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I've been tasked with finding a way to work with a very unique manager in my division. He's an especially gifted individual (i.e. can learn a new programming language or tech stack over the weekend, and can be an expert in it within a month). He was promoted from principal engineer to manager (we're a fairly large company, think "XYZ 500" company) before his supervisor resigned. I personally wouldn't have promoted him to manager, but he's a manager regardless and is often on the critical path (i.e. involved in important projects). Let's call this manager "Bradley".

Bradley has a recurring habit of developing very capable teams under him, and using almost all of his team budget for buying training programs and certifications for people on his team. He seems to build up a great team, but most people on the team resign within about 18 months of joining, yet they leave beaming reviews about him being a great manager on their way out the door. My superiors are frustrated with the amount of money going into training people that just leave the company with the new skills and certifications they earn, but we can't exactly discipline or fire Bradley if everyone leaving the company gives him an overwhelmingly positive review. Bradley apparently also writes detailed letters of reference and signs off on P.Eng./RPE papers for people as they're leaving, so he seems happy to help his subordinates get jobs elsewhere, after burning through training and lunch/fun-funds. All people leaving his team, during exit interviews, seem to be using some kind of script where they praise him, and cite salary and incompetence by Bradley's boss's boss as their reason for leaving. This has happened 8 times. It feels very much staged.

About a month back, a fellow senior manager tried stop this pattern by encouraging Bradley to do more remote lunchtime-meet-and-greets with his team (so Bradley's budgets are spent on something other than training team members), and Bradley told the manager, in clear terms, "F*** off! That's a waste of time, and the whole team knows it. My job is to have this team excel and make a ****-load of $$ for the company, and to develop my subordinates so they can make more $$ and develop their own careers and CVs, end of ****ing story.". This did not go over well with my colleague or HR.

While Bradley is a "net plus" for our organization, he seems to be angering enough of the higher-ups that we may have to let him go due to his negative impact on the morale of management. Is there any way to get this guy to smarten up? I feel he could do a lot of good if he got on-board with the existing company culture.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Aug 8 at 21:31
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    You mention a company culture but never specify what the company culture is.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 9 at 0:20
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    Honestly it just sounds like the company is hiring juniors and expecting to keep them at junior salary. And if this company is an actual large company as suggested it might just be a stopping place for those juniors where they get their time at the big company that opens doors at places where they actually want to work. In this case firing the manager does nothing Aug 11 at 7:41
  • 1
    Rather than reducing training budgets, have you considered chains? That's a pretty proven method of "retaining" people that fundamentally want to work elsewhere. Aug 11 at 8:27
  • 4
    Why do I get the feeling that Bradley is the same P.Eng as in this story?
    – orithena
    Aug 11 at 14:48

18 Answers 18

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Your company sucks at retaining talent. Look into that before looking into anything related to Bradley. Fix that and you will fix good people leaving your company but loving their direct manager.

Accusing him of scripting his exit interviews in absence of clear proof is called libel. Your post is proof of this and should be used in a court trial to prove the toxic work atmosphere in your company and how Bradley was persecuted and bullied by his superiors.

His outburst at the guy trying to tell him how to do his job is understandable. Absent a formal performance review, such feedback is unwanted and unusable. Involving HR in a discussion between colleagues is a sucky thing to do, the company you work for clearly has a toxic work environment.

You should find a way to help Bradley leave, the company you work for clearly does not value his competence and cannot do so with incompetent people such as yourself measuring the success of people like Bradley.

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  • 4
    Regarding your 2nd paragraph, I see at least one way this pattern could easily emerge without a script: Colleagues ask a departing employee about their reasons and think, "I'll give that reason when I leave too".
    – Theodore
    Aug 8 at 13:46
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    "Accusing him of scripting his exit interviews in absence of clear proof is called libel. Your post is proof of this and should be used in a court trial to prove the toxic work atmosphere in your company and how Bradley was persecuted and bullied by his superiors." Let's keep our heads on straight. There is not an accusation, there is a suspicion, and even if there was an accusation, it's in an anonymous online post. This is really distracting from the point.
    – MackM
    Aug 8 at 14:35
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    This is the answer that seems sarcastic, not the other one.
    – user20925
    Aug 8 at 15:39
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    Taking the OP's post face-value, cussing out a senior manager for making a suggestion is not understandable, it's immature and destructive. Aug 9 at 0:13
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    @aquirdturtle What happens when you go to an umpire and suggest he awards a fault in the middle of the game? Is it a mature and constructive attitude? Or will you get booted out the field and probably banned from ever entering the stadium?
    – BoboDarph
    Aug 9 at 11:14
48

Bradley isn't the problem here.

You've got a guy who works very well personally, gets great results in terms of productivity from his team and trains them well. And they all like him personally and say he's a good manager.

And once they are well trained and have a good track record, they leave. They leave because someone else is willing to pay them more than you are, and/or offer them better working conditions.

So your options are:

  • Stop Bradley from training people so that you have employees that no-one else wants, which is one way to keep them around for longer (although obviously you won't get as good quality work out of them). Either fire him or he'll quit anyway if you make this requirement clear to him (no, this isn't a serious suggestion).

