A reader asks:
I was recruited by a company, in a situation where a director was looking for a new job and wanted someone in place to take over his role once he left. The big bosses were fine with this and appreciated his advance notice and planning.
The director created a new assistant director position for me and brought me on with a sense of urgency, indicating that he'd probably be gone in the next few weeks and wanted to make sure he had time to train me. He said he was interviewing other places and had things "in place" to be leaving shortly. He pushed HR to fast-track my materials so I could start ASAP. It was a lateral move for me, and I only agreed to it because he would be leaving so soon, and I'd soon get a promotion into his director role. This was all discussed in advance -- this isn't speculation on my part.
Fast forward 10 months, and the director still hasn't left yet. I never wanted to work for him or in a No. 2 role, and I can't shake the general annoyance I have every day that he's still here. We have very different working styles and are driving each other nuts, so that's adding to my annoyance. We work extremely closely, as our job duties are identical -- he just made up the assistant role as an excuse to bring me on board.
Now that I'm approaching my one-year mark with the company, do I bring this up with him somehow? As in, asking whether he's still job searching and planning on leaving soon? Perhaps in my annual review? Do I just try and find a new job? Or do I stick it out silently as to not make things awkward between us? I'm frustrated and want to leave (this isn't what I signed up for!), but I'm not sure if I'm being too impatient.
You absolutely should address this. You were brought on board under one set of assumptions, and those assumptions proved wrong quite a few months ago. There's no need to wait for a formal review to have this conversation; it's one that probably should have happened eight months ago, so don't delay it any further.
As for awkwardness, yeah, it might be awkward. It's an awkward situation. That's no reason not to discuss it, though. And you can minimize some of the awkwardness by framing it not as "Hey, when you are going to leave?" but rather as "I'm trying to figure out what makes sense for me" (which is indisputably your purview).
I'd say something like this: "I'd like to talk to you about what the future for my role looks like. When I originally came on board, you were planning to leave fairly soon, and I took the assistant director position on the understanding that I'd soon be transitioning to the director role. Since that hasn't happened, I'm trying to figure out what makes sense for me. I wouldn't have accepted a No. 2 position if I'd realized it was going to be long-term. I realize that plans are never written in stone, though, and I'm trying to figure out what makes sense for me now. I'd love to hear your thoughts."
Before you have this conversation, though, you need to figure out how you'll respond if his answer is, "Yeah, I changed my mind. I'm not going anywhere." That seems like a pretty likely outcome, given that his actions seem to be communicating that, so you want to figure out how to respond to that ahead of time.
You should also figure out what you'd want to do if you were told that the director is never leaving and plans to stay in the role for many more years. Would you stay and be reasonably happy in your current role? Or would you start actively looking to move on? Regardless of what he says when you talk to him, it might make sense to move forward with those plans -- because at this point, any promises from him to move on aren't credible enough to stake your own career planning on, short of "I formally resigned yesterday and my last day is Friday."
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