The Saddest Thing I Ever Heard a Manager Say

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I am currently going through the process of looking for a new opportunity for my career. I’m going through the rigamarole of doing interviews and talking numbers with recruiters, etc. I’m even considering a position at Microsoft whome I left last year after spending 5 years there. All of these activities have me thinking back to my previous job roles and times that I was transitioning from one job to another. In particular, I find myself thinking a lot of the time I left a production DBA role at Microsoft to takeover as Program Manager for the Microsoft Certified Master program in Microsoft Learning. The Director of my former operations team sent out an email announcing my departure to the team. This email contained a statement in it that has really been stuck in my mind ever since. It truly is the saddest thing I ever heard a manager say.

Working for Microsoft And the MCM Program

When I was first offered a full-time employee (FTE) position at Microsoft, I asked if they would send me through the Certified Master program. They agreed as a stipulation of me taking the job. I went to work at Microsoft and about 11 months later, I attended the 8th rotation of the SQL Server MCM program. This was back when the program was still a 3 week, on-site program in Redmond, WA. I passed all of my exams on the first attempt and returned to work as a Certified Master. This was an exciting time for me. There were some rearrangements made in my job role on the team to take full advantage of my status as a Certified Master including positioning me as a resource to the engineering teams with which we worked for tasks like architectural design, code reviews, query tuning, etc. I felt really happy to be in an organization that supported me in my career goals and wanted to take advantage of my particular set of skills.

I spent more than 2 years in that group before I decided to take on the role of Program Manager for the Certified Master program. It was an exciting change for me, but also a little scary to be making such a drastic change in job role. Our Director of Operations asked me to write up a brief description of my new role so he could send out an announcement to the team.

The email was a nice, positive email all around, but it contained one statement that hit me really hard. I no longer have the email so I will paraphrase as best I can.

“I knew when we sent Robert through the MCM program that it was only a matter of time until he left us. I knew this day was coming.”

You may be wondering what is so bad about that statement. That sad truth is this statement really demonstrates one of the fundamental reasons I chose to leave the team. Indifference. They had come to the conclusion that I was going to move on as soon as I found a better opportunity, and they made no effort to keep me there. My immediate supervisor did not suffer from this delusion that there was nothing they could do to keep me there. He tried to get an architect role added to the team so I would have some upward mobility on the team. When the top levels of management have already concluded that you as good as gone, there’s no support to try to keep you there.

This statement made me sad because it most definitely was not true. They very easily could have kept me there. They simply did not try. They were the architects of my departure, not the MCM certification.

Don’t Fear Training or Change

I hear people express the fear that if they send their staff to training, they will leave. Staff don’t leave because you send them to training. They leave because you don’t. They leave because, in the words of J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, “indifference and neglect often do more damage than outright dislike.” To the managers out there, I advise to not make this same mistake.

20 thoughts on “The Saddest Thing I Ever Heard a Manager Say

  1. Spot on Robert!

    It’s difficult to be on the receiving and of such indifference and neglect. I would also remind you that sometimes it’s also difficult to give everyone the help and attention they need. When one manager has 27 employees to coach they are bound to have someone fall down. That doesn’t make them a bad person, just makes them as overworked as anyone else.

    The most painful thing my manager ever said to me was: “So, what is it that you do around here anyway? What does a DBA do?”

    I knew my time was limited from that point forward. I didn’t blame the manager, I blamed myself for letting things get to that point.

    At the end of the day we are responsible for our own careers. And it really is like dating. Sometimes things just don’t click and people need to separate.


    1. Thanks Tom! And you’re absolutely right. I was a terrible advocate for the work I did early in my career. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes it’s up to you to make people aware of what you do.

    2. One CEO of a small firm I worked for awhile ago said, “You’ve worked here for 6 months and no one knows what you do.” I was a little upset because I had made some significant changes to their organizations in terms of performance tuning. So I replied, “You’ll get an idea of what I do over the next six months.” That was the last day I worked at that organization. As a consultant, I document every change I make. If you don’t, someone else will take the credit or worse, think you’re not even there.

