Give and Take
“Bill, I hate these forced ratings,” Diana said. “You know it’s especially tough this year, since we’ve eliminated two director positions.”
“That does make it tough,” he said.
“I’ve got the option for only one one-rating and three two-ratings,” she said.
“And one three-rating,” he added.
“That’s right,” she said. “Bill, this is hard, but given two of your three big initiatives this year fell short of their objectives, I have no choice but to rate you a three. I’m sorry.”
Bill looked at Diana. In that moment, he saw her not as his boss, but as an intern in his group nearly 20 years earlier. Since then, he’d been Diana’s biggest advocate within CPG.
“I’m sorry too,” Bill said.
He looked calm, but inside Bill was dying. He had dedicated his life to this company. Over nearly 30 years, he had helped develop its biggest breakthrough products, and he’d personally hired and coached more than half the people now working in R&D.
But Bill also had several strikes against him.
First, he was not very ambitious. He had been a director for nearly 20 years. Now he was the oldest and most expensive R&D director in the company.
Second, he routinely devoted at least half his time to developing people. Now CPG’s leaders were judged mainly on their short-term business results.
Third, over the past couple of years, Bill’s biggest initiatives hadn’t reached their objectives.
Bill was in charge of R&D for the company’s paper goods business, its biggest division. Paper goods had suffered two bad years in a row, and people had begun pointing fingers at R&D.
Now, faced with a three-rating for the first time in his career, Bill felt humiliated.
“I think we should talk about what this means for your path ahead,” Diana said.
“Yes,” he said. “I guess we should.”
She stood up, folded her arms and began pacing.
“First,” she said, “let’s talk about your options.”
“Options” was a loaded word at CPG, especially when it came to career discussions.
“At this point, I see three options for you, Bill. First, you can stay in your position and try to continue to compete. But if you’re two-rated again next year ... Well, as you know, you’d be counseled out.”
Counseled out? Bill felt queasy.
“Second, we could try to find you another position in the company.”
Hearing Diana say “we” made Bill feel CPG was a club and that his membership was tenuous.
“Third, we could find a way to retire.”
Diana stopped pacing, looked at Bill and smiled.
“Not immediately,” she said. “I was thinking over the next few months or so.”
“The next few months?”
“Yes. I have a few retirement packages available to me. If we move on this soon, I should be able to get you full retirement benefits.”
So that’s what this is about, Bill thought. They’re trying to get rid of me.
Bill had indeed thought about retirement. But he still had kids in college and was hoping to work at least another few years.
“Diana, this is a lot to think about,” he said. “If it’s okay, I’d like to take some time to think about what you’ve said and talk it over with a few people.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “How much time do you think you’ll need?”
He resented her pushiness.
“I don’t know. A week?”
“How about we reconvene in two days?”
He was stunned by her callousness. But he said yes, and they agreed to get back together in two days.
“Thank you,” she said, extending her hand.
He stood up, shook her hand and looked into her eyes. He expected to see something warm there, something that reflected an appreciation for all he had done for her, maybe even a tear.
But instead her eyes were cold, and he felt violated.
Bill went home that evening and talked with his wife, Karen. He told her everything. She was stunned.
“How could they do this to you?” she blurted out.
She wasn’t upset about Bill retiring. She welcomed that. She was upset about the way he had been treated.
“I don’t know,” Bill said.
“Oh, Bill,” she said, embracing him. “I’m sorry.”
Over dinner, Bill told Karen he had already decided to retire.
“Good,” she said.
“So I guess it’s just a matter of when.”
“Well, retiring in time for the holidays would be nice.”
The next morning, Bill called his financial advisor to make an appointment. He knew he had plenty of money. But now he would need to begin drawing it down sooner.
That afternoon, Diana’s office called down for Bill. Her secretary said she would like to see him right away.
When Bill got there, Diana was sitting at her desk. She looked dazed. Her face was pale.
“Bill,” she said softly. “Please come in and shut the door.”
“Is everything okay?” he asked, sitting down.
“No,” she said. “I’ve just talked with Arun and Emily. They’re leaving.”
Arun and Emily were R&D directors too. Bill had hired both of them.
“Better opportunities elsewhere,” she said, “and apparently they’ve not cared much for the way they’ve been treated around here lately.”
Bill knew what this meant. A defection like this could put the business at risk, and it reflected poorly on Diana.
He felt bad for her. At the same time, he knew Diana’s tough ways had finally caught up with her. Bill also knew that if he left now, Diana would be toast.
He looked at her face. The chill in her eyes was gone. In its place, he saw pain.
“How can I help?” he said.
“I knew you would ask that,” she said with a smile.
They sat together and worked out a new plan. It called for Bill to take on a new role, working to strengthen the entire R&D organization, including helping Diana get the right leadership team in place. Once things were back on track, Bill would retire.
Diana looked greatly relieved, and Bill was happy for her. At the same time, he had to wonder: once R&D was back in good shape, would she honor their agreement or simply cut him loose?
“Diana,” he said, “there is one thing I’d like to ask of you.”
“I’d like a three-year guarantee on my assignment and a 25 percent pay increase.”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, Bill,” she said with a nervous laugh, “I’m game, but I’ll need approval.”
“I’m trying to finalize my retirement plan,” he said. “I’ll need your answer in the morning.”
“Okay,” she said. “In that case, I’ll give you my answer now. It’s yes.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“Let me ask you something,” she said. “What was your answer going to be, I mean based on our conversation yesterday?”
“I was going to retire.”
“But you could have done that just now. Why didn’t you?”
Bill leaned in and looked her in the eye.
“Leaders know when to give and when to take,” he said. “I needed to see that from you today.”