I want to move to corporate headquarters to further my career. The problem is that my manager says I’m “too valuable” to let go. I like her and I’d like to stay with the company but don’t want to miss an opportunity by getting stuck here. Advice? N.M., Leonia, NJ
As frustrating as this situation may be, your manager is essentially endorsing your skills. Granted, it’s not productive, but it’s important to look at the positive in what she is doing. My guess is that your manager is under a lot of pressure—either the team is generally underperforming with a few exceptions (namely you), or a lot is being asked of her and she’s afraid the team can’t deliver. Understand that the timing of your move is unlikely to be as quick as you’d like.
I recommend a two-prong approach: first, in order to remove the barrier to your advancement, you need to know what specifically she’s referring to when she says you’re “too valuable” (e.g., running a specific project, managing a process, etc.). If it’s clear, come up with a few solutions. If you don’t know for sure, make sure you get clarification on what she means
In a casual way, say something like, “I appreciate that you think of me as being really valuable to the team. Is it because of how I do x, y, or z?” You want to give options to make it easier for her to answer you. Whatever she says, make sure you understand what value she thinks you provide. Thank her and move on. Then come up with several ways you could backfill your position, including offering to train your successor and remaining a resource for a limited period of time. In this conversation it’s important to stay focused on understanding what she means—don’t “muddy the water” by also bringing up your desire to move.
Secondly, think about what your reputation is with decision-makers beyond your direct manager. Are you seen as the obvious choice for the position at headquarters or are you an unknown entity? To make a move to corporate headquarters, you’ll need support beyond your direct manager. If you don’t have it, concentrate on making solid relationships with the influencers. You aren’t going around your manager; in fact, when you have an interaction with someone, make sure you let your manager know so she isn’t caught unaware. If you already have relationships with influencers make sure you communicate (subtly) to them your desire to move without disclosing what your manager said.
If you have influencer support and a solution for your manager, you’ll need to finesse your approach and choose your time wisely. When appropriate (which is a judgment call on your part), reopen the conversation, acknowledge her concern as well as your certainty that she wants what’s best for you. Let her know you’ve got several solutions for backfilling your position. Reiterate your desire to continue contributing to the company and your desire for new challenges. Ask for her support (“I know you’re one of my biggest supporters and really care about my development”). If she’s amenable, create a strategy for transitioning. If she’s not, understand the barrier and try again when appropriate. It’s not a one and done—try a few times. She’ll get the message that you’re moving on one way or another without you having to spell it out. If she’s totally unreceptive, then it’s likely you’ll need to look for another job. Good luck!
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