up and show how invaluable you all think he is.”

        This. A million times this!

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          But it may be too late! One of the problems you have – when something like this happens, is that upper management has made a decision and they’re going to stick to their guns on it.


          As some have said – the CORRECT thing to have done – at the time of Tom’s being passed over – would have been to give him a raise, a new title, some shift in responsibilities so it doesn’t appear he’s been passed over, and go forward.

          When they didn’t do that, they greased the skids for Tom’s departure. He won’t get ahead, he’s probably “dead meat”, knows it and has to move on. Certainly an unfair situation, and if it had been handled differently, it might have prevented this.

          And , unfortunately, OP is losing a valuable resource, yet his superiors are tying his hands behind his back.

      2. Antilles*

        I have many colleagues (and I do not do this) who are hiring managers. Some say they are careful who they hire because they don’t want to hire someone who will be better than them or one day get a promotion over them.
        Given that managers are judged by the success of their teams, that seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
        If I’m hiring stellar employees while someone else is intentionally trying to hire mediocrities…who do you think is going to have better year end results? Two years from now when our shared boss leaves and there’s a position open, you think the role is going to the guy whose team has produced years of average results or the guy producing all-star level results?
        Also worth noting: In a lot of cases, smart upper management tends to notice who’s hiring the best people. I can personally assure you I’ve been in meetings where we’re trying to compare internal candidates and someone has tossed out “yeah, but Andy just can’t keep staff” or “part of this role is trying to recruit and develop mid-career employees and Bob just has a track record of producing stars”.

    5. Artemesia*

      This. Tom has been screwed over by the company. If his contacts and skills are so important they should have promoted him, so it is now incumbent on you to acquire those contacts and skills or make sure other people on your team do. Particularly you need to think about how to build strong client ties with other team members and yourself because surely Tom will leave.

      I would. You probably would. You need to make it clear to your Veep that that is what is likely to happen and the urgency of giving him a raise and some sort of title change — but most of all that raise.

  4. Hermione*

    This is such a good answer, Alison.

    LW, Tom was pro-you for several years, and now you have the opportunity to be pro-Tom. Push for a raise and a title bump, support his team and his promising initiatives where you can, value his good feedback, and… prepare for him to leave. Support him graciously when he does.

    1. peanutbutty*

      I love this comment and framing (as well as Alison’s answer).
      Tom supported your career progression; this is your chance to support his – which realistically means him being likely to move on.
      Best of luck in the new role!

  5. Lil Sebastian*

    Interestingly, I’ve been in a similar situation as Tom. I was hired into a role, performed well, and became the manager of my peers in that role. Our department was reorganizing and there were two positions that I was a good fit for and encouraged to apply for. I applied for the first one and another great internal candidate got it. When I was told I wasn’t getting the first role, I was strongly encouraged to apply for the other role. In the meantime I had an opportunity to transfer to another department, but the manager of that department was told “we really want LilSebastian here in this other role (new role #2)” so the transfer didn’t happen. I applied for the other role and after a very long hiring process they eventually went with an external candidate.

    All this is to say that I didn’t hold it against the external candidate who got the role over me. He, like you OP, just applied, did his best, and happened to get the role over me. I did feel salty towards the hiring managers who I felt had strung me along and told me I’d be a great fit for the role. I ended up leaving that department for another one and in my exit interview told the department director how the whole process made me question the honesty of the department and how it treated employees.

    Alison’s right that you have to prepare that Tom may leave. Advocating for a raise, promotion, or other perks is great. However, it is hard to stay in a place where you felt you were working towards one thing and then the game changed. It may be hard for Tom to trust senior management moving forward.

    1. Librarianne*

      Something similar happened to me–but the person who took the role I was “perfect for” was none other than the head of the search committee(!!). I high-tailed it out of there.

    2. As Close As Breakfast*

      I’ve been in a similar position as well, although at a much lower level than Tom. I was in an entry level position (I won’t say I was overqualified, as we all know that isn’t the right way to look at it, but I was an engineer with a masters degree working as a receptionist thanks to graduating during the recession) and was applying for an analyst position. I was internally recruited, heavily encouraged to apply, and had my boss, grand-boss, and department head all but promise I would get the job. In the end, they hired someone else. I didn’t blame the person that was hired, but I did start job hunting within 48 hours. I had a new job offer as an actual engineer withing 10 days and was turning in my notice 13 days after I was passed over for the analyst job. And when I did, my boss was SHOCKED. Legitimately, genuinely, SHOCKED. I’m still a bit baffled how she thought I was going to stick around in a receptionist position while I had a graduate degree in a completely different field and had spent nearly 6 months (government) in an interviewing process for a job she had all but promised me, but that I ended up not getting. But still… SHOCKED.

      So my point is, don’t be my old boss. Don’t be SHOCKED when Tom leaves. Because he should and he most likely will.

      1. Transit commuter*

        I’ve seen that happen so many times. I was encouraged to “get my foot in the door” and apply to be a receptionist (with several years of experience). I declined and they were totally shocked. I’d applied for a position that was a lateral move for me and they instead hired an internal candidate that didn’t meet the qualifications (and still doesn’t 4 years later). In that 4 years, no position has come open, so I’d still be a receptionist (making $10/hr). And having seen how they operate, I knew that they’d have me doing the higher level work (that the person they hired wasn’t qualified for and therefor couldn’t do). I also knew, based on experience, that when a position did come open, they’d decide that I was too valuable in my (WAY underpaid) position since I was already doing the job and they would hire from outside.

        I’ve been burned that way and I’ve seen it happen to countless women. The standard advice to “volunteer for jobs above your paygrade so they see you’re able to do it” may work sometimes, but I’ve never seen it. All I’ve ever seen is that they count on you doing 1.5 jobs for the lower pay and then hire someone else to take over the job you should have gotten because they don’t have a plan for how to handle losing your 0.5 when they hire someone who isn’t overqualified. I haven’t, however, seen it happen to a man. Men are seen as more likely to leave. And maybe it’s true, but I’ve learned to just not get into that situation in the first place.

  6. Engineer Girl*

    Sounds like Tom is so good at his job that they want him to stay in that one post forever. Every time management does this, they lose high performing individuals that (naturally) want to move up.

    As his manager you must advocate for him. That’s your job and your duty to the best long term interests of company. It looks like upper management is being short sighted in trying to keep him in his place.

    I also notice that your upper management is making this your problem even though they created it. That’s bad management.

    You must push back. You must tell them that they will lose him over this problem that they created. When they refuse to make any concessions they tie your hands. Point out to them that if Tom leaves, it’s fully their fault.

    1. Mazzy*

      Yes and yes. OP needs to advocate for a raise or some sort of promotion even if it’s uncomfortable and they don’t want to hear it. That’s part of being a Director, even though some people at my level often revert to acting like line level employees and don’t do these things. Don’t be that person. Don’t be put off if they postpone indefinitely or say no. Be blunt. Be the one to ask for a phone call or meeting, they won’t reach out to you.

      Bring information that makes Tom look indispensable and makes it awkward for them to say no. Ask them how they expect you to manage and keep other high performers if they won’t budge.

      Good luck!

      1. YetAnotherUsername*

        I once worked with a guy who was outstanding at aspect A of his job, but not great at aspect B, to the extent that it held him back in moving up the existing career path in the company. They created a new post specially for him called something like Director of aspect A. He was happy with the title, he earned more than a lot of people he reported to on projects, and everyone was happy to have found a way to keep him.

        Even in companies with existing structures that seem inflexible, there is sometimes a way to move someone “off to one side” in the structure.

        Op if you can imagine a position and title that might suit Tom, try again to propose such a thing. Preface it by asking your boss to consider it from Tom’s perspective first and ask wouldn’t you be job searching in this situation. Then propose the alternative position.

    2. ten-four*

      HARD AGREE with “upper management is making this your problem even though they created it. That’s bad management.”

      I do think you need to frame your approach to them in terms of problem solving: We’d all like to keep Tom, and he wants to move up in his career. Our best strategy is to help him move up here, in X or Y ways. If we can’t offer that then I expect him to start job hunting.

      Then even if they come through with a raise/promotion I’d start your succession planning. Tom’s still incredibly likely to leave!

      Also side note: Tom sounds like a really great boss, colleague and direct report.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Interestingly, I worked at a place (a publication, with reporters and editors) that struggled with the idea of paying reporters more than they did editors. They were lower on the org chart–they shouldn’t earn more than their boss, or more than their boss’s boss.

      However, the editors kept pointing out: these are different skills. And the reporter who find the stories is WAY more valuable than any editor.

      (think about a football team–the stars on the field earn a lot more than their coaches)

      So if Tom is SO good at his job that the company really wants to keep him in that spot, compensate him appropriately, with money, recognition, and work satisfaction (autonomy, challenge, etc.).

      1. Door Guy*

        My last job was like that – when I went into management I took a huge pay deduction, to the tune of 30-40% . The reasoning behind it was that our technicians in the field were the ones bringing in all the money – we were nothing without them. They were paid commission per work order closed and management was salaried. If outside factors hadn’t contributed to my no longer being able to handle field work, I never would have made the switch, but it was “move up or move on” for me and the position became available the week I came back from major surgery.

    4. irene adler*


      “upper management is making this your problem even though they created it.”
      Glass cliff situation in the making?

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Tom is doing the right thing, he isn’t mad at you about this, he’s mad at the organization for lying to him all these years. Maybe the people making the promises weren’t in the place to actually be able to make them but it happened, so he’s very much in the right to be upset and probably will leave given the circumstances.

    We had something similar happen when our last executive left. She told a lower manager they’d be the one to take her spot. Yeah…no. Didn’t happen [this is not like your situation since that person was not even qualified but she had blinders on and favoritism was an issue to put it lightly.] Yeah he sure walked away almost immediately after they put another person in the opening [since they spoke with the right people thank-God and found out the person was no good.]

    That’s what comes from people planting false hope into others and promising things they have no right doing! This again isn’t about you.

    I would treat him with the same respect as you always have. I’m not certain you would need to worry about being his boss for however long he’s still there, most managers with his experience and abilities most likely need very little supervising in the end. It’s not that much different than being peers unless he decides to go sideways after the organization did what they did but most people don’t give up their integrity like that!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      * I forgot to add that he’s not mad at you, which is why he’s not bringing this issue to your table like it’s your problem. He’s not going to complain to you and diminish your achievement because that’s unfair to you. He’s using other people to vent to for that very reason! Which other’s shouldn’t be really talking to you about that but whatever, it’s usually always going to happen like that.

    2. GooseTracks*

      Yeah, the upper management really fumbled this one. Tom should definitely be job-searching, and LW shouldn’t expect to have him much longer.

      I was in a situation where my departing boss promised me I would be chosen to replace her. Grand-boss had other ideas, and after months of internal politics and uncertainty, I didn’t get the promotion. My boss overstepped her authority by trying to hand-pick me as her replacement, grand-boss was incapable of giving anyone bad news and handled the situation terribly, and I felt burned by the whole process. I quit less than a year later.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Sadly it’s not uncommon for people to think they have more say in who their replacement will be like that =( They overstretch their authority. Unless someone says “You get to choose your replacement” I’m making nobody any promises that when I’m gone, it’s all theirs. There’s too many variables and then you end up looking like a big ol’ liar in the end and I prefer to not look like a liar, even when it’s not my intention of course.

        I’m glad that you moved on, I would have too. That is such a stinky situation to be in.

      2. clay*

        Senior management shouldn’t have described Tom as a shoo-in for anything, but beyond that, they didn’t fumble anything. They hired the best person for the job. There is nothing to say that promotions must go to the most senior internal applicant (outside of collective bargaining, etc)

        1. KinderTeacher*

          I think the fumble comes in when we consider that not only did Tom not get the job, he also wasn’t offered any sort of raise, title change, etc. Senior management considers him to be indispensable, emphasizing to OP that they need to keep him there, but are also acting like that can be accomplished without them being willing to offer that raise, title change, responsibility shift, etc to make staying worth it to Tom. If OP is best for the job great. But if you want to promote OP AND keep Tom, you need to do something for Tom. And they have totally fumbled that piece of the puzzle.