  • Factor in the high turnover as the cost of doing business - you hire people without experience, knowing that you get them on the cheap and that they will leave as soon as they get a better offer

  • Actually pay market rates so that they are willing to stick around for longer, so there aren't better offers for them to leave for. This may involve getting rid of the "boss's boss" that generates the complaints.

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    I have no ability, whatsoever, to fire someone above me. Proposing it would likely take me off the career track.
    – Janos
    Aug 8 at 14:31
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    @Janos is that such a bad thing? I mean, Bradley seems to be doing an excellent job, and look at how they value him.
    – Blueriver
    Aug 8 at 14:44
  • @Blueriver Is Bradley actually doing an excellent job? They can't retain talent. Aug 9 at 5:35
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    @GregoryCurrie he's doing a good job as a manager despite his employer being unable to retain talent. He's doing his job, they aren't doing theirs.
    – BoboDarph
    Aug 9 at 11:18
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    @GregoryCurrie I've even looked Bradley up on LinkedIn to see if I can work under him, so I'd say they're doing a pretty good job. According to OP, every person who worked under him says the same.
    – Blueriver
    Aug 9 at 15:55
46

Are you sure you are trying to fix the right issue? Why are you focusing on Bradley and not on the lack of retention ?

All the people leaving were kind enough to give you a clear answer of why they were leaving, citing "incompetence by Bradley's boss's boss", real or perceived. Why don't you look into this first? Maybe there really is an issue from Bradley's boss's boss, or maybe it's just Bradley badmouthing and causing people to leave.

Now if Bradley's behavior and attitude is not aligned with management and it is not counter balanced with results, you have enough reason to let him go.

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    My immediate task assigned to me is to fix the optics of this issue. The senior management team doesn't like that this guy have roughly 40% more turnover than other teams, and the nature of the departures rubs them the wrong way.
    – Janos
    Aug 8 at 14:29
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    @Janos. They're fixing optics instead of investigating the situation, because the situation is that one of their own is f-ing up really badly. Chew on that for a while and decide what you want to do with a company that will sabotage its own money makers for optics. Aug 8 at 14:43
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    While the company probably does suck, all evidence is that Bradley is acting in bad faith towards his employer, even if he's being a "good guy" towards his subordinates. He's coaching people on how to leave and spending his budget on something (training people who are on the way out the door) that he knows the company won't see any benefit from, while improving his personal reputation.
    – hobbs
    Aug 8 at 15:20
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    @Janos at the end of the day, if top management is fixed on Bradley being the issue you just have to do everyone a service and fire him, don't worry he built himself enough credit to bounce back. If you don't, you risk being fired. If management want to change the turnover issue, I think you have enough advice in this thread
    – JayZ
    Aug 8 at 15:42
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    the perfect example of corrupt bad management but nothing you can do with it. so Bradley just play along within the boundary for his merit and doing nothing wrong rule wise. Bradley is smart, a very very gifted smart and patient person. I bet he has something planned but until then he will just play along for now. Aug 8 at 16:18
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A lot of the other answers are helpful, but in my opinion, they are dodging the real issue. Your departing employees are telling you exactly why they are leaving. Occam's razor likely applies here; it is far more likely that your employees are telling you the real reasons they are leaving, rather than Bradley orchestrating some sort of subtle, longstanding attack on the morale of your executives.

Ask those employees what their new salaries are. If they are markedly higher than your average paid salaries, then that the issue is not with Bradley and his management, but with the company wide management policies of underpaying valuable employees compared to what they are worth on the free market.

I have been a part of a few companies where I have seen similar ideas about people management. They are shocked and upset when good talent (myself included) leaves the firm for greener pastures. These places, and more specifically the teams I worked at there, were not horrible to work. In fact, my smaller teams provided a lot of opportunities for me to grow, improve my skills, and increase my value as an engineer. My direct managers were quite capable, supportive, and skilled -- they directly helped to improve my skills as well. However, they improved my skills such that I could leave and find a better paying job elsewhere.

Both of these instances I am thinking of, I ultimately left because it became clear to me that upper management simply did not value the work that I was doing, often against the wishes of my manager. As an example, directly due to my work, I saved one company $5mm a year on external vendor fees by building necessary services in house, and they would not even deign to offer me a full time position with health insurance. My manager wanted to offer me that full time role, but upper management decided they did not want to find the money in their otherwise immensely profitable business. So, I left for a place that believed that sort of work and accomplishment was worth, at a minimum, health insurance.

My point in all of this: your company is in the awkward position of having a great low level manager and shortsighted, if not incompetent, upper management. Bradley improves his employees, making them better at their jobs, and increasing the value they bring to your company. At the same time, you cannot increase their skills, their ability to generate value for the company, and also not increase what they deserve in pay. It is absurd to imagine otherwise. Now, with your employees producing more for your company, they are not only worth more to you, but to every company in the free market. Your company fails to appropriately recognize their increased value. Then, your management acts shocked when employees finally recognize their own increased value, and leave for a company that does.

You have a culture that, in the best case, will act as a sieve towards mediocrity; in the worst case, you actually select for the worst employees. You are attempting to punish a manager who would increase the productivity of his team, who likely selects for smart people with a penchant and even a passion for learning and improvement. By doing so, you would likely end up replacing those ambitious individual contributors with people content to wallow, to never improve, and to accept whatever salary management finds appropriate.

