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The clear and present danger of internal transfer

August 4th, 2009 · 13 Comments

My phone rang. Looking at the number on the phone display, I knew it was from Jeff, director of the group I was going to transfer to. We last spoke exactly 48 hours ago. In the end of our meeting, I officially accepted his offer to join his team and reported directly to him.

Somehow I felt a sense of anxiety when I picked up the phone.

"Hi, Jeff. What’s up?"

"Hi, congratulations again on accepting the job. There is one thing I want to talk to you about. I really should talk to you in person, but due to the urgency, I have to tell you over the phone."

"No problem. What’s going on?"

"I actually just made the decision last night to leave the company. I just want to let you know. Nothing will change. Ken will take over my job, and you’ll report to him. But, as you know, we think very highly of you. Nothing will change."

"So, you made up your mind after we spoke exactly 48 hours ago?" I didn’t believe him.

"Yeah. It’s a really hard decision. I have a couple of buddies who’re staring a new company. I’m going to join them."

He totally screwed me up. As a company policy, I must get my own manager’s permission before I interviewed internally. My manager had tried hard to keep me. But, once I told him that I’ve made up my mind to transfer, he had already posted my job descriptions and started to interview people.

I had no choice but to join the new group. Later, through a mutual friend, I found out that Jeff had decided to leave about two months ago. But, he didn’t want to burn any bridge with his boss. He promised his boss that he would fill the opening on his team before he left. Therefore, he "withheld" his little secret and pushed me hard to accept the offer.

The worst part of this story was that Ken was known throughout the company as a very difficult boss with a big ego. Nobody would have wanted to work for him. However, he was a buddy with the Senior VP. So, he was untouchable in the organization.

I had to make a lemonade out of lemon. I worked really hard to grow team and deliver projects. We hit 3 aggressive deadlines, which was unprecedented in the department’s history. I took a proactive approach to manage up. My egomaniac boss gave me a really hard time. But, I tried hard to maintain my composure, and be professional in dealing with him.

But, I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate the lack of transparency and professionalism in the internal transfer process. This is a Fortune 500 company that promotes career flexibility within the company. In fact, it encourages employees to move around within the company. But, internal transfer could be extremely painful for an employee. Later I found out that my experience was not an exception. It’s the norm.

Here are five lessons I have learned about internal transfer:

  1. Expect the unexpected. 
  2. Internal transfer could leave an employee in limbo — your old group doesn’t want you, and  your new group is not ready to accept you. 
  3. Although almost all employers require employees to get permission from their current managers before they interview with other groups, employees should try to have “informational interviews” or “informal interviews” with the new groups first. And the employees should have reasonable level of confidence that he or she will get the job before breaking the topic with current manager.
  4. As an employee, you need to protect your downside. Instead of interviewing with internal groups only, you should also interview with other companies Ideally, you want to have options both inside and outside of your current employer.
  5. Internal transfer could take long time. It’s not unusually to take 3-6 months for an internal transfer to complete. Manage your expectation accordingly.

Just a few months ago, a friend of mine started to interview internally at a leading enterprise software company in the bay area. He started in January, 2009. He just officially transferred to his new group a couple of weeks ago. He had to jump through many hoops. His experience was strikingly similar to my experience.

How is your internal transfer experience? Smooth? Painful? In between? I’d like to hear.

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  • Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work
  • Tags: Career Fast Track · Frustration@Work

    13 responses so far ↓

    • 1 aiko // Aug 10, 2009 at 7:11 am

      at least you made the transfer. i am not that lucky; my current boss won't let me go. it's understandable because nobody wants to lose his resource in such an economic downturn, which means there won't be a headcount for backfill. and i doubt the boss of the new group will fight for me.
      so what i learned from the experience is maybe find a new job is much easier 😉

    • 2 GeekMBA360 // Aug 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      You're right — going through an internal transfer requires you to jump through a lot of hoops. It's not a sure thing. That's why I recommend folks to interview both internally and externally even though your intention is to have an internal transfer. There are a lot of factors that are out of employee's control when it comes to internal transfer.

