Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I was recently offered a sales position. On paper, everything looks fine--compensation, territory, requirements, responsibilities, etc. The negative is that there is no sales manager in place yet. The company is being very selective in hiring for that position, so I don't know who my manager would be.
I decided to turn the job down for fear of the unknown. What happens if my manager's style is different than mine? What if his or her expectations are different? What happens if we don't get along? The questions and concerns kept building.
I don't know if I made the right decision. I'm happy with my current manager but don't love the product I'm selling. I have had bad managers in the past, so I'm worried about that repeating. Once I let the company know of my decision not to accept, the company told me "you don't get to pick your manager" and "the world is evolving and changing where people come and go--there are no guarantees anywhere." Who's right here? Should I have done anything differently?
I'd argue that the manager should be a huge factor in evaluating any job offer, right up there with compensation and the type of work. The old saying "people don't leave jobs; they leave managers" is true. Your manager is an enormous factor in your quality of life and can make you miserable or thrilled about coming to work every day.
Now, of course, there's an obvious caveat: You could be excited about the manager and accept the job, and then the manager could quit a month later, which is what this company was pointing out to you. That's always a risk, and there's no way around that--but what bodes badly in your situation is that the company is deriding your concern. And that's a red flag.
When you're interviewing for a job for which the manager hasn't been hired yet, the best thing you can do is to get a really solid sense of how the company expects its managers to approach management. You can address that head-on; for instance, you might say something like, "Normally, I'd be paying quite a bit of attention to the manager for this position: her style and approach, and making sure that we're a good match. Since there's no manager in place yet, I hope I can instead talk with you about what the company seeks and values in a manager." You want to know what the employer's management philosophy is, what other managers in the company are like, and what the employer looks for when hiring a manager. You want to know whether the company wants all its managers aligned on things like expectation-setting and performance management, or whether each manager runs things differently. You want to hear about times in the past when a manager hasn't worked out and why.
And throughout this conversation, you should listen for thoughtfulness. Has the company thought about these issues or is it winging it? If the employer hasn't thought much about this stuff, you have little reason to assume that the hiring process will lead to a great manager.
If an employer doesn't seem to understand why you're asking these questions, or why this would be a concern for you, that's a sign that this employer doesn't appreciate the value of good management, and there's a higher chance that you won't be thrilled with the manager it eventually hires.
In this particular case, the company you turned down falls into that category. When you were told "you don't get to pick your manager," the company was displaying a fundamental disregard for the impact of management and why an employee would care about whom he or she works for.
Plus, the company is wrong: People pick their managers all the time--by leaving them.
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