On People Leaving a Department

I recently fielded a question in a department ask-me-anything (AMA) session noting that a few folks have left our department recently, and asking what I thought about it. I thought I would share a lightly-edited version of what I wrote:

In general, I assume that when someone joins my department, it will be for a finite period of time; it would be really unusual to hire someone right out of college and have them work in our department until they retire! So: how long will someone work for us?

In general, I think a couple of things have to be in alignment: (1) the individual has to bring skills, experience, and performance that are relevant to what the role requires (i.e. the person is a good fit for the role); and (2) the role has to offer someone the ability to work on things they are interested in and opportunities to learn things they want to learn (i.e. the role is a good fit for the person). When one of those things isn’t true, it’s time to part ways.

It may be that the business context changes what is needed for a role, or changes what projects are available. It may be that techniques evolve and there is less opportunity to do something you enjoyed or maybe there is a growing need to do something you enjoy doing less. Maybe a role evolves in a way that means you are not actually as good at it. Maybe you have learned everything you want to learn from a position. Maybe your interests change! These are all fine, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the individual or the department is doing anything wrong. It’s just not a fit anymore.

My management team and I believe so strongly in helping people advance in their careers that we are willing to have transparent discussions about whether this 2-way fit still exists, and if it doesn’t, to help someone find a better fit if we can (especially somewhere else in the company). I have definitely had folks promoted out of my department and have been super happy for them to have a great opportunity they are excited about.

In addition, if there is something we seem to do exceptionally well as a department, it is to attract and hire really amazingly smart, friendly, and creative people. So I also look at someone “graduating” from my department as a new opportunity to find another person I really like working with!