The Cold, Hard Truth: Sometimes, People Decide to Change Their Minds

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© hellotim -

I was pacing in my office. It was 9:45 am, but it felt much later.

Every time a person walked past my door, I stood up expecting to see him. It wasn’t him, of course, so I would sit back down and wonder how many phone calls are too many? Two voice mails, two texts and an email all sent off in the last two hours.

My telephone jars me out of my slump and I try not to answer too quickly or eagerly.

“Hey Lance,” the man on the other side of the phone said. “I’m sorry for not showing up to start today. I just can’t take a new job. I’m staying here.”

No convincing

“But wait,” I said. “You have a job, you were supposed to start today!”

He acknowledged that. But I could tell there was nothing I could do that was going to change his mind.

“Sorry,” he said again.

It was one of my first no call/no show to a first day of work encounters, and it came out of left field, at least at the time. This particular hire was also an incredibly important piece of what we were doing to so it was doubly devastating losing him.

I took my time walking down to the hiring manager’s office and not only thought about what we were going to do next, but if I could have figured out a way for our former hire to show up.

Better qualifying in some cases

I had done a good job in the past of not overselling positions, getting through every possible issue that I could detect, and even surviving the dreaded counter-offer. In retrospect though, I missed a few key things.

He wanted a new opportunity, that much was clear, but he was still hesitant about moving on. He had a mentor at work for the past six years, and that part is always tough. We asked about counter-offers and did our due diligence that his desire for a new opportunity wasn’t about something that could be easily fixed from their end.

When we dropped the offer to him, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that he would take it, but I was pretty close. He hemmed and hawed. We gave him time. He accepted within my unofficial 72 hour window.

And after he gave notice, we talked again and he confirmed that everything went smoothly. He still had some hesitancy and expressed some concern about the new job. I didn’t worry about it though.

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When that Monday came and there was no one in my office except a not-too-happy hiring manager, I wasn’t happy. I don’t think too many people would be. But while his no-show shouldn’t have come out of left field, I could have at least known that there was some risk of it possible.

Succession planning carries the same risk

It reminded me of another story where we had fast tracked an employee to move up quickly. We had a director who would be retiring in four years and wanted to get someone bright to replace him. Over a handful of meetings, we talked to this employee about it and walked through what was necessary. She was excited and we were too. About a year into her fast track though, the director walked into my office and dropped a printed email on my desk: a resignation.

I didn’t even read through it; I simply called her in to talk. While she thought I was mad (I partly was, though I hid it as best I could), I just told her that I was confused. She told me her father was retiring from his business soon and she never thought she wanted to work in it. But the last three months, as she helped her father prepare the business to get sold, she found out that she loved it.

She changed her mind.

Yes, people can change their minds

The director was unhappy, but I placated him with the fact that we started early on it because this is always a possibility.

I eventually caught up with the no call/no show new hire at a trade show a few months later, and I asked him to honestly tell me what I missed. He told me he literally woke up that morning and decided he wanted to work for his former company. After he called them, he was reinstated at his old job and wage.

Everything I had been told up to that point said that the best laid recruiting and succession plans worked, and that failure meant a failure on my part to anticipate or prepare. Certainly, that is still a major failure point in both instances. Perhaps you too believe in this, that more probing, better selling, and better management would have prevented both of my examples from happening.

But, I also haven’t put out of mind the fact that, at least in some cases, people do change their minds. The better we understand that reality (and accept it), the better off we’ll all be — and less frustrated.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.