          1. Sarah N.*

            Agree. You can’t pretend someone is SO valuable to your company that you CAN’T POSSIBLY lose them or DISASTER but then not reward them AT ALL. If the person is truly indispensible, they should be compensated appropriately.

    3. Meercat*

      Nothing new to add to the excellent suggestions from other commenters. I just keep coming back to how stellar Tom sounds as a human being, employee, coworker and manager. I don’t know the guy and I feel bad for how he got screwed over and am pretty in awe at how gracious he is about it. I’m super team Tom :D

  8. Marissa*

    If Tom is as great as he sounds, I’m sure he sees that you are not responsible for his not being promoted. You were seeking to advance your career, same as him, and you can’t hold yourself back on your career to avoid stepping on toes. It sounds like higher ups know the value Tom brings but aren’t trying to come up with creative ways to incentivize and retain him. You are doing right by him by advocating for him. If they don’t listen that’s not on you.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      It sounds like higher ups know the value Tom brings but aren’t trying to come up with creative ways to incentivize and retain him.

      Yup, and this is going to come back to bite them in the ass when he ends up leaving and taking some of those clients with him.

    2. Heidi*

      It’s weird that they think Tom is super-valuable as an employee, but not valuable enough to put any money or effort into retaining. Someone this talented is going to have other options. I know he hasn’t left yet, but if he does, the LW might have an opportunity to really shine in her new job by figuring out how to rebuild without him. Sometimes you need a real challenge to bring out your best skills.

      1. Ama*

        I suspect that senior management is relying on the fact that Tom is always super professional and good-natured to get away with treating him like this.

        I used to get all kinds of crap situations dumped on me (in my personal and professional life) and when I finally started speaking up it became very clear that the people making these asks knew full well they were treating me poorly or asking way more than was reasonable — they just didn’t think I would object because I was always so amenable about everything. Once it became clear that I’d actually push back against unreasonable requests the crap didn’t come my way nearly as often.

      2. Liane*

        It’s wrong to do this, but unfortunately “super-valuable as an employee, but not valuable enough to put any money or effort into retaining” is A Thing at many companies. How many times has a Letter Writer or Commenter wrote about themselves or someone else getting the “We can’t pay you more/give you a new title/whatever For Reasons”? They give notice, and all of a sudden about-to-be-ex-employer finds the money for a large raise and discovers that it is possible to change a title, add PTO days and more.
        It wouldn’t surprise me if OP (Who IS a great colleague and boss) sends an update of “I kept trying to get Tom raises and so on. I tried everything you & the commenters suggested and it all fell on deaf ears. Then Tom gave notice. Suddenly there was room in the budget for a 25% raise and they even offered a shiny new title. In a couple hours I’m taking him and the team to lunch for his last day.”

      3. TardyTardis*

        Happens all the–the bosses will ride a pony to death and then be really surprised when the pony stops or leaves.

  9. KayEss*

    Also be sure to take this as a lesson on how your company operates… when the time comes that it’s best for YOUR career to move on, remember how Tom’s years of high-value contributions and selfless loyalty were rewarded, and jump without guilt.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, definitely. Not just in this single promotion, but the subsequent stance of “you absolutely must keep him but without compensating or recognizing him appropriately for his years of excellent performance.”

        1. Lora*

          I’m wondering if they initially brought Tom in on the upper end of what they were willing to pay for the position, and once he maxxed that out at his current level, they realized the choices were:
          -Re-work the budgeting for the entire department in order to give Tom a director-ish level raise >10%
          -Ask Tom nicely to take on the director job/title but no accompanying raise
          -Give the job to someone who is paid significantly less than Tom, because (Tom – some%) x 10-15% is still within the department OPEX budget for raises.

          I’ve seen a LOT of senior managers who are allergic to the mountain of paperwork and finance negotiations involved in doing major budget changes, who try to come up with half-baked solutions like this. The right thing to do is to sit down with whoever needs to do the re-budgeting and figuring, but the easy thing to do is to come up with a half-baked solution and declare that it is hereby Someone Else’s Problem, so the easy solution often wins.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I could see that happening, though I would like to think OP received the promotion based on merit and not just her company’s laziness and budget restraints.

            My bafflement really comes in with how upper management is behaving in the aftermath. They had to know that doing something like this is basically signing Tom’s resignation letter for him, so why in the world aren’t they moving mountains if he’s oh so valuable to keep him? Surely they have other resources they can tap to get this man some more money, and titles cost nothing.

            1. Coyote Tango*

              Given this is in conjunction with a newer VP, I feel like this is a strong case of There’s a New Sheriff In Town and they decided to put their spin on things without a good understanding of the structure of the house of cards. I’ve seen it happen a lot, unfortunately.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          It really is. “Tom is invaluable and we want to keep him. But we cannot use anything so crass as money or promotion to do that. OP, you must keep him with sheer gumption!”

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            LOL! Upper management must read the archives here and didn’t realize that GUMPTION is not something to emulate or aspire to, lol.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Honestly, the subsequent insistence that they keep Tom on without any incentive worries me more. As for the promotion, it sounds like the people who promised Tom the promotion both left before the hiring process happened. It’s unclear how much the new VP should have known about what was or wasn’t promised to Tom… or whether the new VP had told Tom they wanted to see what else is out there and he es no longer a lock. The only thing we know for certain is that an internal planning document had his name on it, not how binding that was or how current. Only Tom knows whether he thought the new VP had the same intentions as the old. It sucks for Tom no matter what, yes! Should Tom be looking for a job? Oh hell yes.
        But to my mind the obviously egregious part is what happened afterwards. If the VP wants to keep Tom that badly they’re going to have to make it worth his while.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Seconding your first sentence. This all made sense in a “yeah, frustrating for Tom and I’ll understand if he starts looking” way until we got to the part where the people who didn’t promote him think it’s crucial to keep him, but don’t want to actually expend any resources to do that.

    2. hbc*

      It definitely makes me wonder whether “didn’t keep Tom around” will be a black mark on OP’s record, despite them tying her hands.

      1. Kaaaaaren*

        I was thinking that, too! Tom leaving will be blamed on the OP even though the OP was given absolutely nothing to offer Tom to get him to stay. Upper management is bananas if they think the company is owed all this loyalty by Tom when they show none to Tom in return.

    3. CeeKee*

      This was the first thing I thought when reading this letter–this company sounds just terrible. They may be generally functional and have been a rewarding place for the LW to have worked all these years, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with them to have treated an essential employee in such a shabby way. And the arrogance of declaring that after all this they “need” to keep him on staff…!

      1. Elbe*

        Agreed! They made the decision to deny him the role he was promised, and then immediately turned around and made the LW responsible for retaining him… with no resources or support. It’s baffling how they think that this will turn out well.

  10. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Really, OP, what you want to do here is make sure that Tom is no longer the vital link you portray him as. Don’t have a single load-bearing employee! Even if he makes his peace with his position and doesn’t immediately look elsewhere, he could win the lottery or get hit by a bus tomorrow. Get that institutional knowledge spread beyond him, whatever it takes — and for what it’s worth, you can be open with him about your intention to do that. Don’t frame it as “I think you’re going to leave,” but if he’s as good a manager as it sounds like, then he’ll understand that it’s in the company’s interest to have someone besides him building the kind of relationships he has — someone who can fill in for him when he’s on vacation, as a very benign example, or if he’s unavoidably swamped when one of those big relationships needs urgent tending. He can assist in bringing other employees into those key client relationships via introductions and inclusion — “Hi Johnny BigClient, we’ll be joined today by Alice, who’s working with me on Issue XYZ right now.”

    Tom might leave. In fact, Tom will definitely leave the company at some point, because no one works forever. It might be tomorrow, it might be next year, it might be ten years down the line. Don’t plan for if, plan for when.

    1. Roscoe*

      While you are right, there is something about this that seems pretty shady as well. Its like “lets get all this knowledge out of him while we can”. It is good management, but it just seems, based on what happened, to be a pretty callous way to look at it. And, lets take away some responsibility and what he is good at. Basically asking him to train his replacement before he has even left

      1. JustAClarifier*

        I’m not sure I’d agree that it’s shady. It’s an unfortunate situation, but at all levels of employment you have to plan for attrition. It’s less sucking the knowledge from someone as much as it’s preventing failure. You cannot have a single point of failure in your system, no matter how stellar that employee is, because that’s basic contingency planning. The upper management seems to be very ignorant in how they’re handling this situation and if they did not do basic contingency planning to prevent the failure point that would be even more ignorant.

      2. Jadelyn*

        It’s not shady. It’s just that the situation has pointed out a vulnerability in their current setup – anytime you’ve got a single person with a ton of institutional knowledge or really unique skills that nobody else can even begin to duplicate, you’ve got a point of vulnerability if anything happens to that person (whether it’s voluntary or involuntary on that person’s part). Quite frankly, they should’ve been spreading that knowledge around already, but they weren’t, and just because they weren’t before it’s not “shady” to have suddenly had an “oh shit, if something happened with Tom we’d be in serious trouble” epiphany and start working on spreading that info/training/whatever around so that the whole team isn’t Tom-dependent.

        1. LW*

          LW here. The vulnerability is fairly new and, we thought, temporary. And we actually did have a great cross-trained sales team under Tom… until those team members started moving up to new roles within the company over the past two years and Tom hired several (terrific but green) newcomers to replace them. It’s a perfect storm having the newcomers still building their client relationships at the same time Tom got passed over and becomes a flight risk. I’m working to get his team up to speed on relationships but relationships take time!

      3. Allypopx*

        That framing could be construed as callous, but the actual process or end result is not. Institutional knowledge needs to be shared, and you need failsafes in case someone gets hit by a bus, or quits, or comes down with a sudden unexpected bout of amnesia. These things are important to operational success in any company.

      4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I didn’t advocate for taking away any of his responsibilities. Training backup isn’t the same thing at all.

        I can see why you would call this shady, but the fact of the matter is that having a single employee be the sole holder of major institutional knowledge or the only access point for vital client relationships is not good management. If you can think of a non-shady way to remediate that situation without sidelining Tom in the process, please, I’m all ears.

      5. Rusty Shackelford*

        It would be shady to wring all the knowledge out of him and then fire him. But making sure he isn’t the one sole repository because you fear he’s going to leave? That’s not shady, it’s smart.

        1. Psyche*

          Exactly this. They aren’t planning on firing him or pushing him out. They just need to be prepared in case he chooses to leave.

      6. Aurion*

        In addition to the excellent points others have pointed out, I think Tom would understand OP trying to spread Tom’s institutional knowledge around. Tom is an excellent employee, manager, and mentor, who has mentored many other employees into promotions over the years…which means Tom had to have prepared for the eventuality that his employees would move on, and made contingency plans for their institutional knowledge.

        Tom sounds like the height of professionalism and grace, and I sincerely doubt he would hold it against OP to make contingency plans for his leaving. OP knows that Tom will likely leave. I bet that Tom knows that OP knows that Tom will likely leave. Tom mentored OP, after all, and they know each other’s (very effective) managing styles.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      This. Tom is becoming the major issue here. It’s becoming emotional. I’d start thinking about Tom-less plans as well as advocate for him. Hell, combine the two. “OK, if we have no enticements to keep Tom, I am going to need someone to do X and Y going forward.
      Also, evaluate what you know about the person who shared Tom’s feelings.
      Yeah, it’s great you have an insight, but Tom trusted this person. And they failed.