      But, in your case, it sounds that your boss really wants to keep you. In this economy, I would say that it's a good “problem” for you to have. 🙂

    • 3 nos1 // Aug 15, 2009 at 11:53 am

      I gave my cv to another department within our plc. spoke to the managers informally, they basically wanted to know my reasons for leaving and said theyd be happy to have me but they would need to check with HR how make the transfer smooth. I stated I would make my manager aware that i've accepted your offer and make sure its me that approached you, so you are not accused of 'stealing other staff'

      I did this, my manager was happy i let her know prior to her finding out from a third party. Anyway, she said to leave it with her, she cant specify a start date but thanks for telling her.

      the following day i went to the manager of the other department and they stated the following: you need to fill in an internal application form, your managers in your current post have kicked up a major fuss, the politics behind the move have been blown up. and as things are economically and how my department are not doing as well as they had hoped, they want it done properly. So i filled in the internal form and spoke to HR who confirmed that yes it should be done properly, to make the move easier and quicker.

      In the afternoon, my current manager approached me and we had a quiet chat. she basically stated, the way the other dept dealt with me is incorrect and they should of brought it to my attention first so i could advise them that we are at our staff threshold and we would need to replace you prior. so she apoligised on their behalf for getting my hopes up. i said no problem i did fill in the form for you.

      she continued..

      since speaking with the operations director of my area , he has written emails to the other dept accusing them of stealing staff, incorrect practice and will be discussing issues raised with their director on monday to put a bar if you will on any employee from specifically my dept moving for the forseable future. my manager stressed that this was temporary, and for the good of the business but at the moment you are not going any where.

      any advice? should i speak to the other dept management again or HR? should i speak to my director directly? or shall i leave it and apply externally. also can i have hand in my notice of 1 month to my current post then re apply externally to the other dept (if they can gurantee my acceptance) people have left the business and returned.

      thankyou

    • 4 GeekMBA360 // Aug 17, 2009 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks for your question. Sorry for the late reply — I was away for the weekend.

      I think you've done the right thing throughout the process so far — you informally talked to the other department's manager, you made sure you broke the news to your manager first, and you followed the company's HR process.

      From what you described, it seems to me that there is a political turf war between your department's director and the other department's director. It has nothing to do with what you did — there is simply some bad bloods between the two directors for whatever reason. Your transfer serves as an “excuse” for them to pick a fight.

      It's also quite possible that your current manager is not fully aware of the political situation — so, your manager might think it's OK for you to transfer when you told her the news. But, when she talked to her boss, her boss didn't approve for the political reason. To keep her job, your boss had to change her position on this.

      At this point, given the escalated political situation, I think you need to protect yourself first and let the situation calm down. Don't add more gas to the fire. 🙂

      I'd keep yourself quiet, and follow what your manager and director told you. Keep yourself quiet for the next few weeks, and see how things proceed. Also, make sure you continue to maintain a good relationship with your manager and director. It's possible that the director of your group is simply making a political gesture, and he will be okay with your transfer in the end. But, only time can tell. So, be patient and wait for a few weeks.

      Don't talk to HR. They're not your personal counselor! 🙂 Their #1 job is to make sure the company doesn't get sued. They'll tell you to follow the standard company process. I would stay away from HR.

      Regarding interviewing externally, I think you're not at risk to stay at your current job. But, if you're tired of your current job/group, you should start interviewing externally as a back-up.

      Regarding quitting first and then apply the other group, it's pretty risky. How much does the new group like you? Does this new group work closely with your current group? There are a lot of uncertainties in this approach. I personally wouldn't do it.

      I'll stop here. Let me know if you've any questions.

    • 5 john_Citizen // Dec 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm

      I had a jerk for a boss. I came into work every day for almost 2 months to meet a ridiculous deadline he set, and then he had the nerve to call me into his office to complain. That's when I knew I had to get out.

      So I approached another manager about transferring to his program. He ageed and I asked him to please tell my existing boss I wanted to transfer to this program. Hoping not to make a big scene about moving and since other people had been allowed to transfer to his program.

      That was a mistake. My boss told him I was to valuable to transfer and blocked it. Since there wasn't a real formal transfer policy in place, he could block it apparently..

      Eventually, I had to go to his boss, and mention that the work was slowing down and I would like to transfer. Apparently that was another mistake, because now he acts angry I want to transfer. Eventually I got the transfer, but not before he gave me a bad review the day before I transferred. He was basicly blocking my transfer for that reason.