Do not punish Bradley for doing everything that an ambitious employee wants in a manager, and for molding employees into more valuable assets for your company. Instead, take a good, hard look at your salaries versus industry average. Further, take a look at your salary versus the companies these engineers depart to. If your former employees are receiving big offers, it is likely because Bradley has helped shape them into best in class engineers. If you want to retain best in class engineers, you have to pay best in class. If you are okay with mediocrity as a long term goal, then, by all means, hamstring Bradley, and accept that if you want to improve retention, your new target employee must be: lacking in ambition, incapable of growing and learning at a reasonable pace, content to sit at a desk and do just enough to get by (excluding the case where you get someone desperate for a job and any amount of income, at least until they eventually quit as well.).

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    I have also been in a company where my immediate manager is excellent, but senior management, HR and a culture of underpayment conspire to make the company an unrewarding place to work long term. Aug 8 at 15:35
  • Too few complaints -> personality mismatch. Too many complaints -> staged.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 8 at 17:23
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    People don't give false feedback in exit interviews. Maybe Bradley asked them to give this feedback, but I'm betting they wouldn't do it if there wasn't a grain of truth. Aug 8 at 21:19
  • Bradley is the manager they need, but not the manager they deserve.
    – Blueriver
    Aug 9 at 15:59
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Is there any way to get this guy to smarten up?

It looks like Bradley is plenty smart already. The ones who need to smarten up is the company leadership. If good people are leaving in bulk than you are not retaining them properly. Fix your corporate culture.

I feel he could do a lot of good if he got on-board with the existing company culture.

That's 100% backwards. Don't dumb down or shackle a great resource. Fix the corporate culture so that the great resource can do even greater things. You'll have a much better company that way.

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    My own leadership has told me straight-up: "it's not your job to change the company culture - work within it".
    – Janos
    Aug 8 at 14:30
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    @Janos. So in essence, sabotage Bradley or leave. Aug 8 at 14:46
  • Lol he can't because Bradley is too good at what he does apparently, otherwise they would have fired him long ago.
    – BoboDarph
    Aug 9 at 11:19
  • @Janos your own leadership has been deemed incompetent by people too good to work at your company.
    – Turbo
    Aug 17 at 22:20
16

Some of the other answers seem to be trying to answer the question "Should Bradley be fired". It's an easy obvious answer "No", and the questioner knows it. So let's try to answer the question the OP actually asked, which is "How can I make this work so Bradley doesn't quit or get fired?".

You've identified that Bradley is a significant asset, and the company would be foolish to lose him, but that they don't realize that (or do they?). Your job is to find a way to keep Bradley without either him pissing off management so much that they fire him, or them pissing him off so much that he quits. Finding a way to keep the excellent engineers he has trained is also important but secondary to keeping Bradley for now. It's notable that you, and not Bradley's boss, have been tasked with this. That signals to me that the company realizes Bradley's boss (who we will call BB) may be part of the problem.

Like virtually all management problems, this starts with talking to the people concerned. You need a long interview with him to find out what is it about senior management or other parts of the company culture that he would like to see changed, and what would enable him to keep the engineers that keep leaving. Also, if you can, find out why he hasn't quit yet. He's clearly unhappy (nobody swears at senior management unless at some level they don't care whether they keep their job or not). Is his problem primarily his boss? Pay levels? Or something else.

To do this you are going to have to win Bradley's confidence. Start your interactions by telling him that you personally think he's doing a great job and adding benefit to the company, and that you want to make sure he stays and thrives in the company. Don't say it without meaning it of course.

Ideally as a result of that you can make some small change that will make Bradley's life better. It doesn't have to be big - anything you can do shows that you are on his side. Hopefully you can do bigger things later. If you think he trusts you, and believes that you will do your best to support him (remembering not to promise anything you can't necessarily deliver), maybe he will take some advice. Don't frame this as discipline - frame it as how to interact with management in order to get what he wants and make his team even more of a success than it is. He probably doesn't have to change what he does, but just how he talks to people, so as to actually get what he wants as a result. Make it very clear this isn't just you trying to get him to stop being a PITA. It's pretty certain he won't do this unless you convince him that he has a future at the company with a chance of succeeding, and that you are genuinely supporting him. You should be genuinely supporting him.

Following this you should talk to Bradley's boss. Ask similar questions. Find out what his interactions with Bradley are like, what he thinks of his performance, what kind of clashes they have. Be clear about Bradley's success and how much he is - or should be - valued by the company as a whole. Try to do the same coaching about how to interact. Form a clear assessment of whether BB is actually doing a good job, not just here but in other areas. It's probably also good to have a talk with people on Bradley's team, and other people who report to Bradley's boss. Are there common threads? Where do the problems lie?

Then you have to earn your management big bucks. Knowing what Bradley wants, and knowing company culture and the people involved, come up with a plan to make it work. I'm reading a bit between the lines, but since you were given this task and not Bradley's boss, I'm thinking the company might already be aware that BB might be an issue. This would seem to be the logical conclusion - BB is the problem and (depending on what else he does) getting rid of him, by termination or relocation, might be the solution. If that is the case you are going to have to back it up with a whole bunch of evidence about BB's performance in other areas. Or maybe you can move Bradley to another department with another boss? However it's not worth proposing this unless doing it would make Bradley content. He may have so many other problems with the company that fixing his boss interactions wouldn't help.

