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Dear HR: Why I Am Leaving

While it's highly unlikely a departing employee would ever divulge all of their reasons for leaving a company, this may be what an honest -- albeit hypothetical -- letter of resignation looks like.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013
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Dear HR Department,

I have been a manager in specialty products marketing for the last 16 months, after waiting more than 3 years to be promoted. I believe I was promoted because my manager, the director of marketing, could depend upon me to quickly switch gears mid project and basically start anew, but still meet the same deadline. I am proud that I delivered my projects on time and on budget, but feel I haven't been recognized for my contributions.

My manager was neither inclined to share his annual goals nor expected results for the department, nor was he forthcoming in laying out plans beyond the next quarter. I tried to align my work and outcomes to the goals that the CEO stated in his annual company meeting, but it was difficult to see the clear connection to my work. It felt like my manager only cared about his own advancement in the company.

Once a year, I would sit down with my manager for my review, and though I was rated highly competent, I really didn't see a connection between my review comments and the work I produced during the year. We didn't have conversations about how this year's successes could be built upon in next year's projects. It was clear in my review, however, that my manager feels I prioritized my children over my career. I pride myself on my ability to juggle family and work responsibilities, so this criticism seems very unfair.

I came to this company 5 years ago with energy, enthusiasm and promises of career opportunities and growth. I am leaving for a position with a competitor, and will be much more vigilant to ensure their promises of career opportunity and growth become reality. 


A former employee

Maybe you haven't received a letter or had an exit interview with an employee who is this honest. She would have done you a favor if she had sent you this email before walking out the door. And it isn't the first time -- nor will it be the last -- that you will lose a highly productive, high-potential employee.

It's unlikely, though, that she will tell you, or any manager, her reason for leaving. You see, she doesn't think you have been listening from the first day she was hired. Yes, she knows you said you hired her for her technical competence and expertise, her ability and eagerness to contribute, and her ability to work long hours without complaint. But here's what you missed in the years since you hired her:

1.     You assumed she wants the big corner office and a lofty title, and is willing to sacrifice her family life to get it. That doesn't motivate her like it did her father's generation. She likes being the center of the team, and having her team close by and checking in frequently with them.

2.     She has noticed that senior leaders and many older employees aren't retiring as early as they once were. She wishes you would devise incentives for Boomers to share their knowledge and experience with emerging leaders like her, and work more closely with her team.

3.     You thought only women wanted flexibility in their hours and were willing to trade off promotions for it. She encourages the men on her team to choose a flexible work schedule so that they can balance work priorities with family obligations, just as she encourages the women on her team to do the same. She sees this as a good policy directly related to retention of her best team members, and she sees they are more engaged in their work.

4.     She had some great ideas but not the title that would have made her visible and her voice heard in the company. If the company truly wants to hear ideas from all employees, you have to make it easier for employees at lower pay grades to be heard.

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5.     She knows the competency model you use to decide career-development needs and opportunities is based on a leadership model that was designed for new managers 40 years ago. If retention of employees is important to the financial health of your company, then you should know the competency model you are using doesn't fit the skills and development needs of your employees ready for advancement now.

6.     She has been successful in building an incredibly productive team by capturing the institutional knowledge of two of her team members who are getting close to retirement age, and finding ways to give feedback to her team members who are under 30 years old and prefer positive comments rather than criticism. She has adapted well to 'leading from the middle' and could be a mentor to other middle managers.

Three generations coexist in our organizations today. Each has attributes and values to contribute to the success of the company; each has its limitations and blind spots. Leadership-development programs, based on the traditional leadership competency models for baby boomers, will not help to close the gap between the generations.   

Generation X managers (in the 35-to-50 age group) will be the leaders who guide your company through the next 20 years. They need leadership training that will help them harvest the knowledge and experience of their elder leaders, and devise new management practices that fit the needs of the next generation, thus accelerating the change your managers and leaders need to make your organization more productive and better prepared for the next 20 years.

Susan Vece is a partner at 21st Century Leadership Consultants in Park Ridge, Ill.

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