Why Talented People Leave Corporate America
by Arba Tucker - June 2000

This is not a story of oppression. Itís a story of suppression. A story about how a person with a gallon of capability is limited to a pint-sized position. Iím telling this story to enlighten those who have the power to make a difference and counsel those who know the ones in power really donít care. Which one are you?

Who Am I? 

I could describe myself based on one of the many personality tests that some managers have subjected me to in an effort to chart me on a graph. Managers who lack people skills would rather characterize me as an ESTJ instead of relating to me as a unique individual without limitations. I was an honor student in high school in addition to all my extra-curricular activities such as sports, drama, piano and dance. My parents supported the many activities that interested me as long as I enjoyed them and continued to achieve good grades. My high achievements in school coupled with my other abilities awarded me a full scholarship to an accreditable four-year college. The support of my parents and my relationship with God nourished my belief that the world is a big playground and I am free to explore it as long as I follow the rules.

The Hook 

With my Bachelors Degree in Electrical Engineering in hand I set out to find a company that would allow me to have fun on their playground. I was recruited by a company with a global playground and a large variety of opportunities to explore. I was so excited to give my contributions to the company in exchange for my skill development. I had a variety of opportunities such as customer technical support, technical sales, marketing, technical training and leadership development. The more I contributed, the more I developed and the more I was compensated for my value to the company. I liked this game.

The Line 

After 11 years I became more visible in the company from being exposed to so many different functions. I was selected to be a participant in a program focused on the development of future leaders. I was so excited about the opportunities that "lie" ahead. Shortly after I started the program, my organization went through a job reclassification. My job scope was systematically reduced two levels. I was only one level above what I started out of college! 

One of the key components to the success of a leadership program is management sponsorship. Due to the job reclassification, my manager changed jobs. I then reported to the next level manager who shortly retired. His replacement quickly handed me off to another manager in the department who was working on special projects. All this shuffling around transpired in five months. It was difficult to get the management sponsorship necessary for my success. 

My new manager did take the time to truly get to know me and soon realized all the potential I had. Although she couldnít change my job scope, she knew the rules of the game and compensated me accordingly with a high rank and salary. Unfortunately, she too moved on to another job. I was left on the playground again without a coach. 

The Sinker 

I was desperately yearning to get back in the game when I was presented with an "opportunity". This was a momentous project that didnít have a team. The project was highly visible and very critical. It would be a stretch but thatís what excited me. After further investigation I decided to become a full-time member of the team. Everyone on the team was new and we had limited resources. I worked endless hours on this project because I was committed to the success of our team. I also knew that I needed to perform above and beyond my objectives in order to move ahead. 

I saw so many ways that I could contribute and add value. Others also realized my contributions and expertise. I was asked to work on many tasks and was involved in many decisions. I was hearing good reports back from my manager, peers and people that I supported. I finally felt like I was back on track. 

Things were going so well that I was selected to attend a pilot program for leaders making change in the company. I requested to have a discussion with my manager to align our expectations before I attended this program. We started the meeting with the usual conversation about my goals, strengths and development areas. 

Then my manager pulled out a single sheet of paper called "Ranking Brief". My eyes immediately fell on the proposed rank that was clearly listed on the top. I froze. My rank was reduced! The explanation I was told was that one person in our department didnít have a good experience working with me. Therefore my manager thinks that I need to develop my patience, communication style and act mature in all situations. After all the risk taking, hard work and accomplishments I made, my rank was reduced based on one personís viewpoint. Is that truly relative ranking or is that subjective thinking? 

I challenged my manager for more data but she stuck to her beliefs. When I asked her why she didnít alert me earlier and provide coaching, she said she would start to have weekly meetings with me from now on. Itís too late. The damage is done! Besides, if she took the time to read any of my past performance evaluations she would see that communication is one of my greatest strengths! 

After realizing that she wasnít going to budge in her analysis, we stood up to leave. Then I remembered to ask about my salary. She pulled out the salary sheets with her notes about me. She pointed out the fact that my current salary was above last yearís scale and questioned how it was approved. She decided instead of reducing my current salary to just leave it the same. 

I was totally devastated. After 11 years of consistent, valuable and dedicated work my job scope, rank, and salary have all been reduced. I felt betrayed. Is this the reward and recognition given to the future leaders of the company? 

The Rules Must Change 

I know that God has enabled me to be a strong person with many capabilities beyond what is required for Corporate America. We are told to think "out of the box" but our rewards are limited to a fixed salary curve. Executives are always analyzing how to retain their top talent. High performers cannot be retained until poor managers no longer remain. Itís all a game. Whoís the referee? We decide how long we want to play or we just find another playground. Would you rather change the rules or keep changing players? 

"I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." Ė Philippians 4:13