11

So you're telling me you have a guy who can turn all of his subordinates into kickass engineers, who love and respect their manager, but who nonetheless leave the because of incompetent leadership (above said manager) and insufficient compensation? And you think that guy is the problem?

What you need to do is find out what it takes to keep Bradley and his engineers on board. That might mean re-evaluating compensation after they complete their training; if the training is so effective that they can jump ship for better pay, then it should warrant better pay in-house. That might mean looking into Brad's boss's boss and seeing if those complaints are justified and worth following up on.

You are wasting Bradley's potential as a manager and he is still a net plus for you. I think that says enough.

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  • It's amazing that 18 months after accepting a job and the salary, they are so underpaid that they leave because of it. If they are so underpaid, why did they take the job?
    – rtaft
    Aug 8 at 20:03
  • @rtaft nobody says they are so underpaid. Just that other companies are willing to pay for them (significantly) more. Another possibility is that they are underpaid, but were willing to take the job because the company provides great training, compensating the low pay.
    – Ángel
    Aug 8 at 21:07
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    @rtaft It seems like they weren't underpaid when they started, but after going through whatever training, certification, mentorship, etc. that Bradley has them doing, their value goes up while their compensation does not. Hence, after 18 months, they become underpaid.
    – Alex Jones
    Aug 8 at 21:15
  • @AlexJones Then the answer is simple, stop hiring unqualified candidates. 77% of people believe they are underpaid...
    – rtaft
    Aug 8 at 21:58
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    @rtaft Not sure I follow your logic, at no point is it implied that the candidates are unqualified, only that they become overqualified (and thus underpaid) by the end of the 18 months. And we're not talking about who believes they are underpaid; these engineers were able to find higher paying jobs elsewhere, so they objectively were unpaid here.
    – Alex Jones
    Aug 9 at 0:31
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What happened eight times is that Bradley turned an average engineer into a good one that you would want to keep, and each time instead of keeping them, you let them go and they complain about Bradley’s boss.

In your position I would assume that Bradley is not the problem but his boss. He does something. Does he insist that the pay for sn average engineer should be the same as that for a good one? That or something similar would explain everything.

6

You need to get to the bottom of why people are leaving and not, instead, asking for (or getting) a raise from the current company. If they are learning new (relevant) skills and getting meaningful certificates for it, then they can take that to a new employer and ask for higher pay.

They should be able to ask your company for the same thing. Or it should just be automatic. X certificate = $Y/year salary increase. The employer must stay competitive with other employers.

Maybe Bradley is sabotaging things. Is he telling them "there's no money in the budget for pay raises, you need to dump this place" when really there is money for raises? (Is there?)

Clearly there is a disconnect between employees training themselves and the company paying more for a now higher quality employee. You just need to find out if that break is occurring with Bradley (fire him) or with upper management refusing to reward employees (brush up your resume, ask Bradley if he'll give you a nice referral).

4

"F*** off! That's a waste of time, and the whole team knows it. My job is to have this team excel and make a ****-load of $$ for the company, and to develop my subordinates so they can make more $$ and develop their own careers and CVs, end of ****ing story."

It seems poor Bradley is a bit confused about their role. The first bit is accurate, but the second is misguided.

Nevertheless, management should try working with Bradley to see why people are leaving. It's possible that people could try to be retained. See what Bradley's thoughts are on the problem of people leaving.

They may think it isn't a problem. In which case, you all need to come to alignment before you proceed.

Upper management trying to shoehorn random solutions into Bradley's way of managing is not going to end well if Bradley isn't on board with what is being attempted, and without Bradley understanding the goal that's being attempted.

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    Ah, finally one among 10 answers that suggests talking with Bradley about retainment. Here's my suggestion: "Yo Bradley, what do you need to retain your fing subordinates so we stop spending a ****-load of money on training and getting left with f-all as we just see the trained workers gtfo asap?"
    – Džuris
    Aug 8 at 16:36
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    The second part is part of a good manager's job. "developing their careers and CVs" doesn't mean they will leave... they're leaving because you either don't provide appropriate challenges for them, don't pay enough, or upper management keeps making bad decisions. You aren't losing them because "they're too well trained"
    – CaffGeek
    Aug 8 at 17:53
  • @CaffGeek That's putting the cart before the horse. The job of a company isn't to find jobs for its employees. It's to have suitable employees for the roles it has. If training them to a point means they have become overqualified for the roles they were hired for, and there are no suitable roles for them, then Bradley is performing a disservice firstly by hiring these people, and then training them beyond what is required. Aug 9 at 3:47
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    @CaffGeek The goal is to hire people who will deliver value to the company. It's best to find people who are going to be satisfied with the work and not outgrow it in 1.5 years (unless you can extract enough value from them in the short term). You don't change the work simply to satisfy people. Businesses (generally) exist to make money, not to provide jobs. A company should train its employees so they can add value to the organisation, now or in the future. Anything beyond that is a perk, like a free lunches, bonuses, etc. Aug 10 at 4:48
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    @CaffGeek you grow the people in areas useful to the company. If my company gives me training in assembler, and we don't use it and it's not relevant for my role, the company still stagnates. And I maybe leave to take up a new role using my newly obtained assembler skills Aug 15 at 15:30
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Very interesting question. There is definitely two sides to this:

  • There is mention of Bradley spending company money on training of his subordinates whom then leave. Bradley is identified as a problem, because of the optics, however your real problem is employee retention. Bradleys subordinates clearly like Bradley, so if they like their direct superior and accept his workplace methods (such as coding, teaching, organizing) and ethics - why do they still leave? Even if we assume what was suspected is true and the former employees are all just citing a script - why are they leaving then? Having a good direct superior is usually a good reason to stay.

