How Leaders Can Retain Employees: With Annabelle Picker

The topic of retaining talent has been coming up A LOT lately. Although there are many reasons why employees leave jobs, the most common cause is leaders who lack coaching skills.

Annabelle Picker worked for a company for about 2 years. She recently went on maternity leave, and as she was preparing herself to go back and was ready to take the next step in the company, her manager told her that a promotion wouldn’t be possible for at least a year!

This caused Annabelle to make a tough decision for herself and her family, but now she doesn’t know how to break the news to her manager.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. You have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching Podcast, where we invite leaders from all over the world to come onto the podcast and get coached live and in person.

Today I have a guest for Montreal. Her name is Annabelle Picker and she is in the middle or at the end of her mat leave, and she has some important decisions that she wants to make. Annabelle, welcome.

[00:00:36] Annabelle Picker: Yes. Thank you. Thank you, Kim. Thanks for the introduction.

[00:00:41] Kim Ades: So I didn't give a lot of detail other than the mat leave thing, but maybe you can fill us in. What's going on? Where were you working before mat leave? What is happening? And share with us the decisions that you're trying to make right now.

[00:00:56] Annabelle Picker: Yes. So, before my mat leave, I was working at EY, so Ernst and Young. It's a pretty big and worldwide organization specialized in audits and consulting in strategy and management. So I work in the talent team and I'm a manager of a business unit within that company. So I went on mat leave, and...

So, here in Canada, for the people who don't know, we have a pretty extensive mat leave, which lasts a year. So I was still kind of involved into the activities within my company during my mat leave. When I say that, I mean, my manager was still like, reaching out to me, giving me some news about the team and everything that was going on.

And so one day she reached out to me, a few weeks ago and she wanted to know like, what is my plan? What do I have in mind for my return, and I explicitly mentioned that when I'm back, I really want to grow, evolve, and have more responsibilities. So basically I told her that I really want to get promoted pretty soon after I come back.

[00:02:19] Kim Ades: In your mind, what does pretty soon mean?

[00:02:24] Annabelle Picker: Let's say I was about to come back in June, so June 30th, I thought that I would do, let's say, two to three months before I can get a promotion.

[00:02:36] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:02:36] Annabelle Picker: Because before I left, I was working for a little bit more than two years.

[00:02:42] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:02:43] Annabelle Picker: At the same position, though. So I really believe that I was eligible for a promotion, even if I was on mat leave for a year, because that year, as you may know, or may not, if you didn't go on mat leave yet, it's not a year off. Like, you're still growing, you're still learning so many things, and this is what happened for me.

During my mat leave, I really have this feeling that I grew so much. I've gained so many new skills, that I still feel like I'm very eligible to have a promotion when I'm back. So that's where my request was coming from.

[00:03:19] Kim Ades: Okay. So, then what happened? So you said "I'm hoping to get a promotion within two to three months of my return".

[00:03:27] Annabelle Picker: Yeah.

[00:03:27] Kim Ades: Okay. And then what happened?

[00:03:29] Annabelle Picker: And then what happened, she mentioned that it's not likely to happen. Although they're really happy with my work and they're really excited to having me back, I wouldn't be promoted within a year or more.

[00:03:48] Kim Ades: Or more?

[00:03:50] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, that is what she mentioned. And it was a kind of a shock for me because this is really not aligned to my career plan, I wouldn't see myself coming back at the same position as I was before my mat leave and stayed there for a year or more. So, yeah, it was a kind of shock for me.

So I decided that I would go on the market, and look around if there is any interesting opportunities for me. And I really like the industry that I'm working in, so the consulting industry. So, the logical next step for me was to go in a bigger or more well renowned firm in the consulting area, right?

[00:04:38] Kim Ades: Yeah.

[00:04:38] Annabelle Picker: So after a while, like the next one, the best one would be either McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, or BCG, the Boston Consulting Group. And so I saw this amazing opportunity at the Boston Consulting Group and I applied. Well, I reached out to a few people and I applied and so, they happened to like my profile and they made me an offer.

[00:05:05] Kim Ades: Okay. And it's a good offer?

[00:05:07] Annabelle Picker: It's an amazing offer. It's exactly what I had in mind when I meant being promoted at EY. So it's the next... Even two steps higher than my current role. Right?

[00:05:23] Kim Ades: Yeah.