    3. Kaaaaaren*

      I think you’re right that the OP needs to find ways to spread some of Tom’s knowledge around to other employees and maybe even find ways to make others “back ups” on his clients or whatever, but there is almost no way to do this without making it very obvious that the company either expects Tom to leave soon or maybe even WANTS HIM TO LEAVE. Tom sounds like a very smart guy and even someone who isn’t a very smart guy could smell this from a mile away. Not for nothing, but if I were Tom and someone came to me and all of sudden wanted me to train all these people and give access to my clients AND I was just passed over for a promotion that was (even in writing) meant for me… I would give the smallest amount of information I possibly could without getting in trouble for it while furiously job searching.

      1. Roscoe*

        You expressed this better than I attempted to above. Its like he just got passed up, now you want him to give access to his information. If I were him, I’d do as you said, give the least amount of info while still being respectful. It would seem like he is being pushed out, so why make it easier for them to do it.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup – this is a tricky situation. Like you and Roscoe said, no matter how they frame it, this is going to look like the company is trying to push him out or expects him to throw a fit and quit because he didn’t get what he wanted. This would basically be adding salt to the wound and will probably sour Tom’s remaining time at this company.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It already looks like that. Even if the OP was the better choice in a fair hiring contest, from Tom’s perspective he’s been screwed over, and based on what the OP’s seen, the company fully intends to continue screwing him over. I feel incredibly bad for Tom, and wouldn’t blame him at all for slipping as an employee now that it’s bleedingly obvious that his loyalty and excellent performance have earned him bupkis.

          Now, maybe he’s a really conscientious employee with no had feelings at all, and he’ll give a long notice period when he takes a new job and work hard to transfer all that valuable knowledge and all those relationships. But the OP would be a fool to rely on that. Like it or not, they’ve got to remediate the issue of Tom’s status as sole holder of this knowledge and these relationships.

      3. hbc*

        I’d look at the situation as a reminder to have backups for everybody. What’s a good policy that’s not about Tom but, say, would have made the last departure easier? Every client has a backup designated who meets with them once per quarter along with the main rep? Clients worth over $X have two reps? Start using a CRM system to document client status so someone isn’t starting from scratch?

        Maybe some would still read between the lines, but it would be less targeted and easily written off as just a new manager having a plan for their department.

    4. RC Rascal*

      Our “ load bearing employee “ got picked for a jury on a Very Important Trial. Evidently the attorneys also thought he was terrific. Trial went on for over 4 months and Corporate Division projects ground to a halt. Fun times. But it taught senior leadership a lesson.

    5. emmelemm*

      Yeah, you absolutely can’t have one “load-bearing” employee. We had that employee. He died of a heart attack one day. He would have been irreplaceable on the best of days (truly, he was amazing and smart), but suddenly… let’s just say we’re limping along.

  11. CandyCorn*

    They don’t care at all whether Tom stays or goes. If they did, they’d be moving heaven and earth to make him happy. Oh, and they would have given him the promotion he was promised for years. Actually, it seems like they might be trying to push him out! I’d be job searching yesterday if I were him.

  12. Roscoe*

    This division VP is a jerk. Not for hiring you, since I assume you were very qualified. But by acting like he cares that much about Tom staying. If he cared that much, he would’ve either promoted him or offered him a reason to stay. He doesn’t value him as much as he says, and to make it worse, is making it YOUR responsibility to retain him at all costs. Tom should run fast from this company

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      Actually, the VP is making it the OP’s responsibility to retain him at NO costs, since they will not approve any raise or title change/mini-promotion to entice Tom to stay. It seems like they expect the OP to like… physically bar Tom from leaving the building should Tom ever announce that he got a new job. Otherwise, they aren’t willing to do anything to make Tom stay.

  13. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This is one of those situations where I would love to read Tom’s version of events.

    OP, you shouldn’t feel guilty for getting the promotion over Tom, but as everyone else has said, start preparing now to lose him over this.

    Additionally, I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but now that you know what they’ve done to Tom, I’d advise you to be extremely cautious with your own future decisions about your career. Clearly you cannot trust what they say.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      +1 on wanting Tom’s version because if he had written in, I think the advice would be to leave yesterday. The company apparently has made a long-standing habit of promoting around him if all of the great employees he’s hired and trained have been promoted around and now above him while he’s stayed in the same role.

  14. Bulldog*

    I have no insights about Tom. But OP, your company has exhibited a willingness to screw over allegedly valued long term employees. I would plan my own future with this company with extreme caution.

    1. Colette*

      If anyone is at fault here, it’s the person who promised Tom the job – but even that was likely the plan at the time. Things change, and that doesn’t mean the company is screwing someone over – they’re allowed to pick the best candidate at the time the job is actually available.

      But this is a reminder that you’re not offered the job until you are actually offered the job.

      1. londonedit*

        It sounds like the two people who ‘promised’ Tom the job (Mary and the ex-VP) have both left, so I’m not sure it’s a clear-cut case of the company simply being willing to screw Tom over. It’s really common when someone retires for it to be the catalyst for things to change in more broad terms, and I can understand how, with Mary leaving and a new VP coming in, they might have decided to go in a different direction rather than sticking to what had been discussed under the previous structure.

        But still, yes, it’s a good lesson all round that even when an employer ‘promises’ something, it’s best not to put all your eggs in that particular basket until it’s definitely happening.

        1. Elbe*

          If the higher ups are stressing how important it is to retain Tom, I tend to think that they were aware of his contributions prior to their decision. It also seems like they were aware that he was intended for the role. I’m sure they have their reasons for selecting the LW, but even a new manager knows that it’s risky to pass over a high performer for a promotion they’ve earned, especially for someone less experienced.

          They seems desperate to keep him… but not desperate enough to actually give him anything in return for his high performance. That reflects really poorly on them.

        2. Observer*

          What Elbe said. Beyond that, Tom was actually part of the succession plan, so this was not just something that just happened or was former Director sounding off without backing.

          The VP may be relatively new, but they knew what was in the succession plan – they should have at least ade sure that Tom knew that change was in the air.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          It helps to have short timelines. Like, if the company promises something will happen within a month, then at 2 months you can evaluate whether they kept their word and probably haven’t let too many good opportunities pass you by. If the company promises something will happen within 2-3 years, and you have to wait 5 years to see if that plays out, probably a lot more opportunities lost if it doesn’t.

          Which isn’t to say that expected and promised promotions arriving close to schedule isn’t a thing that happens–it is, and doesn’t generate an AAM letter.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Nah, they still kind of screwed him over. Yes, plans change, so upper management should have made Tom aware of that at some point so he could stop turning down other opportunities thinking he was going to move up with them. I get it – the company has no incentive to do that for Tom. They like his client base/relationships and want to keep them, and they also like his ability to find talent for their company to grow and expand. Telling him he no longer had that position in the bag may have meant losing him sooner rather than later.

        But now look at where they are. Tom is probably (rightly) pissed that he was lied to, and then to add insult to injury, the very company that keeps waxing poetic about how valuable he is isn’t actually doing anything to reward him for said value. Now when he does leave, it’s going to be with ill feelings towards upper management who he’s going to be much less inclined to want to help moving forward. Who knows – had they been straight with him from the beginning, he may have left, but he may have done so after training up a few of the new hires with the vast knowledge he currently possesses so they could step into his shoes. He may have also used his network to continue helping this company find more talent after he was settled in his new career opportunity.

        But now? Nah, I can’t imagine he’d go over and above for these people given how he was treated. Again, this is in no way OP’s fault, but the decision makers in the C-suite really effed this up.

        1. Colette*

          I doubt the plans changed until the position was actually open and they evaluated their candidates, as well as what they wanted in the role. No one necessarily did anything wrong here, it just didn’t work out the way Tom hoped.

          If Tom had been told he was a shoo-in for the job and decided to find another job the week before he was officially offered it, he also wouldn’t have been doing anything wrong.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Eh, I’m not willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt here given how they fumbled this situation in the first place and what they’ve done since (mainly not giving OP the tools to retain Tom).

            1. Colette*

              I’m not sure they fumbled the situation.

              They chose the best person for the job. They told her how much they valued Tom. They pay Tom well, but aren’t willing to upset their pay scales to keep him. That’s all pretty standard stuff.

                1. Colette*

                  Assuming that the OP was a better choice for the job at this time, that Tom is already paid at the top of his scale, and that no other promotion makes sense at this point, how could they have handled it better?

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m skeptical there’s truly nothing they can do with title and pay if they really want to. But if there’s not, then their “we’ve got to keep Tom at all costs” approach is the wrong one (as is putting that burden on the OP while simultaneously denying her any way to do that).

                3. Colette*

                  Oh yes, I agree that if the message was “we have to keep Tom at all costs”, the company needs to come up with something of value to offer Tom – but it could also have been a simple statement that Tom is important to the business, to help guide the OP’s interactions with Tom (with the unspoken realization that Tom might leave anyway). All the OP says about what the company has said was “they emphasized the need to keep Tom on staff due to his role as a talent spotter and for his client relationships”.

                  And I’m sure they’d be thrilled if Tom stayed – but if they know that Tom expected the promotion and didn’t give him it or an equivalent position, they have to be aware that he could leave.

                4. Michael*

                  I’m confused by these mentions of ‘scales.’ Except for government agencies and the military, pay scales aren’t fixed by law, they’re convenient ways for companies to think broadly about how much they want to pay people in different types of roles. There’s no reason that the fact someone is “already being paid at the top of their scale” should be a hard, immutable fact preventing them from getting a raise.

                  Obviously at some places it seems to be, but to me, that speaks of a deeper, systemic problem with those companies — specifically that they’ve replaced good management, creative problem-solving, and individual discretion with rote adherence to bureaucratic formulas and procedures. That’s never a recipe for success.

                5. Baru Cormorant*

                  I agree with Michael. It’s your company’s scale, just say “this is an exception for an especially valuable employee,” have the higher-ups who are pushing for this sign off, and bam you have a new position or a new scale. If you can justify this with your workforce or business needs then you can do it.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I agree with Colette.

        It’s not automatically “screwing over” Tom by not being able to accurately predict the future.

        But this story is proof that you can’t predict the future, and staying at a company for a promise of something that’s not in the near future is extra risky.

      4. MK*

        I would argue that “best candidate” isn’t something to be evaluated in a vacuum, but needs to take the overall needs of the company in mind. How is the OP the best choose if her success on the job depends on keeping Tom? If they really need him, they should have considered it before and maybe gotten creative, e.g. split the job in two and promote both of them. Unless, they are exaggerating his value to put pressure on the OP to pressure him into staying.

        1. Colette*

          Maybe Tom is great at what he does but lacks some aspect that is needed for the way they now see the higher-level job. Maybe the OP and Tom are both great but can’t both get the job. Maybe Tom is great at his job but doesn’t get along with the new VP (or disagrees with the new VP about the direction the role should take, or isn’t interested in the role the new VP wants the role to take).

          There were presumably legitimate reasons for choosing the OP. And if Tom is not the right person for this particular job at this time, giving him the job has a cost (as does not giving him the job).

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            I don’t fault the company for going in a different direction than they first thought, and Tom sounds savvy enough to understand that high level promises don’t always work out, particularly once the people who made them have left. But I do fault the company for putting OP in the position of “retaining Tom at all cost” with no tools whatsoever to do that. That makes no sense and is unnecessary, OP would have to be a wizard to manage her own former boss with such skill that he makes decisions against his own interest.

          2. MK*

            But in that case they should accept the cost of not giving him the job. Not hit the OP with an apparently impossible task as soon as she got her promotion.

          3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Or there’s something else about Tom that they know motivates him to stay. Like, Tom’s job at this company is 40 hours a week and at another company it would be 60 and he has caretaking responsibilities. Tom or one of his dependence has a chronic illness and the company has great insurance/leave for tending to it. Tom’s spouse has a job that’s location-locked to this particular town and Tom would have to relocate to work for another company. Tom is in a field where there’s age discrimination and it’s not likely anyone else would hire someone his age. The company’s retirement/pension plan is Tom’s golden handcuffs. Etc., etc.

