I Was Smart Enough to Test My Future Manager Before Committing to Her

How to escape from a nasty version of corporate Game of Thrones

Eva Grape
Eva Grape
Apr 18 · 10 min read

I had a fair share of managers by the time I reached 30. Most of them bad, so I knew that he's a keeper when I got a good one. We’ve been working together for five years now, and I wouldn’t change him without being absolutely sure that the next one is at least as good as him. After all, you know that “80% of the job satisfaction is due to your manager”.

So when I recently had to decide if I’ll change managers, I knew I had to go through a challenging decision-making process that included factoring in multiple variables.

My process helped me make a decision that makes it easy to sleep on and possibly saved me a lot of stress and resentment.

I have been there since its beginning. I helped establish the team, its processes, its services, its vision, and its strategy. I was 150% in it, day in, day out. My job was not the regular 9–5. I was available whenever needed. I watched people come and leave while I have been the only one to stand by my boss.

It’s safe to say that I earned my right to do less and more meaningful work. My boss appreciates and rewards loyalty. He is, generally speaking, a very nice person and an excellent people manager. However, I know I get the special treatment even if he doesn’t say so.

For once, I get to choose what I want to do at work. When he asked me to return earlier from maternity leave just because he needed an extra pair of eyes and my brain to discuss ideas and perform sanity checks, I negotiated my return, asking for flexibility. It was an easy negotiation because he’s a person that values family time and work-life balance. He knew that as a new mother, my priority is my child. But he was willing to take as little as I could offer, which made me appreciate him even more.

My boss was patient with me. He left me plenty of time to accommodate my return to work by setting my own schedule and pace for delivering on my responsibilities. He never pushed, he never asked for more, and he always praised my work.

When I finally managed to resume my normal productivity levels by enrolling my kid into daycare, I was relieved to know that I will now be able to repay his kindness by contributing to our team’s success.

Only that a nasty version of corporate Game of Thrones started, and we had suddenly woke up in a fast-paced power play aimed to dismantle our team.

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom where people lived in peace. This kingdom served other related kingdoms in the realm, and everyone was happy. But then, one day, one of the other kingdoms wanted more. They liked what my kingdom had, and they went after it. It onboarded into a mission to dismantle my home, piece by piece.

It all began when I was away on maternity leave. I heard about a new team in a different part of the organization doing pretty much what we were doing successfully for quite some time. When I looked at it, it didn’t add up as to why we needed two of us doing the same thing — and for a good reason. Additionally, the outrageous thing was that their name was closely similar to ours, which sent the message — for those that wanted to read it, at least — that they were after us. Long term, it could only mean that there will be a place just for one team owing in that particular area, and I hang on to the hope that it will be ours until the very moment.

At the end of the last year, which anyway came with so many challenges due to Covid-19, organizational change was in the air. Some people started moving, leaving, getting hired, or promoted.

We started to worry — at least, I did, that we will soon hear about changes. Beginning of this year, it finally reached us too. When I heard that it was not us but another team moving, I breathed out in relief.

But they only started. You can read about what happened next here.

So, if I’m holding to the Game of Thrones parallel with my work situation, then this manager I should have gotten in exchange for my compassionate and caring manager would be fucking Cersei Lannister.

Which is why I’m going to stick to C. when further referring to her.

I received one meeting invite from my manager a day before, scheduled for noon. It didn’t say anything in the description, and the event name was short: “On strategy.” I have accepted the meeting only to receive a similar invitation topic, for early morning. My boss sent the second one close to midnight, so I got to see it just when I woke up.

I knew it was trouble. He hasn’t called in for two meetings at once because he knew I’d start ruminating, and he couldn’t say anything before the actual meetings.

I took my son to kindergarten, dropped him off, and returned home to attend the meeting. When my boss told me the news, it crushed me.

Last week, my immediate manager informed me that I have to leave the team and move to a different part of the organization due to top-level management discussions and planning. It wasn’t an ultimate decision; still, it was a strongly suggested direction.

I cried my heart out and then collected myself for the second meeting at lunch. It was the meeting with C.

At first, the logical thing that I believed I would do was accept the situation and move, only that it wasn’t that easy. C. was a visible person in the organization, which is part of her strategy to gain power through exposure. When I met her in the meeting, she didn’t express the kind of leadership attitude I expected in her role. Oppositely, I remarked a weak trembling in her voice, like the one you get when you’re cold.

We chatted for a bit. She asked about my experience, which I presented briefly, without trying to convince her with anything — as I did not regard this meeting as an interview where I’d want to impress.

At the end of the 30 minutes, I surprised myself by saying that I need a couple of days to think about it because everything was so new, and I was obviously emotional about the whole situation. She agreed, and we decided to synchronize the following Monday. This was Thursday.

My boss wanted to remain impartial, and I could see how much he was trying not to bias us, but I started to understand that he wanted us (me and my other two colleagues) to stay when he kept saying that if we're going to stay, we’ll find a way to make it work.

In my mind, though, I knew that was merely an illusion. Many management books persistently advocate employee involvement as key in change management during massive organizational changes like the one I was finding myself in.