[00:05:23] Annabelle Picker: So I'm currently a Talent Lead and I would become a Senior Manager.

[00:05:30] Kim Ades: Okay. And you feel equipped to do that?

[00:05:33] Annabelle Picker: Definitely, because I've been in the recruitment sector and area for 10 years now, nine years, almost 10. I've been managing teams. I'm really ready for more. So I feel really well equipped for that, for sure.

[00:05:49] Kim Ades: Okay. So what's the issue? They were looking forward to having you back, but now you found a better role, a better job.

[00:05:56] Annabelle Picker: Yeah.

[00:05:56] Kim Ades: A better position.

[00:05:58] Annabelle Picker: Yes.

[00:05:58] Kim Ades: So, do you feel uncomfortable about letting them know? Or is there something else that you're still grappling with?

[00:06:07] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, so there are two things. First is obviously... yeah, I feel uncomfortable letting my current employer know that I found another role, because I know they were excited to having me back. And also there is the mat leave issue. So the mat leave issue is that when I went on mat leave, my current employer, so Ernst and Young, they gave me a topup on my salary, which means that they gave me money to... I hope, you know, what is a topup so [chuckles]

[00:06:41] Kim Ades: Actually, please describe it, because I don't know that all of our listeners have heard of a topup. So describe what that is.

[00:06:49] Annabelle Picker: Sure thing. So a topup is... let's say a compensation on the salary that I have during my mat leave. Well, during my mat leave, I have like the government and... How can I say that in English? It's like the money that the government pays me during my mat leave, but it's only like 70% of my salary. And during 17 weeks, my current employer, EY, gave me the rest to top up and to give me like, the same salary that I was used to have.

[00:07:25] Kim Ades: Okay, so for 17 weeks out of the year.

[00:07:29] Annabelle Picker: Exactly.

[00:07:30] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:07:30] Annabelle Picker: So which represents I think five months or so.

[00:07:35] Kim Ades: Okay, great. And did they give that to you at the beginning or at the end?

[00:07:39] Annabelle Picker: At the beginning.

[00:07:40] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:07:41] Annabelle Picker: Yeah. So it was the five first months of my mat leave.

[00:07:45] Kim Ades: Okay, great. And at that point, you thought you were gonna go back to EY.

[00:07:50] Annabelle Picker: Of course, of course. Of course there was no issue. And even then like... Yeah, there was no no brainer there. I was sure I was getting, going back to EY and so that's why I didn't even think about it. So now if I don't go back to EY or if I don't stay at EY for six months, I have to pay the money back.

[00:08:11] Kim Ades: Do you have to? How do you know?

[00:08:15] Annabelle Picker: It's a policy and a friend of mine told me so, and I think I read that in my contract, when I signed the paper, you know, when you go on mat leave and you sign papers. I saw that clause in the contract, so I have to pay the money back.

[00:08:29] Kim Ades: Okay. So the issue is that you wanna go to BCG and you don't wanna pay the money back.

[00:08:36] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, I would just like to negotiate about that because I believe the relationship was really good, and I know that everything is negotiable in a relationship, especially work relationship.

[00:08:47] Kim Ades: Yeah.

[00:08:48] Annabelle Picker: So I really would like to negotiate that. And so I would like to know how and why, and how I can word it, because at the same time, I know they are going to be disappointed kind of me leaving, and I come with another request, like, "Hey guys, I'm leaving and I don't wanna pay the money back".

This sounds to me like a very blunt message. So I would just like to know how to negotiate that, how I can put that, and also how I can put that in a way where I can keep the relationship well. I don't wanna leave them in a bad way, you know?

[00:09:26] Kim Ades: Yeah, yeah. And when you accepted BCG, did you agree to a start date?

[00:09:32] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, they asked me to start like in a week, and I was like, no, because I also have things to do, so I'm gonna start May 23rd.

[00:09:43] Kim Ades: Okay, so you're planning to start earlier than you were planning to go back to EY.

[00:09:49] Annabelle Picker: Exactly.

[00:09:50] Kim Ades: All right. So, let me just ask you one more question. If EY came back and said, "okay, fine. We'll give you the promotion and the raise and the position", would you take it?

[00:10:07] Annabelle Picker: No. No. I made my mind now and the BCG is a really, really good company. So it would anyways be like the next step of my career going up to BCG. See what I mean?