    2. Dawbs*

      And the “Tom must stay, but no tools to do that” would make my paranoid side assume when Tom leaves, you’ll be blamed for it and it may affect your upward trajectory.

  15. I am Tom*

    I’m not actually Tom. But I’m in Tom’s position.

    I’m job hunting. Part of the reason I’m job hunting is that my boss doesn’t seem to have any sense of urgency with getting me promoted. I get these vague “let’s revisit this in a few months” and not-very-concrete definitions of what I need to do.

    I’m in moderate-gear job hunt. If I don’t get promoted by the end of 2019, it’ll be high gear.

    1. tallteapot*

      Yup. Same here. I’m a Tom and I’m job hunting and will leave as soon as possible. But in the meantime, I keep taking on new projects, doing good work. They organization decided to go with the external candidate, they made their choice and they’ll get to cope with it.

    2. I am Tom*

      BTW: OP, you’re ahead of my boss in one way: At least you understand he’s a flight risk. I feel like my boss and her boss don’t seem to get that at all.

      Also, of course Tom is being very cordial and positive to your face. Like him, I feel that the power dynamic doesn’t allow me to tell my boss what I’m really thinking. What am I going to do, tell my boss “I scheduled my first interview the day you were hired”? I’m really good at my job, but she could decide that now is the time to start looking for my replacement.

      I think the best you can do is tell Tom — in concrete, measurable ways — what you are doing to push his promotion forward. NOT vague “You’re such an asset to this organization, and we would never want to lose you,” but “I had this conversation on this day and got that response,” “senior management says Llama Manager III is impossible, but Llama Manager II would be doable by the end of the year,” etc.

      And you still might lose him, given that your organization is resisting you. But if you can speak to him in very concrete terms, it *might* help.

    3. StaceyIzMe*

      It takes awhile to not only move into high gear but to find the right match. Generally, when a boss is disinclined to advocate for you, that isn’t going to change. Whether it’s simply that your departure would make their work life harder so they keep you in the role too long or whether they’re simply not cognizant of the fact that you bring more value than they really care to acknowledge, it’s immaterial. Everyone has their own timetable of tolerance, but it’s possible to search a little more actively and not wait on your boss. Perhaps it would be a happier and more immediate outcome.

    4. I am Spartacu- I mean Tom*

      I just accepted a new position yesterday with a 13% raise. I had asked my old boss when I was getting the salary review I was promised, and basically got told that since the salary review promise wasn’t actually written into my contract there would be no raise.

      If you don’t pay people what they can demand elsewhere they will leave. Simples. And if you promise them one thing and don’t deliver, they will start their job hunt the very next day.

  16. AnyaT*

    I was Tom 8 months ago. I worked on the same team for 11 years, was well-respected and a go-to for certain issues. I’d put in for promotions twice before but the starts weren’t aligned. Then a new position was created that had me written all over it – all those go-to issues I mentioned, I was the only person in the organization working on them consistently. My higher-ups recognized I was due for a promotion after all this time. The position was even part of my existing team! I went through the interview process and they hired…our former intern, with a decade less experience than me. That was the moment when I knew I would be moving on ASAP.

    OP, it is kind of you to try and advocate for some way for the organization to demonstrate their appreciation for Tom. But I think I know exactly how devalued and worthless Tom is feeling to the organization right now, and I don’t think anything they could have offered me would have fixed it. Please start putting together some sort of transition plan, even if you don’t share it with anyone, because you can probably expect him to leave at the first opportunity.

    As for me, I began a new job just over a month ago and I am loving it. I left my old position with 2 weeks’ notice and took one of them as vacation, and I admit I felt a certain malicious satisfaction walking out the door.

    1. Elbe*

      It sounds like they created this role, but didn’t fund it properly. People generally hire inexperienced people when they don’t want to pay for experienced ones.

      Still, I’m happy it worked out for you and that you’re loving your new job!

      1. Mazzy*

        They should have made it clear it was a junior title and asked this poster to train them if this was the case

        1. Elbe*

          I mean, ideally they should have just not created a role they didn’t have proper funding for. Giving people inflated job titles for roles they’re underqualified to take is a major sign that a company isn’t healthy.

          1. AnyaT*

            It wasn’t a junior role or lower salary. Quite the opposite – it was a salary band above my current one and a higher title. This is government so all that was clear upfront. The person they hired wasn’t coming straight out of an internship but had been our intern 4 years ago, so had 5 years of experience vs my 15.

            Like OP, it wasn’t her fault and I was polite and cordial to her. But mentally I was done with that job.

      1. nonymous*

        I’ve seen this happen when the hiring team decision-makers are 3-4 levels up in the org chart. They don’t have a grasp of efforts in the trenches, so CurrentEmployee’s maintenance of a boring application which handles every odd thing thrown at it is seen as “not real work” compared to the Shiny Thing presented by new hire, and only addresses a single use case.

        Another possibility is that the company really wanted to hire the intern and they weren’t thinking past that. If AnyaT got the position, the intern would have to interview for her vacated position and it’s hard to say whether the intern would qualify for that.

        @AnyaT – that intern might be a good source of info about the job market, if they are willing to share who they interviewed with and/or got offers from – I’d be eyeballing their LinkedIn profile for recruiters that are actively hiring . Or it could be that they are good at bluffing.

  17. CatCat*

    The company has put some unrealistic expectations on you. If the company “needs” him, then they have to give you the tools to retain him and you need access to those tools FAST (I’d be shocked if Tom wasn’t already putting feelers out). Things like better pay, title bump, and PTO could be excellent tools. I am not understanding why a role can’t be created for him here if he’s such a superstar with staff and clients (who could move on with him when that time comes).

    If the company view is that the corporate structure is what it is and won’t budge on that, Tom is extremely likely to leave. It’s not realistic for the company to expect you to retain him in a role where he has stalled out.

    1. Mazzy*

      I know. I work somewhere with title inflation and loads of fancy titles. It proves it’s not that difficult to throw a fancy title at someone. And most businesses can scrap together another ten thousand to pay someone. I mean, if there was a legal issue, you’d suddenly see hundreds of thousands of dollars being thrown at lawyers…

  18. Massmatt*

    I am struck by the disconnect between the high value placed on Tom and the utter indifference and inflexibility at making some kind of effort to keep him. Your HR and divisional VP agreed keeping him was “essential” yet when it comes time to a raise or title change the answer is “there’s nothing”.

    An org that literally does nothing to keep an essential employee deserves to lose that employee. I hope Tom moves on, and soon, and takes his contacts with him. It sounds like he deserves a lot better.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        This happens a LOT, and it is just bizarre. I can’t understand why certain people who are *clearly* assets to the company are just sort of… ignored. Until they give notice and then senior management freaks out “OH NO, NOT TOM! WHATEVER SHALL WE DO TOM IS THE LITERAL BEST!” And Tom’s like, “This is where I want my going-away party to be and here’s the 200-person invite list, thx BYE!”

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Probably because, as was speculated above, they’re gambling on the fact that other factors about the position/company are so good that the employee won’t leave. Like, maybe they have excellent benefits in a region that has crappy ones, or they pay well above market rate when everyone else in the area pays much lower for their industry.

          Or maybe the people who do this are just really incompetent, who knows, lol.

    1. hbc*

      It happened to me, and I think it’s a kind of a false, simplistic logic. “We rely on Tom because he’s always been there, so we can continue to rely on him whenever/wherever we need him.”

      In my situation, I spelled out exactly what would need to be done to make me stay, and they were *still* shocked when I called them on it and quit. They really couldn’t envision a future of the company without me there, so it wasn’t a possibility.

      1. GrooveBat*

        Yes, this. It’s happened to me as well. They take you for granted and assume you’re so dedicated to the organization that you’ll understand and continue to contribute at the same high level.

  19. Elbe*

    The LW is in a tough position, but I genuinely hope that Tom gets another, better job. Unless there are severe problems with his work or behavior that the LW hasn’t been made aware of (which seems unlikely, as the LW is now his manager) the company has behaved in a way that is pretty shady.

    The LW should be cautious about staying in a company where YEARS of high performance and valuable contributions are rewarded with broken promises. If they’ll do this to Tom, they’ll do it to the LW too.

  20. JSQ*

    Tom sounds great. He should leave. He should leave now. He’s seen how your company values him, and it’s time to get out of there. I’ve been at my current job for over a decade, and I was recently given the advice that you should never stay anywhere more than 3-5 years because after that, they’ll forget to value you. It sounds like Tom is a pretty good example of that. Like another commenter said, you should also take note of this. Just have in the back of your mind how your company might treat you when it’s time for you to move up again. In the meantime, it sounds like both you and Tom have handled the situation quite professionally. Congratulations on the promotion, but definitely prepare for Tom to go.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      mmm, soft disagree on the ‘don’t stay more than 3 – 5 years’. You will get pay raises faster if you move jobs / companies, and it will remind you to keep updating your skills, but there may be other reasons to stay with a job. Good work / life balance, company ethics, or transit times may be worth foregoing some pay.

      The more I read AAM, the more I want to stay with my current employer and their multiple robust HR reporting methods.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I want to stay with my current employer for the rest of my career – I would forgo the type of massive raise I received for switching companies (nearly 27% back in May) and settle for measly 3% raises with bonus potential to stick with this place because I get to work from home full time. That, plus my incredibly reasonably priced benefits (especially insurance), is worth more to me than money.

        And I never thought I would ever type those words, lol.

  21. Elizabeth*

    I feel for Tom, because I’m in the place he’s in. I’ve given everything I had to my employer for almost 25 years, and while I’ve moved up and gotten raises, I will never be able to move into a leadership role where I’m at. My husband hit the same point. He just was offered and has accepted a new position at another employer, and I’m looking in the new city.

    You need to help Tom not be the only one carrying the load. Help him figure out what his goals are, what his next moves are to achieve those goals, and how you can support him in making those moves. It sounds like his position in the organization structure has been static, while you have moved vertically. Could a lateral move within the organization help him achieve what he’s looking for? Then advocate for that.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think it would be a little presumptuous of our OP to try to help their onetime manager figure out their life goals.

      But I do think that the OP can indicate support for Tom in a way that might make Tom feel he could ask the OP to advocate for a transfer, etc., etc.

      And the OP can just blithely ignore long lunches and frequent doctor appointments. (That’s what I do–I’ve known sometimes when my people are interviewing, and I never say anything at all. I just keep my fingers crossed that they get what they want, and wait to see what happens.)

    2. Goose Lavel*

      I’m reading all these comments and I bet the one thing everyone has who is getting passed over after doing excellent work is they’re likely in their 40s, 50s and potentially 60s.

      It’s happened to me and to my best friend. Did great in Technology fields until we hit our 50s.

      1. Temperance*

        Not necessarily. I dealt with this in my twenties, when my evil Grandboss kept denying me opportunities because I was a very good admin. I’ve seen similar comments from other women working as admins, too.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Oh, absolutely, and that’s because it’s very hard to find smart, competent, hardworking admins who seamlessly mesh into the fabric of the company. When companies find them, they don’t ever want to let them go.

        2. Chaordic One*

          I’ve seen it often with competent people of color and LGBT people. It’s seems like they’re good enough to do the grunt work, but not good enough to promote to where they’re visible. And they would probably have a hard time getting hired elsewhere. I hate it.

  22. Zach*

    Don’t feel bad about this at all. It does suck for Tom, but it seems like he’s fairly naive- turning down job opportunities that are better for the vague possibility of a future promotion is 100% an extremely bad/dumb thing to do. Tons of companies promise promotions or raises “in six months” (or whenever) and they never happen. No one should ever turn down a job offer based on something in the future that isn’t already part of a written contract that states it is definitely going to happen.

    I frequent a good bit of message boards with similar content to this site and I see that constantly happen to people, then they finally get an offer from another company and it’s 1000x better than what their mythical promotion would have been.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      Well, I don’t know that we can fault Tom for anything here. His two previous managers told him he was a “shoo-in,” after all, and particularly if this is the sort of place where there are such things as heirs apparent – that is, where the retiring person has a lot of say in his or her successor – he had excellent reason to think he would be promoted when the position opened up.