    • 6 GeekMBA360 // Dec 25, 2009 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks for the comments! I'm sorry to hear what you went through. Your boss was quite ethical . At least you ended up in a different group in the end. Did you get a chance to explain to your new manager about the review given by your old manager? It'd be good to start with a clean plate, and not haunted again by your previous bad boss.

    • 7 john_Citizen // Dec 25, 2009 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks, I've been out of that group for a year now, but as you can see I'm still trying to understand the experience. I actually wrote a letter to HR with a copy of my timecards during this period to show the effort I had put in. Probably not a smart thing to do,but I had to say something to someone.

      There are policies in our HR that address the problem of managers punishing people for requesting a transfer which I hinted at. I knew nothing would come of the letter, but I wanted to make sure he knew I knew the game he was playing and wanted HR to know the kind of effort I had put in, and how I was rewarded.

      I've been happy in the new group.

    • 8 GeekMBA360 // Dec 25, 2009 at 6:43 pm

      I'm glad that it worked out for you. It's great that you reached out to HR and let them know how hard you've been working, and how much effort you've put in.

      On a different note, I think HR tends to have short memories. After a year or two, they don't really remember your past unfavorable reviews. Business is all about “what you have done for me lately”, good or bad, depending on the situation. 🙂

    • 9 john_Citizen // Dec 25, 2009 at 9:03 pm

      I had a difficult boss. I came into work every day for 2 months working 70 hrs+ to meet a ridiculous deadline he had set, afterwards he called me into his office to complain. That's when I knew I had to get out.

      I approached another manager I had previously worked with about transferring to his program. He agreed and I asked him to please speak to my existing boss, hoping not to make a big scene since other people had previously transferred to his program.

      That was a mistake apparently. My boss told him I was to valuable to transfer and blocked it. Since there wasn't a real formal transfer policy in place, he could block it.

      Eventually, I went to his boss, and as delicately as I could mentioned the work was slowing down and I would like to transfer to the other program. Apparently that was another mistake, because now they act angry I want to transfer. He blocked my transfer for 6 more months until he could give me a bad review and save face. Magicly the day after the review, I can start work in the new group.

    • 10 GeekMBA360 // Dec 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks for the comments! I'm sorry to hear what you went through. Your boss was quite ethical . At least you ended up in a different group in the end. Did you get a chance to explain to your new manager about the review given by your old manager? It'd be good to start with a clean plate, and not haunted again by your previous bad boss.

    • 11 john_Citizen // Dec 25, 2009 at 10:42 pm

      Thanks, I've been out of that group for a year now, but as you can see I'm still trying to understand the experience. I actually wrote a letter to HR with a copy of my timecards during this period to show the effort I had put in. Probably not a smart thing to do,but I had to say something to someone.

      There are policies in our HR that address the problem of managers punishing people for requesting a transfer which I hinted at. I knew nothing would come of the letter, but I wanted to make sure he knew I knew the game he was playing and wanted HR to know the kind of effort I had put in, and how I was rewarded.

      I've been happy in the new group.

    • 12 GeekMBA360 // Dec 25, 2009 at 11:43 pm

      I'm glad that it worked out for you. It's great that you reached out to HR and let them know how hard you've been working, and how much effort you've put in.

      On a different note, I think HR tends to have short memories. After a year or two, they don't really remember your past unfavorable reviews. Business is all about “what you have done for me lately”, good or bad, depending on the situation. 🙂

    • 13 Tyrese12 // Aug 16, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Hi

      your advise is very helpful and you guide me through my work problem. I was promoted to a supervisor, soon after found out that both my managers and director are unethical. Every month since be coming a supervisor I have been given written warning, amoung other unprofessional things that take place and the politics that going on, I am extremly frustrated and went to my Sr. director mentioning to him that I do'nt want to be in that department. On top of this, my brother was murdered and a staff made an unfriendly comment and I be came over whemed by this nasty comment and again I was written up and the staff did not receive anything for this comment that got me angry. I have interveiwed with to areas but they want me to cross train and if a position opens I may get it. I need my job but how can I seccessfully transfer out of this hell hole………Please help me!!!!!!!!!

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