[00:10:22] Kim Ades: Right. So it's part of your career path.

[00:10:26] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, yeah. Honestly. And I doubt that knowing EY... Everything can happen though, but I doubt they would like, match the position and the salary at this point.

[00:10:36] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:10:37] Annabelle Picker: To be honest with you, I don't think I would stay anyways.

[00:10:39] Kim Ades: Yeah. So I think that there are two things and I don't wanna lump them together, right? The one part is to go back to your manager, who is... It sounds like you have a great relationship with this manager.

[00:10:50] Annabelle Picker: Yeah.

[00:10:50] Kim Ades: Because she was keeping in touch with you, she was keeping you in the loop, she was actively reaching out, all of that kind of stuff. So it sounds like she did a lot of the right things, except I also think she did something very wrong. And we're gonna talk a little bit about what you should do, but also I wanna kind of step back and... For those of you who are listening, understand that the way Annabelle's manager handled the situation was really weak, was very poor in helping Annabelle navigate some of the key issues that are important to her and really dramatically impact retention.

So Annabelle's manager, right? She didn't handle that question properly, when Annabel said "I'm ready to move up", Annabelle's manager said, "well, there's just no opportunity", so she closed the door for Annabelle. And when we have a young employee who's eager and talented and driven and wants to move up, the answer "no opportunity" will cause that person to turn and look elsewhere.

So one of the key components in retention is making sure that our young talented employees are clear about what the future looks like, they have a visibility to the future, they understand what the next steps are and when they would be happening.

So if Annabelle's manager said, "Hey, it probably won't happen in the next two to three months, but in six months it's really likely to happen", Annabelle probably wouldn't even look elsewhere. She'd say, "okay, fine. I could probably stick it out". But that's not what happened.

And so from the standpoint of recruiting and retention, it's super important for you to understand that Annabelle's manager was sorely lacking some coaching skills to help Annabelle see what was in it for her very quickly after she came back. Right? So coaching skills, with respect to recruiting and retention, are seriously very, very important.

Annabelle, in your case, there are two pieces. One is announcing the news, right? Telling your manager, "Hey, I'm leaving". Okay? And what you're doing right now is you're lumping two things together. "I'm leaving and I don't wanna pay you back".

And what I would say to you is don't do that. Separate the two issues, they are not the same discussion on the same day, at the same time. And they may not even be the same discussion with the same people. So one might be a finance discussion, an HR discussion, and one is a discussion with your manager.

And so the discussion with your manager kind of has to sound like, "Hey, I love you, I had a great time with you, you've been an amazing mentor for me. But it's time for me to... you know, it's very important for me to keep growing. And so I found another opportunity, and it's very important for me that we stay in touch", et cetera.

But what you wanna do is go in and say, "here are all the things I learned being here. I really, really enjoyed it, but the idea that there was no imminent growth wasn't something that I was comfortable with, and so I did look for another opportunity and I found something".

And so, you know, it's not always fun to deliver that news, but you have to deliver that news because I think she would appreciate you telling her as soon as possible. I'm sure she doesn't wanna hear it through the grapevine. But also I think it's important for her to understand, "man, I kind of made a mistake in not offering her a plan or not helping her see what her next move would be. I kind of just shut the door".

And so there's a value in providing feedback, okay? And in a way, you're providing feedback to say, "I have to take care of my family. I'm very interested in growth, and so here was the path for faster growth for me".

So that's part A, right? Like that discussion, and that discussion needs to be full of gratitude, full of appreciation, and also providing her a little bit of feedback on why you made a decision to move forward, which was, it didn't seem like there was an opportunity ahead. Like, there was nothing on the horizon, right? So that's conversation number one.

Conversation number two is, will they ask you to pay back the topup? And my advice on that front is to address it when it comes. So a lot of times we wanna address things ahead of time, we wanna kind of not be sitting ducks and wait for something to happen, but in this case, I think bringing it up, brings the issue more to the forefront and causes a little bit of a battle. Right?

And I think that in this case, it's wiser for you to wait and see what happens and see if they even ask you to pay back the topup. And if they do at that point, go back perhaps with the assistance of your manager, who you've managed to stay in touch with who you are going for lunch with and being on good terms with on a personal level, who might help you fight that battle.

[00:16:11] Annabelle Picker: Okay.