      That said, I’m not sure the company did anything wrong either, though it’s certainly possible that they did – we don’t really have enough information. But it’s also possible is that there are no bad guys here, and that nobody did anything wrong. It’s just that through nobody’s fault, including his own, things just didn’t work out for Tom.

      1. Observer*

        Well, if you make promises, you have some sort of obligation to let the person know that things have changed. Also, if you REALLY value someone, then you find a way to reward them. Even in a non-profit with rigid budgets there are ways to do this. This is a business that has the ability to recognize his value, but the management is prioritizing “rigid structure” over “sensible retention.” That doesn’t make them villains, but it does indicate poor management.

        1. Colette*

          When someone is well paid for the job they had, paying them more isn’t a great idea – in part because most people don’t like to take pay cuts, so it shackles them to a job even after they want or need to leave.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I generally agree with your first paragraph, but it’s hard to fault Tom for turning down other offers when we don’t know exactly what was promised to him and by whom. I suspect that the reason he waited around was because the two people who left (and had been the ones telling him he had this in the bag) actually did keep their promises to him over the years and he erroneously assumed that everyone in the C-suite would follow suit. Now he knows. Hopefully, he’ll land another job at another company that actually does value their long-term employees and he can get the role he wants.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I don’t think Tom is naive for turning down positions based on the assumption that he was next in line for a promotion. It sounds like he WAS next in line but OP meshed better with the person doing tge hiring. OP says that VP is relatively new so maybe s/he was not aware of the full extent of Tom’s abilities in hiring and client relations. Or maybe s/he has an irrational dislike of Tom for some reason and the previous VP would have given him the job. We just can’t know. Besides that, just because a title is better or more money is offered, doesn’t automatically mean a new place will be better than your old one. There is a lot to be said for longevity. You already know andnget along with people. Another place might look great on paper but he completely toxic when you get there! Even when you’ve done tour due diligence on a new place, you just cannot be sure going in that it will be a good fit. If Tom wasn’t excited about the other roles, it makes sense to me that he stayed where he was given the circumstances. Now that he’s been passed over, I can’t imagine he won’t leave.

    4. Aquawoman*

      It’s interesting to me, because whenever I’ve been approached by my organization to apply for a higher position, it’s always discussed as I’d be a strong candidate but nothing is guaranteed.

    5. MK*

      These stories about getting screed over are the ones naturally being repeated, because if Tom had gotten the promotion there would be no letter to AAM. I disagree that Tom was being naive, it sounds as if he was with the company for over a decade and they had been good to him till then. I know plenty of cases where the promised promotion did happen, I don’t think anyone can say which one is the rule and which the exception.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        That is a good point – it’s not at all uncommon for a person to be promised a promotion and then actually get it.

    6. Evergreen*

      This is my read too – the former manager probably shouldn’t have made the promises in any case (they would never have been in the position to deliver) but also from Tom’s perspective does he even want to work for a company who base promotions solely on who was here for the longest time?
      The only really egregious thing in the letter is that somehow retaining Tom is OPs job, but she has no tools to do so?!

      1. Kathleen_A*

        I don’t understand where you get “promotions based on who was here for the longest time.” The OP says Tom is really, really good at his job: really good at spotting and attracting talent, really strong at client interactions and just generally a great employee. Which isn’t to say the OP isn’t great, too.

        But I agree that it’s just goofy for the company to tell the OP “Oh, you definitely need to keep Tom, but we’re not going to give you anything that will help you do that.”

  23. MistOrMister*

    I was Tom in one job, albeit not in a management position. I had applied for an been passed over for a promotion, even though I was already doing the work for that position. I was told by the manager that the next time the position came open, that one was mine. Fast forward to the next one and…..the manager hired someone she’d previously worked with from outside the firm. As a sop they changed my title to “acting” promotion title and gave me a $0 raise. Needless to say I immediately started looking for a new position. What is mind-boggling to me is that when I put in my notice not long after that, the manager was shocked ans asked was it because I didn’t get the promotion because “you were going to get the next one”. I had to really bite my tongue to not point out that’s what she had said the previous time!!

    Long story short, I would expect Tom to leave. It doesn’t sound like Tom was actually promised the position, but given the circumstances it is reasonable for him to think he should have/would have gotten it. And his disappointment is understandable. Given that he has turned down opportunities for better title/pay, it only makes sense that he would start looking to leave. If he’s the type that wants to advance (and clearly he is), it is highly unlikely that he would hang around at this point. Even if OP can manage to get him more money, that might not be enough if ge also wants a higher position. I think Alison’s advice is spot on….keep advocating for him, but expect him to leave and do what you can to mitigate the damage when he goes.

  24. TootsNYC*

    If they didn’t want Tom to leave, they shouldn’t have passed him over.

    But they did–and presumably for valid reasons. But they should have had their eyes wide open to the risks.

    And they should have been doing something proactively to mitigate that risk.

    I was hired to head a department that had a deep history of promoting the #2 (or the unofficial #2) to the top spot. They gave the unofficial #2 a small raise and the actual title, and they left it to me to give it to her, in order to try to cement the bond, so I could say that I had asked for it. (which was true)

    Meanwhile, just be the good manager Tom was, but also look at how you can have your unit prepared for if he DOES leave. (This should always be happening. You will always have incredibly valuable people on your team, but you should always be cross-training, cross-exposing, etc. You never have all your eggs in one basket–that’s just stupid.)

  25. Super Duper Anon*

    I was in the Tom situation at an old job. Due to a bunch of separate circumstances the person who was hired on contract to replace me temporarily while I was on maternity leave (not in the US) became my boss. I had no ill-will towards her, she got the position fair and square, and none even against the organization itself, it was just…..awkward. I stayed professional and respectful, but there was a weird vibe between us. I was thinking of leaving the company anyway for other reasons, but this pushed me into job searching. When I resigned, she was not surprised. Even though we never talked about it, I think she understood why.

    In short OP, stay professional about it, but be prepared for Tom to leave.

  26. Coffeelover*

    Tom and other cases like his always make me wonder why anyone would decline good external offers for the “possibility” of an internal promotion. You might end up waiting years for that promotion to never materialize. It’s generally in your best interest (if you want to climb the ladder) to move around.

    OP I think you should be happy for Tom when he decides to move on. This is just how the world works and you didn’t do anything wrong by applying… but still I think he deserves better.

    1. Elbe*

      It’s possible that the offers were a move up from where he currently is, but not at the level of the LW’s position that he thought he would get. Also, it can be advantageous in some cases to stay in a company where you’ve already proven your value and have a strong reputation, as opposed to going to a place where you’re starting from scratch.
      Especially if he liked his team and the company as a whole, it would make sense that he’d want to stay among people he was able to hand pick himself.

      He probably had solid reasons for wanting to stay, and I’m sad for him that it didn’t work out.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup, all of this. It sounds like Tom transformed that department and made it into his vision, so it makes sense to me why he wouldn’t want to leave unless he absolutely had to. There’s no guarantee he’d be able to do that someplace else.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      In this case, he wasn’t just told a promotion was possible; he was told he was a “shoo-in.” I don’t suppose there are any stats that show how often such promises come true and how often they don’t, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s not unusual for them to be honored, at least in some places. Where I work, such promises are very uncommon, but when they’ve been made, they’ve always been honored, at least as far as I know.

      If Tom’s and the OP’s organization has a track record similar to mine, Tom would have been justified in thinking that he was was going to get this job. The data certainly would have pointed that way.

    3. Kiki*

      There are plenty of good reasons people hold out for internal promotion over external offers. Obviously here at Ask a Manager we mostly hear about situations where that turned out to be a bad idea, but I think in reality a lot of people do this and have it work out. Especially for management positions, I would find it easiest to lead people who I knew and had proven myself to over several years rather than starting fresh. Additionally, sometimes longterm employees are grandfathered-in to really amazing benefits that wouldn’t be a thing if they transferred. My dad stayed at the same company for 40 years. If he had moved outside the company and jumped around for more promotions, he probably could have had a higher salary at the time, but by staying he has an incredible retirement insurance plan and a jaw-dropping pension.

  27. MK*

    OP, I mean no offense to you, but if things are really how you portrayed them in your letter, your higher-ups did a very stupid thing in giving the job to you over Tom, and possibly screwed you over in the process too. If Tom is really so valuable to the company, passing him over for a promotion that had been promised to him and then expecting you to magically be able to keep him was a lousy idea, no matter how brilliant you are. It sounds as if they promoted you to advance the operations side of the business, figuring they had the client relations part settled, which was downright idiotic if said clients were really settled on Tom and not on the company.

    I must say that in his shoes I would not be content with a raise (especially since it sounds he can get more money elsewhere too) or a lesser title bump (especially one that was created just for him, that reads like BS to me). Be prepared to lose him no matter what happens.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I agree with a lot of this but it did sound like there was a new VP involved who was probably not aware of “the plan” for Tom and as you pointed out seemed to value the operations side over client relations so I don’t think they screwed OP over. Long run might make things more difficult for OP and the company but I can see the logic (and have experiences from my career where prioritizing operations over sales/client relations was the best choice in the long run). Tom shouldn’t have been promised the promotion by someone with no authority to fill the position but they also shouldn’t be shocked if he leaves and I think OP really needs to go to bat for him with Company or promise a good reference since they are fully aware of the circumstances.

      1. MK*

        I said the OP might be screwed over, because it sounds as if they, including the VP who apparently valued her over Tom, correlate her success on the job with her ability to keep him.

      2. Observer*

        The VP had to know that Tom was in the succession plan though. That should at least have been a signal that this needs to be handled carefully.

        1. Colette*

          We don’t know that it wasn’t. The company could have treated Tom respectfully, but if there is no promotion available, there is no promotion available.

          1. Massmatt*

            Well if Tom is “essential”, and the OP, their divisional VP, and HR all agree that he is, their inflexibility here is self-defeating. Not just no promotion—no raise, not even a title change, the latter costing literally nothing. I’m picturing someone in upper management sputtering “But, but, but… my ORG CHART!”

            1. Colette*

              Sure, they’re not taking steps to keep Tom – but that is not the same thing as treating him disrespectfully, or handling the situation carelessly. We don’t know what conversations happened with Tom, either before or after they decided to hire the OP. We don’t know if Tom was offered another internal job he turned down, or if he declined this job because of personal stuff going on in his life, or if he is going back to school in a month, or if his spouse is moving across the country in November, or if he has been offered another job and will be giving his notice tomorrow.

              1. MK*

                I think it’s disrespectful, frankly insulting, to expect a valuable employee to continue working for your company while offering absolutely nothing to retain them. And the pressure the higher-ups are putting on the OP to keep Tom show that some of these scenarios at least aren’t true.

                1. Colette*

                  I disagree. They value Tom, in the job he has now. He was OK with being in his current job at his current rate of pay before the promotion opportunity; there is nothing disrespectful about paying him the same amount for the same work after the promotion opened up.

                  If he can find a job he’d prefer elsewhere, he’s free to do that. The company can want him to stay, but they can’t make him.

                  And I don’t see anything in the letter about any pressure the higher-ups are putting on the OP – all I see is “they emphasized the need to keep Tom on staff due to his role as a talent spotter and for his client relationships”. The OP is putting pressure on herself, but that’s not coming from the company.

              2. Observer*

                You’re nitpicking language here. The issue is that they created a situation for which they have no plans. They have clearly NOT thought through how they are going to try to retain Tom.

                They also apparently never warned Tom that things had changed in terms of things like succession planning.

  28. chickia*

    He should leave; prepare for him leaving, he has been poorly treated (not your fault! and to be fair, things change! he was the best candidate at the time, but when the job actually came up, it was different). You should be concerned that when he leaves, the blame will fall on your for not being able to keep him. “They empathized the need to keep him” but they are not offering you any tools to make this happen? “They” don’t sound very realistic about the situation.