    Maybe you are even aware of the project schedules being too tight, the salaries being too low, the upper management being too disorganized and just want to solve the symptoms, not the cause. What will that get you?

    • You will lose Bradley and his skill
    • You may retain more people in Bradleys department, but department performance will probably be worse. Why? Because Bradley is gone, because staff is no longer taught and because most people realize their worth sooner or later themselves as well (and the market is good for devs), so if your retention grows, then you are probably having a worse stock of employees, i.e. those willing to accept worse conditions with regard to e.g. salary because they are less capable. It is possible to get a raw diamond with low condifence though, whom will stay even though they could have a much better life in a different company. I have seen such a scenario in real life as well. The company in question was horrific with regard to employee treatment though and other than this one genius guy, who stayed with them for personal reasons they had an employee retention of 0%, by which I mean no one other than the CEO and the star employee stayed on longer more than a year or so.
    • Getting new people will be more difficult. You will no longer have Bradleys positive reviews nor his reputation in the industry to draw more talent to your company. Again - higher chance to attract a lower quality employee stock.
  • However there is also another side to this situation. As a developer having seen horrific company practices I tend to see things from a deveeloper perspective and my feeling is, so does a majority on this SE. However if what you say is true, then Bradley is clearly out of line with some of his statements, specifically those you referred to, which did not go over well with HR. There may be different reasons for this, some that I see:

    • Your employee is very frustrated with upper management, company practices or something else that is going on at their workplace. Their statements can be considered unprofessional outbursts and something like this should be considered very unusual (unless this is all part of your company culture, in which case - horrible! Been there, seen that) and Bradley's superior needs to find out why the employee may be as frustrated as they are. Preferrably this process is initiated by talking to the employee and I don't mean beratiing them, I mean asking if they are unsatisfied with any circumstances and what can be done to improve said circumstances.

    • Another reason may be, Bradley has realized their key position in the company and the amount of value they bring in dollars, so now Bradley has lost respect for company policies and does things as they see fit. "As long as I am the breadwinner here, we will do as I say" or something along those lines.

Honestly, usually it is a little bit of both. The company may be screwing up and not treating their employees well. This is evident, since this department has low retention and Bradley does not appear to be acting in good faith towards the company. Bradley is screwing up also, because the behavior you described is unprofessional and ultimately parts of the company should not work against each other. Even if between departments and between different levels of the company hierarchy things go wrong - it is crucial to remember that the company tries to solve wwhatever problems as a whole in order to make money.

In any case, a long heart to heart is overdue, so before doing something rash, start with talking to Bradley in am honest matter. This should not be a talk where you look down on your employee, this should be a talk where you listen to Bradley's opinion and take it to heart. Whether or not what they say is valid - you can still evaluate this afterwards.

Hard to say whether or not letting go of Bradley offers more damage or more benefit - this should be discussed after talking to Bradley and after you understand why their department is as dissatisfied as it is.

In any case there are structural issues with your company and fiiring Bradley alone will not solve them. If you just want to fix cosmetics - fine, you can try to see if your company is happier having a higher retention rate at lower productivity (if at all) and if this is worth bad reputation.

3

While Bradley is a "net plus" for our organization, he seems to be angering enough of the higher-ups that we may have to let him go due to his negative impact on the morale of management. Is there any way to get this guy to smarten up? I feel he could do a lot of good if he got on-board with the existing company culture.

You shouldn't be even considering firing him. You should be trying to figure out

  1. Why your upper management's morale is so fragile that a high performing manager is negatively impacting it?
  2. Why your upper management thinks that having a manager improve the skill and quality of his employees, then NOT adjusting their compensation accordingly is acceptable?
  3. How to keep Bradley, and how to have more managers like him?

Honestly, this entire question is basically, a toxic workplace trying to figure out how to remain toxic and retain it's employees, and no quality person is going to give a answer that does that.

You can stop training them... then they won't leave... but then you'll be stuck with a bunch of junior devs, and a frustrated manager, who's going to quit.

You won't retain them with free lunches and other "team building" garbage. Sure some employees like the lunches, and stuff, but that isn't a reason anyone stays at a job. It's just a nice perk. It's not really moving the needle on if a person stays or leaves.

You want MORE managers like this. Imagine... a company where when you are an employee, you learn, and grow, and provide more value to the company, and the company values you in return, with proper compensation and opportunity. Companies like this flourish. They are able to recruit easier, their retention goes up, and they profit.

