Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why do people rejoin their old companies ?

It was in the news that he is rejoining a large enterprise in a meaty role which would be the envy of those who read it; a company he had left sometime back. The company had been on the growth path though lagging in a few tenets of business. Not shy of investments, neither was the company known for lack of boldness in their wanting to change the future. On a rollercoaster ride through economic cycles, competition from international players, and disruptive new business models, the company had survived holding leadership position in some segments.

Talking to a few friends in the industry we conversed about common friends and colleagues, who were seen as successful in their professions. Most of them had spent reasonably long time in their current companies giving them credible accomplishments. It emerged that most of them were in their second innings in their respective companies having spent time earlier though in junior positions or in different roles when the company was also younger. Rejoining your old company was after all not an isolated incident with the person who made the news !

Researching the subject using popular professional social media sites, it was evident that a segment of people have indeed gone back to their previous companies. There were two visible patterns: the first where the person rejoined quite quickly (from a few days to about couple of years) and in most cases in the same or similar role. Presumably the “grass is greener on the other side” or a bigger professional challenge of a lifetime actually did not work out and thus they came back to the comfort zone or the familiar and known.

The second category of people went back to their earlier companies did so by taking on much larger roles in now significantly bigger companies than what they had left behind. The Promoters, CEO, or the Board picked back talent from (in most cases) competition to bring the same magic within their companies. Such individuals by virtue of their work ethics, professionalism, and results are able to perform wherever they go. A soft corner for their previous teams or the lure of a larger role coupled with a massaged ego does the trick ?

There are many individuals also who shudder to even think about going back to their previous companies ! Not that they had difficult or unmemorable tenures or they left in difficult circumstances, it is probably the queasy feeling that accompanies the thought of getting back into an environment which was relegated into the past. Nostalgia or memories tend to play in a different way for different people; for many the frame of reference changes based on recent experience even though the past may have been pleasant or forgettable.

Enterprise HR policies play an important role in this; many companies have a rehire policy which states the terms and conditions for a person to come back. There is also a group which is quite strict about not hiring back. Which one is a winner or loser ? Which company is better off in comparison ? What about the employee ? Does going back diminish extrinsic value of the individual in the company ? What about market perception ? Is the candidate seen as unadaptable to foreign territory or seeker of comfort zones ? Does or should this matter ?

Circumstantial evidence suggests no real difference between the two approaches (yes there are exceptions to every statement). Pros of rehiring: the candidate is known and thus there is a level of predictability in what to expect, factoring in evolution and maturity over the years, if the person is coming back after a reasonable gap. S/he knows and understands the corporate culture and way around the processes and policies, knows many people, so will fit in easily. They will try harder to cement their value and rebuild trust and relationships.

On the flip side looking at the negatives, s/he knows and understands the corporate culture and way around the processes and policies, knows many people, so will take things for granted and his/her right rather than earn back the trust. The person may elevate bitterness (if any) from the past and disrupt the equilibrium. Depending on the circumstances of exit and rehire, s/he presents a different persona to the world. Will the rehire be successful or not depends on the hiring manager and setting expectations unambiguously with clear communication across the enterprise.

Would you rehire someone who left your team or want to go back to an earlier company ?

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