      1. Sadly, in the DBA world, not being noticed generally means you’re doing a great job. And often it back fires on you. Great point about documentation. It’s a good way to show what you’ve been doing and makes it harder for people to take credit for your hard waork.

  2. I wish there were more leaders involved in developing their people instead of managing them.

    “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” – Henry Ford

  3. Recently my manager was fired. It was so very sad to me. She improved our careers and our life quality by give us chance to have training and get certified. This was a very important factor in area development.
    After she has gone we realized this indifference. Looking beyond, we can imitate this kind of management and be better professionals and better people.

  4. Robert – All the work that you did at MS IS awesome. Your contributions to SQL community in general and DBM in particular is somethign which can not be expressed in few words.
    I still remember your contributions to DBTALK, Yukontq etc. Early on I got myself to think ‘maybe this guy doesnt have any work’ :-) and which was nowhere close to being true.

    Damagers (aka Manager)? – They suck [Period]! Especially the ones who are neither technical nor have leadership skills. There are so many groups @ MS which would turn so much better only if we could put few dummies in place of Damagers :-)
    I suggest don’t take it too personally! just stay +ve and keep working.

  5. Too true, on both counts. As employees, it’s part of our job to keep our managers (or supervisors) up to date on what we are working on – we use the one-on-one format where I work.

    Sad to say I’ve seen the “if we train them they’ll just leave” attitude in some mangers, though luckily not my last several. I’ve been afforded training a number of times over the past 4 years, and I’m still with my employer. Long ago a co-worker went back to college, paid for by the company, and six months later they left. So it’s not just indifference – sometimes it’s experience on the part of the manager!

    I think the trick is to distinguish between TRAINING and PEOPLE. Some people will choose to leave, but the training isn’t the cause of the event. And sometimes indifference by the manager IS the cause. Just not always.

  6. Robert,

    I definitely agree with you that not training your employees is the starting point for those employees to start looking other opportunies. For me, the lack of training and challenges was the hint I needed to start looking at new horizons. As you when I notified my boss about me leaving the company what she said to me was “Have I treated you wrong?” “Well, wish you well, you know you can always come back?” Really?? She would have replaced me sooner that I’d changed my mind. Profesionally she never treated me “wrong” per say but moraly and ethically speaking she indirectly did through other coworkers, they way the address them and confronted them in front of others. Very sad. Of course there was no point to try to explain why I believe her actions and management style were wrong in my opinion. Some managers go around without even noticing the impact that they’re leaving behind and the demoralization they’re marking with to their employees. It’s hard to move on but some times that is the best step for the person and the professional in you. I love my new job now and my boss is great.

  7. Knowing what a talented resource you are, that’s a sad tale indeed, Robert. Thanks for candidly sharing. One point in your post reminded me of a great quote I often use:
    “The only thing worse than training employees and having them leave is not training employees and having them stay.” —Zig Ziglar

    Tom, your comment is a great testament to the lost art of personal accountability. Good for you!

    1. Thanks Jimmy. You’ve been like a mentor to me for several years, and I owe you a great deal for the advice you’ve given me over the years.

  8. Thanks for sharing Robert.

    I’ve been a DBA for many years and always considered it was my responsibility to keep learning. The lack for training and lack of opportunities within most companies for DBAs and other IT staff seems to have become the norm.

    I’d blame our economy, but I’m not sure that isn’t just an excuse that too many companies are leaning on. They want you to do more with less, but with less personal time and less company supported training they may not like the results. What I’ll say is I totally agree with Zig Ziglar.

    So glad you found a manager who appreciates you!

  9. Great article. I feel like someone understands me. And the Harry Potter quote is perfection. Good luck in your search. I hope that you find a place that appreciates you!

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