When Bradley does leave, he's got a list of quality former employees, that he can talk to and help him find a new job. And then he's got a bunch of former employees, to call upon, and recruit to that new job... where if upper management is competent, they will thrive.

3

and Bradley told the manager, in clear terms, "F*** off! That's a waste of time, and the whole team knows it. My job is to have this team excel and make a ****-load of $$ for the company, and to develop my subordinates so they can make more $$ and develop their own careers and CVs, end of ****ing story.".

That's an unacceptable and immature response. Bradley's job is not to encourage employees to leave the company. And nowhere do I see anything about the employees being kick-ass, only that they like Bradley. And why wouldn't they? He's used company funds to get the certs that they can use to get more money elsewhere, and he seems to be all about it.

Part of Bradley's performance rating should be tied to employee retention. So if Bradley's staff is leaving at an uncommon rate then chances are it is because of Bradley, one way or the other.

it is expensive to hire a replacement employee. Are you sure Bradley is a net positive? I don't think a manager should be running his department like it is some sort of training and reverse-recruitment center.

Management should reduce his discretionary budget so that he has to spend it where he needs it. Do the employees need the certs in order to do their jobs? if not, they should pursue the certs on their own dime after hours.

1

Turn his department into a subsidiary company with him as the CEO. Then you hire that company on a contract base to provide the services they were providing before.

Ridiculous proposal? Please hear me out:

  • You don't need to change your company culture to better accommodate his management style. He is now the boss of a new company and can establish whatever culture he likes.
  • Boss's boss is now a customer for them and no longer a superior. That means that they aren't affected by any of their management decisions which don't work out for them.
  • Not retaining talent becomes his own problem, because his company shoulders the opportunity cost of finding new employees.
  • He has full control over how much he pays to his engineers, but still needs to look at the company bottom line.
3
  • 1
    Sneaky, interesting idea :)
    – Strader
    Aug 15 at 15:10
  • If I understand the mention of "P.Eng." in the question correctly, then Bradley is a canadian Professional Engineer, and as far as I know, you cannot outsource those.
    – orithena
    Aug 17 at 12:14
  • @orithena I am not familiar with Canadian corporate and employment law. But please note that this answer does not propose to turn just a single person into an independent contractor (which would probably run afoul of labor laws in quite a lot of countries), but to turn a whole department into a subsidiary company 100% owned by the parent company. I slightly rewrote the answer to make that more clear.
    – Philipp
    Aug 19 at 13:31
0

IMHO, Bradley is on the right track for HIS carrier. Whether its aligned with your company employee strategy or not.

He is building a personal support structure using your company resources.

As i see it, Bradley understands the value of investing in to talented and capable individuals, help them grow in to better, more skilled professionals.

That is an asset for your company.

But, when Bradley did HIS job and converted coals in to diamonds, it is COMPANY job to retain them in the new state, and it seems that is where the issue is.

For a final though, it doesn't matter if you fire Bradley or he quits on his own, any of his former subordinates WILL recommend him at their new employer for a management position

0

About a month back, a fellow senior manager tried stop this pattern by encouraging Bradley to do more remote lunchtime-meet-and-greets with his team (so Bradley's budgets are spent on something other than training team members)...

Taking what you said at face value.

Trying to intentionally sabotage the growth of your junior engineers, wasting their training budget, and wasting their time, with this corporate double-speak and "social" subterfuge was a colossal mistake.

At best, that suggestion was passive aggressive and underhanded. And not only it insults the intelligence. But at worst, if it's successful and successfully slows down the skill acquisition of your engineers, then it's the equivalent of shooting your own company in the foot.

After all, there is often a 10X differential between top engineers and bottom ones (although your top engineers are usually not paid 10 times more). And so it's in the interest of you company to make sure everyone of them gets up to speed as quickly as possible. And this growth is difficult enough on its own. You don't need to make it even more difficult.

And instead, I would suggest you forget such underhanded tactics and offer those engineers golden handcuffs. In other words, you should increase their compensation to be competitive with the marketplace, but at the same time you should try to delay and stagger those extra bonuses over the space of four years so as to make them think twice about leaving early (otherwise, they'd be leaving money on the table).

This is how top tech companies deal with retention issues.

All people leaving his team, during exit interviews, seem to be using some kind of script where they praise him, and cite salary and incompetence by Bradley's boss's boss as their reason for leaving. This has happened 8 times. It feels very much staged.

Yes, colleagues will speak with each other. That doesn't mean there is a script. It just means that they'll often gripe about the same complaints when they're together.

Dealing with manager that has high turnover but great reviews from departing engineers

Also, I'd suggest you stop focusing on his turnover rate.

Can his team deliver and get the work done? That's the main question you should be asking. Also, is that manager good at recruiting?

In other words, you should focus on his results. And if he gets good results, you shouldn't try to micromanage him or sabotage his efforts. His job is hard enough already.

-2

Eliminate his training budget.

I was just going to upvote Tony's answer, because it mentions this in passing, but I think it needs to be its own answer, and needs to be spelled out a little more.

I'm going to be the bad guy here and take the company's side, even though if I was one of Bradley's employees I would probably take Bradley's side. There is no value to the company in Bradley's team members getting certifications; therefore, the company should stop paying for them to get certifications.