[00:16:12] Kim Ades: Right? And so you wanna separate the issues, don't lump them together. And as you do split up with your manager, you wanna make sure that you stay in touch, that you do connect, that you do go out for drinks or whatever, that you do have a really good conversation with her and maintain a friendship, so that while she's upset that you're leaving, her compassion, her caring for you, stays in place.

[00:16:39] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent.

[00:16:40] Kim Ades: Right?

[00:16:40] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:16:42] Kim Ades: Because you definitely don't wanna go saying "I'm leaving and I don't wanna pay you back".

[00:16:47] Annabelle Picker: No, no. At all. And this is not me, and this is not what I'm used to do. And this is just not the image that I wanna reflect anyways.

[00:16:56] Kim Ades: Yes.

[00:16:56] Annabelle Picker: So definitely. That's why I'm here, because I know you give great advice. So I just wanted to know how can I word that message in a very proper way. So thank you for that.

[00:17:06] Kim Ades: Yeah. I think that your primary concern is how do you sit down with your manager and say, "here's the decision I've made and here's why". And then the second piece is the topup.

[00:17:22] Annabelle Picker: Yeah.

[00:17:22] Kim Ades: And I think that you don't wanna have the battle around the topup with your manager.

[00:17:28] Annabelle Picker: No, no at all.

[00:17:29] Kim Ades: That's not your manager's even domain probably.

[00:17:33] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, exactly. And what do you think, or how would you do that? Like, if she brings this issue up during the conversation, so let's say we have the breakup discussion and she's like, "okay, but do you know that you're going to have to pay back the topup?"

[00:17:50] Kim Ades: What you say is, "oh my God, it didn't even occur to me".

[00:17:56] Annabelle Picker: Okay. [Chuckles]

[00:17:57] Kim Ades: And you say, "I'm hoping that somehow there's a way for us to negotiate that I can pay a portion back instead of all of it back".

[00:18:09] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.

[00:18:09] Kim Ades: You know, or something like that. "I hope there's a way for me to negotiate that, 'cause that would really, really affect me in a bad way". So you just leave it, right?

[00:18:19] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, yeah.

[00:18:20] Kim Ades: And you say, "what is the process? Who do I need to talk to about that?" and you ask her for help. "I'm hoping you can help me with that".

[00:18:30] Annabelle Picker: Yeah. Okay.

[00:18:32] Kim Ades: Right?

[00:18:32] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, that's great! You're amazing! [Laughs]

[00:18:36] Kim Ades: I mean, I'm excited for you because you're about to go into a whole new adventure, a whole new job and a whole new role. And so BCG is awesome, so I wish you tremendous luck in your new position and your new role in the area of recruiting. I know that you're gonna be incredible. And I do hope that we stay in touch.

I'm doing a lot of work, I mentioned this, I think, to you earlier, I'm doing a lot of work in the area of recruiting and retention, and I'm actually speaking at a conference coming up. In June, for SHRM, it's the Society for Human Resources Managers, on the topic of recruiting and retention, and I'm hoping to use your story. I mean, you're a perfect example.

[00:19:20] Annabelle Picker: Of course! Of course. And hopefully in a year or two, hopefully we can have, and speak on that conference together because I would be honored.

[00:19:31] Kim Ades: Oh, wow. That's a great idea!

[00:19:33] Annabelle Picker: Yeah, because again, I've been recruiting since 2013, so I've seen so many changes in the market. I've seen so many different cases, I have so many stories to tell, and I love giving advice and speaking publicly, so yeah, let's keep in touch, definitely.

[00:19:54] Kim Ades: Let's keep in touch. But what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna use your story of how the lack of visibility to the future, the lack of a career plan was enough for you to say, "I don't see a future here for me". And that's only one of the components that is required for companies to maintain their talent. And so I'm so excited about talking about this subject.

And so I have a lot more to share on the subject of recruiting and retention. If anyone wants to learn about what I've picked up along the years, in terms of how to find and keep the right talent, please reach out to me. And if anybody has a challenge they wanna share on the podcast, please reach out to me as well. My email address is

Annabelle, thank you so much for being on the podcast with us, for sharing your story. And we all, all, all wish you amazing luck in your future.

[00:20:51] Annabelle Picker: Thank you. Thank you, Kim. It was my pleasure, and thank you so much for your very wise advice.

[00:20:58] Kim Ades: We will see you next time.

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