  29. NW Mossy*

    Oof – what a tough situation all around.

    One area where you can able to help Tom is to focus on learning more about him from the other side of the manager/direct relationship, and using what you learn as feedback for him. It’s something of a truism that a manager looks quite different from above than below, and using the new perspective you have can show you aspects of Tom’s performance you couldn’t see before.

    Flowing from that, please don’t let your existing relationship with Tom prevent you from giving critical feedback where it’s warranted. Sometimes when we admire someone, we minimize or discount where they’re struggling because “it’s not a big deal, he’s so good at X and Y, flubbing Z is fine.” But just like you’d want to know if you’re falling short somewhere so that you can fix it, trust that Tom too would benefit from feedback he can use to grow. It also may be that Tom didn’t land the position you now occupy because there’s something missing from his repertoire, and being attentive to that possibility can help you give him good counsel on what to do about that.

  30. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree with all the other advice, but one thing to add is that if Tom’s leaving would cause a bunch of clients to also leave, that’s a separate issue that has to be addressed (for example Tom shouldn’t be the main poc on all the accounts, etc..)

    Though to be fair that’s just speculation–who knows if Tom would leave for a similar role, competitor, etc..

  31. Random Thought*

    “you should be working with him more as a partner than a top-down manager anyway” – Alison, if you ever have time, I would love to hear more about this point specifically; what it means to manage as a partner, when to know that it’s appropriate, pitfalls to watch out for, things like that. I’m reading this as “give as much rope as you can to figure out the details behind the big picture stuff, and be thoughtful about the ideas (or concerns) this kind of employee might share, but I’m guessing there’s more to it than that!

  32. Observer*

    OP I want to say that you should not feel guilty for apply to and getting the job.

    On the other hand, it’s really good that you recognize the issue that Tom has and why he’s likely to leave. Alison’t advice and overview is good.

    Oh, and you’ve also learned something valuable about the company. It’s a good place to work, undoubtedly, but don’t be more loyal to them than they are to their staff.

  33. CupcakeCounter*

    This happened to my boss at OldJob as well and that, plus a few other factors which included a system change and me leaving, led to his retirement a couple years earlier than he planned. I will say that the new director was not nearly as professional and conscientious as the OP sounds (after my resignation was announced he refused to talk to me for nearly my entire notice period). I will add that Boss was kind of used to his former employees getting promoted above him BUT he loved his position and didn’t want to leave it and usually the employees promoted that high either had equal or more education and licenses than he did. New Boss did not…he went to lunch and played golf with the VP.
    It sounds like you are already willing to speak up on Tom’s behalf but maybe not as strongly as you would if you weren’t so new to the position. You really need to go to bat for him and make sure the VP knows that this is absolutely something Tom will leave over and since he is so important to the company VP needs to put his $$ where is mouth is and create a new Senior Director of Client Relations and Talent Acquisition (or whatever) position with appropriate pay bump ASAP or he will walk. Pull in some of his other former reports who are now directors as well to really firm up his lo

    I would also talk with Tom and acknowledge his contribution to the company and that you feel he deserves X and Y and are doing your best to get it. I would also start working on transition plans because as Alison says, Tom might leave because it is the best thing for him. Company can’t say “we can’t lose him” but then refuse to recognize his value with appropriate compensation and title. Tom is someone worth spending your capital on.

  34. So sleepy*

    I think it’s worth noting that the person who hired you knew this was a risk in offering you the job, and decided to proceed nonetheless. This is not unexpected and unless the person who handled the hiring process is completely incompetent (which it doesn’t sound like they are), they decided to choose you in spite of the likelihood that Tom could leave.

    That said, Tom is a professional, and has acted nothing but professional – and you should assume that he will proceed as such. He is likely disappointed (by the circumstances, that he may never get this job, that he chose to stay without a guarantee), but he is also probably proud of his accomplishments (his many hires, even that he trained the person that was so good they opted to choose that person over him).

    As a new director, what you need to do is reward him and recognize him as much as possible – take formal recognition opportunities wherever you can, acknowledge how he has contributed to the success of the organization and his hires, and spend some time looking at what he values, to incorporate that into his job as much as possible. Some examples:
    -development opportunities and training in his areas of interest – find out what his professional interests are and look at conferences, training, etc.
    -stretch opportunities or opportunities to gain experience in areas that interest him in which he has less experience but would like to gain more – again, focusing on what he enjoys. Maybe he would like to improve his public speaking/presentation skills. Maybe he would like to lead a special project team or initiative. Maybe he will decide he aspires to be VP of another department and would like to oversee some initiatives that work more closely with those teams to learn about their work (and bonus, then the organization can keep him!). He’s a pro in identifying, developing, and retaining talent, maybe he needs to be the VP of HR, if that’s a thing)
    -workplace flexibility (only if he would appreciate it – not in a way that would seem like you need him less so much as showing how much you appreciate him)
    -bonuses whenever possible, additional vacation leave if it makes sense and he’d use it, raises whenever it comes up.. any sort of compensation you can offer

    He may still leave after all this, but then you know there was nothing you could have done short of turning down the job. If any tension does come up, be sure to address it with him professionally and directly without blame (and not as a directive unless it becomes a problem – more to bring it to his attention that you’re aware, and that you hope it doesn’t impact your working relationship as he is incredibly valued at your organization and you greatly appreciate everything he’s done for your career over the years) – if he does struggle with it a bit, he probably would appreciate being told and having the opportunity to reign it in before it impacts anything.

    As a side note, from a succession planning standpoint, you may also want to look at who could mentor him or who could benefit from some stretch opportunities to develop their skills, so that if he does depart at some point, you have started the process of looking at who the next successor might be – even if he stays, there is value in doing this.

  35. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Also what you really owe Tom is your support that whatever path he takes, you will support it. This means if he leaves, you will give him the glowing reference that will get him the best possible positions he’s got available to him! So don’t get trapped in that “I have to have him, nobody else can have him!” mindset. I don’t think you will do that but sometimes, it happens without really knowing because you’re just overwhelmed with your desire to keep him within your organization.

    Let him know you’re trying to get him up the organizational charts with your new position but that you understand if he’s going to go in a different direction and support him no matter what!

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      That’s a good point about the reference! There was a letter not too long ago from a manager who was caught off guard by a reference inquiry and gave a less positive reference than was warranted on the excuse that it was unexpected and that it was important to keep that employee. Not cool.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes, I recall that letter vividly. I don’t get that mentality at all! Even my bosses who drastically depended on me and was actually hurting when I had to leave didn’t pull any nonsense on me. It can’t be conditional appreciation of someone’s skillset that they bring to a company, that’s bad energy to carry around.

        I had someone joke about it and I just deadpanned at them and they were like “I know, I can’t keep you forever waaaaaaaaaah.”

      2. Massmatt*

        It’s reprehensible to give a poor reference to a great employee in order to keep them, justbasnitbis to give a good reference to a bad employee in order to get rid of them. The latter is I think less common but I remember it coming up in comments. Both behaviors make the world worse.

    2. Zillah*

      This is such a good point, and done right, would probably make a bigger long term difference than an empty title bump and a small raise could.

      If you do this, though, OP, please make sure that the guilt you mentioned does not come through. You have nothing to feel guilty about.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Agreed to keep any guilt and personal feelings of leapfrogging him out of it.

        In the end, he’s a valuable professional who is going to be okay one way or another. The best thing to do is to be supportive and continue to cultivate and care for your professional relationship with him. You never know when he moves on if he’s going to be hiring you again in the future, depending on your area, expertise and industry it could very well happen. So take care of that relationship and cherish it. Let him know that you appreciate everything he’s done and that things have flipped around pretty unexpectedly for both of you but you’re still having his back and showing up for him, given all his assistance in your career skyrocketing.

  36. hbc*

    Count me as another almost-Tom. When it came down to it, the problem wasn’t really with the person they tried to put over me. It was the crappy decision-making* that led to this arrangement, the treating me badly while expressing how necessary I was to the team, and their escalating pattern of valuing bravado over facts and accomplishments. (As in, they preferred people who consistently promised stuff that sounded good but never delivered over people who stated realistic timelines and met them.) Management was the problem, and the way the re-org was handled was just the latest, biggest symptom.

    I left six months later, with nothing else lined up because I couldn’t handle it anymore. They were unwilling to do the things that would keep me, just like your company is unwilling to make even small changes to keep him. You *will* lose Tom, either to another company or him deciding to stop giving 110% to a company that’s giving him 50%. Your focus is best put on making the loss of Tom less devastating and maybe delaying his inevitable departure.

  37. StaceyIzMe*

    In your shoes, I’d be concerned about the company’s conflicting goals and actions: they say that it’s essential to keep Tom but won’t promote or pay more to retain him? They’ve also charged you with the responsibility for keeping him, it seems. You’d do very well, in my view, to continue to lobby for a raise and promotion for him. Simultaneously, it would be prudent to do some networking and discreet prospecting of your own for other situations. This situation seems likely to come back to bite the company on its metaphorical posterior, at which point they seem likely to say “but we TOLD you how important it was that we keep Tom!” and then assign blame to you. Maybe not (hopefully not!). But they seem to have a significant disconnect between “we want X outcome but are acting so as to ensure Y outcome instead”.

  38. Hitori*

    Tom is going to leave. But honestly, when he does, you should go with him. Your company screwed him over, and they will screw you over, given time.

  39. Delta Delta*

    I don’t have a great sense of this, but is it possible Tom is quite a bit further in his career? I can see where the company may have had to decide between Rockstar Tom who’s 20 years in and Rockstar OP who’s 8 years in and hedging bets with OP. Looks like there’s been some retirements and the company heads may have thought they’d have more longevity with OP than with Tom who may be nearing retirement himself. I”m not saying this is okay, but it crosses my mind as a possibility.

      1. Goose Lavel*

        Ageism is illegal, but I’ve never ever seen or heard of anyone proving it and bening compensated appropriately.

        Lawyers won’t touch it as it’s too tough to prove and there’s little money in it for them.

        1. Delta Delta*

          a) Lawyer here: plenty of people do illegal things. I wouldn’t have a job if they didn’t.
          b) I’m not sure it’s unlawful for a company to think about long-range planning and what the shape of their executive team would look like. The company may already have an inkling that Tom is sought-after and that he might not stick around, even if he was given the promotion.
          c) it’s 100% possible they didn’t promote Tom because they wanted to promote OP and none of these things had to do with it.

        2. FD*

          It does happen. Google “successful age discrimination case” and would get news stories about it.

          Anecdotally, in my town, four people sued a large local company for it and it settled out of court.

  40. M*

    Just because you have been some place X number is years doesn’t mean you deserve a promotion, but it sounds like from your letter that Tom is an excellent employee. Try and get him a promotion and more money but also expect that he will probably leave. Wouldn’t you?

    I have an employee who thinks they should be promoted because they have been here X years. The former director apparently promised this employee all sorts of stuff (which I don’t necessarily believe). This employee does not deserve the promotion they were “promised.” They are good at two aspects of their job but make a ton of mistakes on other aspects. Major mistakes. I have trained them and want them to stay because they are very good (and efficient) at two aspects. I am hiring someone else to help in the parts this employee has issues and also training them on everything the other employee does. I am giving the long-time employee a little more money and changing (a bit of a promotion) their title for the aspect of the job they are strong at, but they told me they will leave unless they get X and X. That won’t happen and I am clear on that. Basically I’m at the point where I can say, if you aren’t happy then go. People think they are indispensable and no one should be in a place where that is the case. I am working to keep said employee but can’t give them what they want because they don’t deserve it (and can’t do the role) but covering myself in case they resign and give minimal notice. You should do the same. And protect yourself in case clients go with Tom. Your company should really be worried about that.