The process of getting the certifications almost certainly has little to nothing to do with the productivity of Bradley's team. Those employees are almost certainly learning from Bradley and learning by doing; the trainings and the certifications are merely supplying them with official credentials. From the company's perspective, if they can realize 80% of the productivity gains that Bradley is producing without paying to get their employees additional credentials, that is what they should do. The 20% remaining productivity that arises from sitting them down in a class to acquire the credential is not worth the turnover costs that appear to be at least partially caused by Bradley "helping to build CV's".

Bradley's outburst also makes it appear that he will carry around resentment against the company, but not lash out unless directly provoked. So if you take away his training budget, but don't aggressively confront him about it, it is likely he will just add it to his store of grievances but then turn around and continue to lead his team well.

5
  • Bradley doesn't carry his resentment around in silence. Rather they act against the interests of the company. Why wouldn't they retaliate if they are already acting in bad faith? You also assume that certifications do not provide any skill and are only pieces of paper. Having taught junior devs both with and without an educational background in CS in various companies I am going to have to disagree. Aug 9 at 7:43
  • "So if you take away his training budget, but don't aggressively confront him about it, it is likely he will just add it to his store of grievances but then turn around and continue to lead his team well." This sounds like putting more straw on a camel's back... which is not necessarily a good idea since the company sounds like it'd prefer to keep Bradley (but on a shorter leash). Aug 9 at 17:05
  • 3
    tl;dr; make the company a more toxic place by passively aggressively addressing the situation... this answer is straight from Office Space "We fixed the glitch"
    – CaffGeek
    Aug 9 at 18:16
  • @CaffGeek OP set specific constraints. Meeting those constraints can only be done in certain ways. You're right that those ways might be "passive aggressive" or "toxic", but all the better solutions are excluded by the constraints.
    – tbrookside
    Aug 9 at 18:29
  • @tbrookside As i see it, in this case Bradley will leave and take a position in one of the companies his previous employees went. Rest assured, it will not take a long time for him to find a new place
    – Strader
    Aug 15 at 15:12
-5

I wouldn't normally post here but I think you can use what I have to say.

First of all, let me say that a lot of the already existing answers seem undoubtedly biased and assuming a lot of things, in my opinion. It seems to me a lot of the people that have answered have frequently found themselves in toxic or unpleasant companies and are projecting their feelings onto this issue, identifying themselves as Bradley.

Even on first glance I see a lot of red flags from Bradley.

A few general things, first:

  • There are already a lot of assumptions in fellow answers that the people that are leaving are really doing so for higher salaries (people can lie, I know - shocker). It is clearly stated people are joining and leaving within 18 months. It is completely detached from reality to even consider anyone would offer a much higher salary to someone because now they have a year and a half more experience. It is also highly unlikely people would join a company for a given salary and then, in 18 months (max), en masse, leave for a higher one (read further for explanation to their cited reasons).
  • Also a lot of assumptions that people are being trained into super-experts and, thus, being valued higher by other companies. 18 months, even with everyday trainings, do not an expert make (not to mention those who left in less than 18 months), nor is it enough to increase someone's seniourity level. I am not aware of a technology that is simple enough to warrant an increase of expertise for 18 months of experience, even assuming the person has been working with/on it full time since the first day up to his last. Simply said, 18 months of coding do not a juniour a mid make.
  • What OP's bosses have tasked him with is absolutely the right thing to do and what you should do. This is a company, not a charity. Since the problem has obviously started after Bradley was made manager it is obvious that, in the best case scenario, it is his failing that:
    1. His team has gained a significant increase in turnover.
    2. His team has 40% higher turnover than other teams in the same comany (as per OP's comment).
    3. He is "burning" through the entire allotted training budget with not a single thought about how to better utilise it. Sending the newhire on an expensive training day 1 is a sign of either very bad management or very bad intellect.

OP didn't mention but I'd hazzard a guess the bosses didn't change, neither did the company policy.

A note on the red flags:

