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One of our customer service reps has been with the company for years and is starting to feel like he's outgrown his position and is looking for new challenges.

His manager is reluctant to give him days off from his current responsibilities (even just once/quarter or as a one-shot deal) because he's afraid of how it will impact his metrics and service-level agreements.

How can we make a good business case to convince his manager to let him participate in a project for which he will have to be out of office for two working days?

  • 3
    Simple - how would the metrics and SLAs be impacted if the rep quits? – Oded Aug 31 '12 at 14:26
  • That's pretty much the thing, but I'm not sure using that kind of scare tactic would go over well. I understand where his manager is coming from--if there's a problem, he'll have to have an answer for his own superior... he just wants to have all his bases covered. – B00Tz Aug 31 '12 at 14:28
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    I understand, but then as a manager, he is not doing a good job (relying on a single person? not a good place to be). The problem is that without career progression, the rep will end up leaving the company, meaning the instead of having this person for 60% of the time, he will have 0%. I understand one can see this as scare tactics, but on the other hand, this is also the only logical conclusion. – Oded Aug 31 '12 at 14:36
  • It's a rather glib suggestion, but how about pointing your manager to this animated adaptation of Dan Pink's talk at the RSA: RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us – Mark Booth Sep 3 '12 at 9:58
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How can we make a good business case to convince his manager to let him participate in a project for which he will have to be out of office for two working days?

As you stated, the person concerned is already looking for new challenges - this is not likely to change and there are really two options here, as far as the company is concerned:

  1. New challenges are found in the company for this person.
  2. New challenges are not found in the company for this person.

I will start with analysis of the second case - if this person cannot find a new challenge in the company, they will certainly start looking elsewhere. They are unsatisfied with their current work (otherwise why look for new challenges) and are looking for a change - if this will not happen within the company, it will be outside the company and the manager in question is left without them.

In the first case, there are several options as well:

  1. The person concerned moves to a different department (perhaps some other sympathetic manager will take them on) - this is good for the company, as this is someone who knows and understands the company and customers already. It is also good for the person - new challenges. Not so good for the manager in question, as they are left without this person.
  2. The person concerned is given new challenges taking them part time away from their current job. Good for the person and company. The manager still has some of this persons' time - they can train someone else, for example.

When looked at this way, the best way forward is to let this person go for a few days a week.


The manager himself should be concerned about relying on a single person - this is not good management and not a good position to be in. As a manager, this person need to ensure that the metrics and SLAs they are responsible are met - whether the specific subordinate is around or not. Having this person train others, document their roll or be available for an occasional consultation are all ways to manage this, while letting this subordinate grow.

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As pointed out by Oded, you and/or the rep need to sit down and talk to the boss.

You basically have two (seemingly) conflicting interests:

  • Your boss wants to make sure that the rep's current responsibilities continue to be taken care of.
  • The rep wants to develop himself and find a new challenge.

The aim of the talk must be to resolve this apparent conflict. How to do this will depend on the specific situation; some ideas:

  • Discuss how the rep can help ensure that his current responsibilities can be taken care even without him. Point out that even if this means more work/risk in the short term (training colleagues, automating things etc.), it avoids problems in the long run because it's risky to depend on one person exclusively.
  • Explain how it will benefit the company/department if the rep picks up new qualifications (better quality work, more motivated employee, and better employee retention).

The basic idea is to take the manager's objections seriously, and find solutions for them. If you approach the talk in that spirit, you will probably find a solution.

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It sounds like in this case, the manager is being a bit short sighted. If the SLAs and metrics will take a drastic dip from the 1 day/quarter outage of a single high performing employee, then the organization as a whole is in serious trouble. What happens when this guy is sick, - or worse yet, when he leaves to pursue a different job.

Push for a long range view - what in this person's service portfolio can be learned by another person? Should this guy be doing more cross training of his less experienced peers? What are the bosses plans for making this organization less fragile and is there a way the senior employee can help with that? What would be the ramifications of this work? It may mean the senior employee will have to put in overtime, which may just be part of the job. But putting in overtime to change the nature of the group is a fairly good reason, as far as overtime goes.

The other aspect is to be willing to hear the other side. The boss may have other comments when it's pointed out that loosing any one person for a single day should not be an SLA killer. For example, if the senior employee has had a high absentee rate already, or is on a performance improvement plan - then the real issue is that the hasn't managed to meet expectations and the manager is limiting the opportunity for new challenges until the employee can prove he can handle the challenge he's got. Then the conversation becomes a "how can I improve?" talk, instead of a "how can I get what I want?" talk.

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