  41. Aphrodite*

    I don’t think the company can salvage this. Even if they decide to promote Tom to the OP’s level and give him a raise that would equal or top hers, it will bear the stink of “second best” “or catch-up. It wouldn’t be a true promotion; it would be made only to save a situation and that kind of thing is rotten from the core..

  42. LW*

    Letter Writer here – was at a conference this morning and so sorry I couldn’t interact earlier with all these great comments!

    I appreciate Alison and everyone else’s feedback. I agree, I will not be able to retain Tom if I can’t get any budge on title and salary and honestly I completely understand if he’s job searching (and I assume he is). I’m getting myself and his other team members in front of clients as often as possible, and Tom is doing a great job as always encouraging that networking — I’m just not sure it will be fast enough given the many years Tom has known these folks. (We are a B2B company with a mature and consolidating client base, so retention is even more important than new business development.)

    I’m not sure it was a bad-faith bait-and-switch — the new VP does have a different vision for our division, and I’m positive I’m more aligned with that than Tom was. I just wish Tom hadn’t hitched his hopes to a promise that depended on the right personnel being in place! Also, in our traditionally male-centered sector, our head of HR has asked hiring managers to be more conscious about promoting women to leadership roles when possible. (I’m a woman, Tom is a man.)

    That said I understand he’s a flight risk but I am going to keep pushing for something to recognize his valuable role, and I’m going to strive to manage him as a partner. (Which, ironically, is how he managed me in the years he was my boss.)

    1. LW*

      And a quick follow up — due to Tom’s longevity at the company and some overlapping in our salary ranges, he’s near the top of his band and actually earns more than I do even though he reports to me!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        There was speculation upthread that that might have been part of the reason not to promote him–rather than come up with a hefty raise, they could give that percentage to someone at a lower salary and save money.

        To be clear, I think you earned this promotion and that there is nothing wrong with the new veep putting in place the people he thinks best fit his plans. Though I side-eye his asking you to retain Tom without such icky things as ‘money’ or ‘promotion.’ As others have said, if Tom had written in the advice would have been to start looking elsewhere.

      2. Stepinwhite*

        You and Tom both sound like terrific employees and wonderful managers. He probably has no idea he’s actually making more than you — not that that would really make much of a difference to him, I realize. He’s no doubt searching for another opportunity, but by showing him you truly value him and making his life as pleasant as possible in the workplace, you might just convince him to stay longer (realistically, without a huge raise and some recognition, he’ll probably move on regardless).

    2. Stepinwhite*

      It sounds like you were a better fit for the role with the new VPs vision — but I’m also concerned about the gender dynamics. Hopefully Tom doesn’t feel like he lost out on the promotion based upon his gender. I will say the thought even crossed my mind when the company hired an outside person (opposite gender, fewer credentials, and a couple of side comments that made me go “hmmm”), but I’ve put that aside and moved forward. It does put a different and more sour note on losing out on a promotion.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      Congrats to you again on getting this promotion! I feel like that part has gotten lost a bit in the comments, lol. Honestly, Tom sounds great – very classy and very competent. I have no doubt that when he leaves, he’ll land somewhere he’ll really thrive. I’m glad you two seem to be able to work together peacefully after everything and yes, please keep trying to get him his recognition. It may end up being moot if he does in fact leave, but at least you’ll both know you tried.

    4. beckysuz*

      So I know we aren’t supposed to clap for men for doing what they SHOULD be doing. But…good for Tom. He mentored you and helped you hone your talents and skills, and remained gracious and professional after you were promoted above him. And you’re a woman! I’m only pointing that out because we are so used to hearing the bad version of this story, jerky man refuses to work with woman, is a bawl baby etc. , that’s it’s nice to know it’s not always bad.

      You sound like a excellent employee and now manager as well OP. Good for you for advocating for Tom and good luck in your new position! May we all have a Tom or OP for a manager in 2020!

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, Tom is being incredibly gracious in how he’s dealing with this situation. He’s been sitting back for years hiring all of this amazing talent, training them up, they get promoted above him, and he kept doing it even though he was getting nothing in return for all of that work from the company. He’s a class act, and I hope he continues to rise above what’s happening right now.

    5. Just Another Manic Millie*

      LW, a number of people here have talked about Tom having foregone offers from other companies in order to stay at your company, because he was promised the promotion. Did he ever tell you that, or is it just something that one person here speculated about, and other people jumped on the bandwagon to reiterate that he declined opportunities because of the promised promotion?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        From the letter: In fact, I was told that he turned down some outside opportunities in the past couple years that would have paid more because he was anticipating getting this promotion.

        1. LW*

          He never told me that but I heard that from a very trusted mutual friend of ours inside the company. Knowing his talent, hearing that he had gotten these kinds of offers did not surprise me at all.

    6. Comms Girl*

      Thanks for replying, LW. It sounds like a difficult situation, indeed. I can’t say more than what Alison and most of the comments have already so expertly said – but would love an update on this whenever the opportunity arises :)

      Congrats on the promotion, you sound like a considerate, respectful boss :)

    7. Chopsignton*

      Honestly, if you can’t get Tom a raise and/or promo, not only should you not *worry* about him leaving the company, you should actively encourage him to leave and do your best to help him find another opportunity that comes with a promotion and etc. It sounds like the in general his mentorship is one of the reasons you succeeded in the company. Paying back into that kind of relationship is good for many reasons. And you never know when you might yourself find yourself in a Tom-situation, and may actually need a solid outside network of relationships.

      Basically, the company burned their relationship with Tom. You haven’t. If the company is going to lose Tom regardless, then put aside your manager-hat, and put on your friend-colleague-hat.

  43. What's with Today, today?*

    The company didn’t screw Tom over. Two people no longer with the company told Tom he was a shoo-in for the position, and he wasn’t. It sounds like Tom got bad info from the retiring boss and former VP, but no one with actual hiring authority promised him these things.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      There was no one with hiring authority until the role came open, but people still discussed his future with the company. I don’t fault Tom for believing the two people likely to have the most influence on that role when they said that he was a shoo-in and should totally skip on any outside opportunities, since his future here was assured.

      Especially since existing management seems to view retaining him as key, even if their actions don’t match their stated intent.

      1. What's with Today, today?*

        I doubt the company told him to turn down outside opportunities. That certainly isn’t reflected in the letter.

    2. What's with Today, today?*

      From the OP’s follow up:

      “I’m not sure it was a bad-faith bait-and-switch — the new VP does have a different vision for our division, and I’m positive I’m more aligned with that than Tom was. I just wish Tom hadn’t hitched his hopes to a promise that depended on the right personnel being in place! Also, in our traditionally male-centered sector, our head of HR has asked hiring managers to be more conscious about promoting women to leadership roles when possible. (I’m a woman, Tom is a man.)”

      Tom wasn’t screwed over. He believed people who were speaking out of turn.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s fair to remove the “screwed over” note then for sure.

        However with that information, Tom is now not going to be promoted due to the new vision in place, so he is going to leave for somewhere that will move him up the ladder he’s been climbing all this time.

        Of course he hitched his hopes to promises people he respected and thought had more clout in the firm then they did before leadership changes. Just about everyone does that.

    3. MK*

      The former VP was the one with hiring authority at the time she made those promises. It doesn’t make sense to say that it was those former employees who made the broken promises, it wasn’t the company, when those former employees were the ones representing the companies at that time. Maybe “screwed over” is the wrong phrase. But the company, through its representatives, didn’t treat Tom well.

  44. Stepinwhite*

    Wow. I’m Tom. I was essentially told I was the successor for my boss. He rooted for me and kept telling people I’d be his successor because he was retiring soon. I passed up other job offers. Boss retires, slight change in leadership structure, and they hire a recruitment firm and bring in an outside person. I immediately started job hunting (as soon as they hired the recruitment firm, actually). It was a real blow, and I felt that obviously despite the work I’d done over the past 6 years, they obviously thought I wasn’t right for the role — and that really spoke to me about my fit with the organization. About the time they told me, and I was entertaining an offer from another company, they also softened the blow with a significant raise and a title change (like Alison and you are advocating). That is the ONLY reason I’m still here, and frankly, if the right opportunity comes along, I’ll jump on it. So, yes, Tom is most likely going to leave — keep him as long as you can and make his life as easy as you can (and as his supervisor, you have some power over that). And — also, I think it’s okay to have a conversation with him and just let him know that you really are impressed and appreciate how kind and professional he’s being, and you’ve noticed, even though you know he wanted the job (and it’s okay to let him know you weren’t aware of the history when you applied). If you give him enough perks (flexibility in schedule, choice work assignments — anything reasonable that’s within your power and won’t create issues), then you might keep him longer. You might also talk with higher up about if they see promotions in Tom’s future. Are there avenues for him to advance now that you took this role? If so, find out if those are good options for him.

  45. Allypopx*

    OP your company has put you in a terrible position. It’s easy to see how the dynamics with you and Tom would be tricky, and tasking you with retaining him without offering any institutional support (like a raise or a promotion) really, really sucks. Lots of people have already given you good advice about what to do, I just want to take a moment to say this sucks, I’m sorry, and it’s your company – it’s not you. It sounds like you earned this promotion and you should not feel bad at all for getting it, and it also sounds like you’re trying to do everything right now that you have it.

  46. PSB*

    I want to second what others have said about the chance of other people following Tom when he leaves. My old boss is a semi-Tom. She was the best manager I’ve ever had – an expert in Llama Management, consummate professional, supportive manager, and excellent hiring manager. Many of us who started on her team have moved on to other things within the organization. Last year, upper management split her team up under other managers and given her nothing but basic project management work to do. When they next needed to fill a Llama Manager opening, they hired a friend of our director’s with no llama-related experience of any kind. The new manager is not the old manager’s boss but it’s still a ridiculous situation.

    I don’t know if my old boss is planning to leave. I kind of doubt it, honestly. But if she did and she needed staff in her next position, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow her. People leave jobs because of bad bosses and they’ll also go to jobs for good bosses. Especially when the choice is between an excellent manager that has earned their trust versus an organization that doesn’t appear to value its critical people.

  47. AKchic*

    I’ve been Tom. Being Tom sucks.

    Getting a new title with a pittance of extra “pay” (to “earn” that new, superfluous title) isn’t worth it. He was promised something that shouldn’t have ever been promised to him. He sacrificed new career opportunities because someone(s) in the company ultimately lied to him to keep him there.
    He’s not mad at you. He knows you had no idea the promises made to him, or the personal choices he made waiting for those promises to come into fruition. He’s not going to begrudge you your successes.

    Tom is already, quietly, looking for a new job. He’s just not telling any of you about it because he doesn’t want to deal with the hasty, low-balled counter-offers to try to keep him. If your employer really valued him and wanted to keep him, they’d have either kept their promises, or they’d already be giving him a raise (and title change) to show how much they truly want to keep him. Without prompting. Without negotiating. Without reminders or discussions about just how valuable Tom is and how much of a lurch the company will be in when (not if, but when) he leaves.

    1. Observer*

      A promotion and even a small bump in pay might make a real difference to him, though. It’s still an improvement and is a concrete show that they actually do mean what they say about his value to the company.

  48. Laura H.*

    Op, in addition to preparing for Tom to
    leave, I would also continue to strengthen your rapport with him, and with all due respect, pick his brain and learn from him while you still can.

    I’m sorry you’re both in this weird position. Good luck.

  49. Kella*

    It seems like you have two problems:
    1. Tom is looking to be promoted, deserves to be, and has no path to promotion
    2. The company is heavily dependent on Tom’s abilities to hire and train awesome people.

    I have no idea if this would be possible, but it seems like something that would address both at once would be to create a role for Tom where instead of hiring and training people to be awesome workers, he trains people to be awesome at hiring and training. Your company is going to need a new Tom at some point and having Tom work his magic to create a bunch of new Tom’s would be incredibly valuable to your company, even if most of them moved on.