Still — I know it, and you know it — there’s a long road from theory to practice, so often, the involvement is more on paper than in reality. Consequently, as much as I wanted to believe my boss that we had the choice, my mind told me that I should stick to the plan and move.

Monday morning came. I realized I hadn’t met my current and my potential future boss in the same room, so I kindly requested C. to have this meeting in this trio format. She accepted.

This was the first meeting when we started negotiating terms.

The first thing on the table was that I, together with my colleagues who would have become my direct reports, would transfer as long as we were had the option to sit together again in half a year and assess the situation with more permanence in mind. Namely, I wanted to let C. know that I accept the transfer, but since it was brute-forced, I’d like to have the chance to reconsider after we successfully transferred the portfolio.

The second thing we brought up was my request to collaborate with my former team to mitigate the sudden leave and help them reestablish their strategy. She was more inclined towards a clean cut. Which I can understand from her position, but gave me intense anxiety, so I tried to avoid at all price.

I knew since then she didn’t like my approach.

She called in for a follow-up meeting slightly later, without my boss this time. I have reiterated that I want to maintain contact with my former team if I were to be transferred, and she accepted. Quite easily. However, I could feel that she was very adamant regarding the six-month reevaluation proposal. It gave her the impression that I had my eye on the exit door — which was entirely accurate.

C. realized that I’m not all in. So, she asked to have another meeting with my colleagues too.

The next day we had the meeting. For the most part, I was silent, leaving my colleagues and C. to introduce themselves to each other. We were told we are a package deal, so all or none will go. After the meeting, they said that as long as we’re all together, we will stick to the plan and move. I had one thing to bring up in that meeting, and that was the logistics regarding the roles and the salary increase, which had to be fixed for my colleagues, regardless of the team. C. didn’t say anything in that meeting, so I asked for a follow-up the following day.

I barely slept that night. Around 3 a.m., my son, who had a restless sleep, woke me up searching the n-th time that night for the boob, so I couldn’t go back to sleep even though the previous nights were pretty much the same.

Sleep-deprived in the morning, I had a plan.

I stepped into the meeting boldly. I knew how I’ll introduce each topic and how I’ll present my case. I was ready to discuss numbers, and if anything less than what I had in mind, it would not have worth the effort. Even so, if she would have said yes, I would have moved reluctantly towards the future, knowing that this was a game of dominance where the personnel was caught in the middle.

My rhetoric was flawless. I advanced the topic of compensation seamlessly, building my case logically. We were in demand in both teams, so negotiation was in order.

C. was as surprised to hear about it as I was when she told me that this is off the table. She said that this is not a normal practice for transfers. I argued that this was not a normal circumstance anyway, so we should be flexible. She highlighted that this would probably not happen, so I’ll have to fix any salary discussions with my former manager during the yearly salary adjustment process.

So, wait a second. Do I hear you right? I’m to be transferred to you, and you’re sending me to ask for a raise to my soon-to-be-former-boss, which will anyway be paid from your budget from now on? I might be sleep-deprived, but I’m not stupid.

To this, she added that we might discuss money in several months after I prove myself. So, if I understand you correctly, you're telling me that I need to prove to you when I wasn’t the one requesting to move, but you needed me? What kind of logic gap is this? To say it nicely!

This was the point when my blood pressure went off the roof, and I felt I was choking on how stupid and naive this woman thought I was. I felt insulted. So, to save us the pain, I managed to collect myself and thank her for the “insight,” mentioning that we’ll have to reconsider our intentions to move in this new light.

It was a damn bold move, and I couldn’t go back. Even if she had secured a, let’s say, 10%, she would have made sure that I pay for it. I told my boss what I did, and I informed him that if they keep us, we’ll stay.

He was glowing. I haven’t seen this light on his face in months. It felt like the right decision.

But this wasn’t over yet.

The next day, top management at my current company asked for “alignment.” We all know that means — I screwed up.

He told me that C. told him about my move, which was rude and inappropriate. Excuse me? In which world, negotiation — which by the way, she absolutely took off the table — is seen as “rude” and “inappropriate”? I wasn’t even interested in my own salary here, but as a future manager, I wanted to make sure my direct reports will have the chance to discuss it, so I was merely preparing the talks. As a manager, it’s part of your role description to negotiate — if someone is telling you otherwise, that person expects you to be a puppet.

I was not signing up for this.

I realized that by negotiating or wanting to negotiate, for that matter — I learned two valuable things: a) this person doesn’t care about personnel; b) she’s a spiteful person (again, to put it lightly). And I want to be very far away from this kind of people.

Unfortunately, C. needed three headcounts, and she took one of my colleagues, dismantling my team yet again. But more about this, in a future story.

Working Moms

Take your power back

Eva Grape

Written by

Eva Grape

Editor of: The Venting Machine, Working Moms, and The Husband Chronicles. IT professional. I cover parenting, relationships, mental health.

Working Moms

Supporting and lifting the community of working mothers. Because we need to take our power back

Eva Grape

Written by

Eva Grape

Editor of: The Venting Machine, Working Moms, and The Husband Chronicles. IT professional. I cover parenting, relationships, mental health.

Working Moms

Supporting and lifting the community of working mothers. Because we need to take our power back

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