  • All exit interviews seem to be following a script. More information is warranted for an accurate judgement but simply said, if you ask 8 people about their opinion on something, that they agree on, you will get 5 to 8 different ways of saying the same thing. If those 8 people use the same words in more-or-less the same order to say the same things, that is, 100%, undoubtedly, a memorized script.
  • King Bradnley's team has a 40% higher turnover than other teams (as noted in a comment by OP). If, indeed, the company culture is as bad or toxic as almost everybody here claims, despite any evidence to that in the question, then all teams would have the same turnover.
  • All leaving employees cite salary as a main reason for quitting. It is an incredibly big stretch to assume a person would agree to a salary and then, 18 months later (or less), decide he suddenly doesn't like it, anymore. One or two people changing their minds, possible. Eight? No chance in hell. There are only three (realistic) options that can cause this:
    1. The person's character is very fickle, meaning he is a person who would not stick to doing anything, would have no kind of loyalty to anything and would quit any endeavour the moment it inconvenienced him, which is something that has to be judged at the interview and, if this is the case every time, means Bradley is actively looking for such people. This seems quite unlikely as such people are not that common plus 8 such people wouldn't leave after ~18 months but even sooner.
    2. He is being manipulated into leaving and citing this reason. If salaries really were a problem people wouldn't A) agree to work for the company in the first place and B) suddenly wise up in 18 months time and C) other teams would have the same problem.
    3. There was some sort of great plague that swept your nation and killed off 80% of all programmers making demand so high that salaries and skill requirements change from month to month. This is the second least likely scenario after No. 1.
  • All exit interviews cite King Bradley's boss' boss. More information is needed for a definitive answer but, usually, most employees would have little to no contact with their manager's boss. Most employees would never interact with the boss of the boss of their manager, ever. That's the whole point of having managers in the first place. So it seems highly unlikely for all 8 employees to have any sort of impression of what Bradley's boss' boss is doing wrong. MUCH less the exact same reason. The much, much more likely scenario is that Bradley is "conveying" what said boss-boss is doing or in one way or another the employees only get their information from Bradley.
  • Bradley writes detailed letters of reference. Writing letters of reference is good but writing detailed letters of reference for all 8 employees? Bradley must be a very caring individual. Which ought to make us wonder why did he have such an outburst?
  • Bradley's outburst. Again, more information is needed, but Bradley's response to a seniour manager is, put extremely lightly, unacceptable. Unless said manager started shouting and cursing Bradley first a response of "F you, I do what I F-ing want!" to a suggestion (and a good one, because a manager isn't a trainer, his job isn't to make everyone into highly-efficient robots, it's to make them into a team that enjoys working together. I wonder how many people who are on Bradley's side would enjoy being on training non-stop but never actually getting to see their colleagues.) is unprofessional, immature and unwarranted. That cursing, alone, could be grounds for termination in a lot of countries. It doesn't matter how genius a person he is this is simply unacceptable. And while I, personally, wouldn't fire him right away I would 100% get HR involved and have a talk with him that it is inappropriate.
  • Develop their own CVs. This seems like a massive slip-up from Bradley. CV exist for, and only for, marketing yourself to OTHER companies. The ONLY time anyone cares about their own CV is when they are looking to change jobs. So it is ABSOLUTELY not the job of a manager to pad an employee's CV, furthermore it is outrageously dishonest toward said manager's company. How many people here would love to pay an employee a salary with the sole purpose for him to find work elsewhere? A company trains employees in order for them to work better for said company, it is not a charity that takes in all sorts, spends massive amounts on funds for training and then sends them on their way.
  • His negative impact on the morale of management. This shouldn't even be a question. It doesn't matter how genius of a programmer he is if he is undermining superiours, being disrespectful (especially in front of others) or just talks back to people the way he cursed at aforementioned other manager this person should have been booted out of the door, even if there were no other red flags and his record was spotless. People aren't machines, they don't work alone, isolated, on making certain car parts, or whatever, where you only care about their productivity. They work in A) a team and B) a company. First and foremost all employees work WITH someone in one form or another and one genius employee disrupting the work of other people is not a "net gain" or "asset" he is a liability and a net loss. It is more important for employees to feel good about working in their team and getting along with their colleagues than them being a bunch of geniuses that can't get anything done because they are constantly disrespecting and undermining each other. Dissent spreads through the ranks which is why it is NEVER tolerated. Of course I'm all for talking with the person and giving them a chance to fix their attitude but this seems quite on purpose for Bradley. To put it bluntly the fastest Mercedes ever made is just a glorified paperweight if it refuses to start.

I don't see how Bradley could be acting in the interest of the company, especially since he is very adept at programming. Such people are often, at least, smart in general and would know not to do what he is doing. I fail to see how a genius would think helping his subordinates find work elsewhere from day 1 be a good idea.

It seems 100% certain, to me, that Bradley is prepping his people to be hired, trained and depart the company. I wouldn't be surprised if he constantly talks how the boss of his boss is incompetent and etc. to his underlings who, having no contact with him or not even knowing what it is that said boss does exactly would have no reason to doubt him. Then feeds them some script and facilitates their departure. He might be doing this to establish a network and leave, himself, down the line or he might be pissed at a boss or two or maybe he doesn't like being manager and only took the position out of necessity. There are many reasons why it can be but I see no way that he can be benevolent.

Having said that I would engage with him and try to talk it out. Slim chance that he wouldn't deny it or lie about it but a talk first is always a good idea. You could also make him the manager of another team, instead of this one. Other actions heavily depend on the law in your country. For instance demoting him to principal seems like a good step to me, if possible.
Or, maybe, just offer to let him go if he doesn't like it there.

2
  • 3
    You've made a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions here, which is a bit ironic given you're accusing others of doing the same. For example, assuming he is sending new hires to expensive training sessions on day 1. Additionally, you've taken a very aggressive tone against Bradley (i.e. referring to him as King Bradley), without any really obvious reason to do so. I can understand a querent doing so, but you're a respondent presumably without an emotional connection to this situation. Aug 15 at 2:03
  • "It is also highly unlikely people would join a company for a given salary and then, in 18 months (max), en masse, leave for a higher one..." It's a lot more likely than what you've suggested here, which is that people are leaving this company for jobs that aren't paying them more, simply on Bradley's say so. No one leaves a job just because one person at the company says it's bad. They are either unhappy with their current job or there's something better elsewhere.
    – BSMP
    Aug 20 at 23:35

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