  50. Zombie Unicorn*

    Why has this third party shared this info?

    Is it definitely true?

    It is plausible – but the fact remains that it is also secondhand.

    1. Zillah*

      These are valid questions, but I don’t think we need to spend much time interrogating the idea that Tom is disappointed about not getting a promotion he was told he’d get. I don’t know a whole lot of people who wouldn’t be disappointed.

  51. Res Admin*

    There was a similar situation in a former job a few years ago. New junior level hire (approx. 1 year) bumped up over the “designated heir” (approx. 20 years) to the most senior position under the VP. Unfortunately, we got a new VP a couple of months before that senior position became open. The person who was skipped over was quite gracious and stayed for a couple of years and then took a huge promotion to another entity as soon as their youngest child was off to college. Having worked with this person fairly closely for most of that time frame, I can say that while the work was still well done during that time period, that person was no longer able to put heart and soul into the job. There was a definite difference.

    Thing is, we all knew what happened. It cost the new VP and the new Senior a LOT of respect–which they do not appear to have regained. Not a great way for either of them to start out. So be aware/sensitive to how others are reacting. Part of the problem in our case was the way the VP handled it–and I doubt anyone could handle something as poorly as this VP did–so you have that in your favor.

    But do realize that people do want to eventually move up and improve. And if one path is blocked, like water, they will find another.

    You seem to be gracious and empathetic. That will take you a long way. The junior that got bumped up in my old job–not so much (that might be an understatement).

  52. Zillah*

    OP, I think that you may be reacting more strongly to the news that Tom is disappointed than makes sense (though I absolutely understand why!). Some feelings people have are actionable, and some aren’t. That’s okay.

    Tom being disappointed is not something you can fix. He is going to be disappointed. It’s a reaction that most people would have in his situation. You should absolutely do what you can to retain a valuable member of your team, but it’s not your job to manage Tom’s emotional state, and it doesn’t sound like there’s anything to address about his behavior.

    1. Zillah*

      Read more of the above comments, and just want to elaborate on this a bit:

      I’d wondered whether you were female, because this letter really puts me in mind of how we’re socialized to bend over backward to consider and accommodate the emotional needs of others (especially men) along with whatever else we have to do. That’s not an insult – I’ve done it, too! – but it’s something to keep in mind, because it being societal conditioning doesn’t make it less problematic for us in the long run.

      Tom is a top performer and one that you have a very good working relationship with. It makes sense to try and retain him. However, I’m a little concerned by how much you seem to be trying to take care of Tom’s emotions (his disappointment, his happiness), especially given that you’ve had absolutely no indication that Tom is going to be anything less than completely professional.

      To be very blunt, I think you need to stop focusing so much on how to manage someone who hasn’t shown any signs of needing extra management in the first place, because it’s almost certainly getting in the way of other things – for example, how you’re working with (and recognizing, and advocating for) everyone else, or how much you’re focusing on your projects.

      1. JSPA*

        OP was arguably used, and Tom was and is still pretty clearly being misused. Now OP is Tom’s his boss, OP is, relative to Tom, a part of the power structure that misused him. That’s something a boss, regardless of gender, should acknowledge and fight.

        I’d hope that if they were both men, or both women, or any other combination, this would still hold true.

      2. LW*

        I’m a little offended to get a (kinda patronizing) lecture about how I should be managing my team members’ emotions. I care about whether Tom is disappointed *not because I’m a woman doing emotional labor*, but because I’m a *human being* who knows that people bring emotions to work and that disappointment is a real demotivator. I’m doing my best to address the underlying problems causing the disappointment (knowing that I certainly can’t do it all). Any good manager, male or female, needs the emotional intelligence to understand that team members’ feelings can absolutely impact how they (and thus the team) performs.

        1. JD*

          Thank you for saying this. I have always cared about the way my team feels at work, but my bosses absolutely do not. One actually said to me, “I don’t give a SHIT if Fergus is happy here, he just needs to deliver the work.” (She reeeeally emphasized that word.) I think this is a common way of managing in my industry (ad agencies).

  53. Bob1138*

    OP — The worst outcome here very well could be if Tom stays. Trust has been broken — no matter how misplaced it may have been — and that’s nigh impossible to come back from, especially in a workplace.

    You could lose Tom. Best case, you lose him to a customer or supplier. You could also lose him to a competitor. Worst case here, he takes some clients with him. But you’re losing clients the minute you sign them, anyway. You could lose Tom to the lottery or the milk truck next week, too.

    Or you could keep Tom. Tom, whose trust in the organization has been destroyed. Tom, though he may be legitimately OK with you and acting “professionally” on the outside, has probably lost his motivation. Do you expect Tom to go above and beyond now? Do you expect him to continue to mentor others and keep the company’s interests foremost? I sure wouldn’t, and I don’t suspect you would, either.

    OP, if your organization is truly that dependent on Tom, they royally messed things up here. You should never, ever be truly dependent on one person (see the lottery / milk truck). I’ve been in that organization before, and it is not good. The best thing you can do for your organization at this point is to attempt to get as much tribal knowledge out of Tom as you can and then actively help him find his way to another, better job.

  54. Former Employee*

    I am guessing that the new VP who made the decision is on the younger side and that the OP is, too. I suspect Tom is somewhat older. The new VP sees Tom as “old reliable” and the OP as “dynamic, energetic, etc.”.

    Tom needs to find a place that values his experience and talents and get out of Dodge.

  55. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    Tom will definitely leave. And he should. However, I don’t know that anyone ever lied to him or misled him. It seems to me that it is equally likely that the two people who were gunning for his promotion are now gone, and the new VP simply sees it a different way. Since his departure is inevitable, I would worry more about employees and/or clients leaving with him.

  56. Longfellow Serenade*

    My wife was Tom a few years ago. Her department VP even threw in the great morale-busting line, “We can’t promote you because you’re too good at your job and we need you to keep training others to be promoted”! She would have felt better if they had just fired her.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Did she find another job?!??!?!?!?!?!? Don’t leave us hanging here…omg if she didn’t leave, I’m even more upset.

      Don’t let ANYONE pigeon hole you, ever. They are not being kind, they are taking advantage of you and are awful.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ef that VP, right in the ear. I’m glad that it was overruled and it was a happy ending.

          Nobody should be held back because “you’re so good at what you do, in this lower position, we couldn’t possibly lose you like that!” Yuck.

          They’re lucky they even got to keep her internally but at least they showed they value her more than the VP ever did.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        All of this.

        Your wife is a saint if she stayed because there’s no way I’d continue working for people who flat out told me to my face that they were sabotaging my career progression to ensure I’d train other people they would then leapfrog over me. Nope.

  57. voyager1*

    I am writing this after reading the updates that you put in. I was Tom about 5 years ago. It is absolutely heartbreaking for the person being passover. Tom will probably leave in 6 months, unless you can work magic AND regain his trust in the company. That second part is going to be very tough if not impossible, and there isn’t much you can honestly do.

  58. His Grace*

    Oh man, this is a tough one.

    But before I proceed, let me commend you for looking out for your boss-turned-subordinate. That shows character and honor.

    That being said, Tom needs to go. It’s clear that this promotion was handled poorly, and you and Tom were caught in this mess. This is especially so because Tom had been there at least 8 years, and hired so much good talent, but didn’t get any kind of recognition (much less career advancement). OP, if Tom does decide to go looking elsewhere, back his decision, and write him a reference.

  59. JSPA*

    If Tom was ideally qualified for the job, it’s frankly selfish for the company to keep him in a lower position so that they can use his talent-spotting abilities while paying him far less than he’s worth.

    This is a rare situation where I’d actually level with Tom:

    You have seen documents. Nobody lied to him: he should have had the job, and was in line for exactly that. He’s being punished for being particularly excellent at one thing, and for having taught you so well. You would love to keep him for as long as he’s willing to stay, and you’re fighting to find him recognition and money. But so far there is no clear path nor creatable position, despite you and the company considering him invaluable. If–knowing that he was shafted–he wants to job-search, it would be your duty and your pleasure, as a friend and protegé as well as boss, to write him a thoroughly glowing recommendation. However, if he wants to work with you on brainstorming suggestions for what would get him to stay, you are all ears.

    After all, what they did to him, they can do to you in another 2, 3, 5 years.

    1. beckysuz*

      Oh I like this ! Why not show him the respect of a very honest conversation so you both are on the same page? Perhaps then he would feel comfortable being honest back ,and you will know if he’s leaving and how soon and you can get your ducks in a row. Based on his behavior thus far he seems like a decent person who would appreciate this.

  60. Malty*

    Alison’s reply was really sweet. Appreciate the Tom’s in your life, if you love them, let them go!

  61. redcybra*

    OP, why SHOULD Tom stay? His career is going nowhere there.
    HR and your VP want him to stay because of “his role as a talent spotter and for his client relationships. ” Tom is clearly an outstanding networker and is most likely using those talents right now to find something better, starting with the people who offered him jobs previously. Good luck to him.

  62. Media Monkey*

    i’ve been tom and thought i’d share some things that helped me. I was in a position with an old manager who had an odd attitude to promoting long term staff (and the company made it hard to promote or otherwise incentivise people who had been there for a long time). I ended up with a couple of managers who basically had the same level of experience as me. This worked well when the manager acknowledged this and we divided work between us according to our relative strengths. it made me happy to help out and support her when i felt listened to. it didn’t work when someone felt they had to squash me down and put in place her way of doing things (without listening to why we did things a certain way or what the client expected). she made me thoroughly miserable (the client also moved on to a different agency) and i moved into a different team.

  63. Tom (not THAT one)*

    As a Tom myself – and being on the autistic spectrum – i would feel betrayed.
    The company (NOT OP!) made promises – then basically stabbed Tom in the back by choosing someone else.

    Were it me – I would be polishing my paperwork till they gleamed – and start letting people know ‘ Hey, i`m available for new opportunities’

    The response of the company to OP`s ” we should do X and Y to be able to keep his expertise” makes me hope for my fellow Tom that a new opportunity will arrive soon. And, OP, thank him, and wish him the best in his next step.
    You never know when the company will stab you in the back.. and keeping a good relationship might be your lifeline .

  64. electric boogaloo*

    Sigh. I am currently in Tom’s shoes. I don’t hold any ill-will against my new boss, who is really great. New Boss is doing a great job and management made a good decision there. But it’s been a few weeks now and I still feel the sting of not being selected when Old Boss kept telling me I would. Everyone assumed I would get the job, even New Boss. I also started looking for a new job immediately, not because I didn’t want to work for New Boss, but because I can’t get past how I see myself here now, and my lack of confidence in what I bring to the organization.

    Alison’s advice is great. Tom will probably leave, and it’s not your fault or in your control to fix.

    1. electric boogaloo*

      And to add another thing: some commenters are talking about telling him how much he is appreciated but it’s the actions that matter more than the words. People keep telling me here how much I am valued and it’s honestly not resonating. The damage is done. The only thing that would make me feel better is if there was a change in leadership at the senior level, otherwise I’ll be in this position until I retire in a decade.

  65. animaniactoo*

    OP, I’m late to the table, but I think a path that would be good to take with first Tom and then the company is the path of “Did you want this job because you actually wanted to do THIS job, or because it was a good challenge and a step up?” If it’s the latter, that would leave it open to explore the idea of what kind of path would get Tom a step up while retaining him in the role of development and talent-spotting. Maybe what his next step is, is coordinating with various department heads on spotting and developing talent, checking with them and focusing on how to assess various actions, picking apart stuff that may not seem important but he recognizes as important, etc. Maybe it’s something else that still utilizes those skills. The point is – what is it?

    What would be beneficial to the company that you could go back to them and fight for it as a benefit to the company, with the point that “If Tom has no upward mobility, we can expect to lose him. One way or the other, we are going to lose him in this role. So we can do that on our terms, retaining his value as an employee overall, or it can be on his terms and we lose him entirely.”

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