My usual response is to talk about what it is I would most likely say and confirming they still want me as a referee. In one case I simply suggested they would be better off asking someone else.
Providing a reference is a considerable responsibility.
I have always taken the view that the information I provide to an employer about a prospective recruit will be as accurate and as honest as I would want to hear if I was the employer.
On a number of occasions, I have been contacted by a Recruiter and the questions asked had clearly been structured to solicit positive responses. I have even stopped half way through and asked if the reference I was providing was to meet a requirement of their contract with the employer as it appears they have already made up their mind.
I recall many years ago being subjected to such a set of questions. The final request was to suggest other roles the reference subject would be suitable for. I answered saying they would be great at collecting glasses at a nightclub. This was a person I had “let go” a year before and I was stunned they had included me as a referee.
The position they had applied for was with the Private Bank Division of one of the major banks and not surprisingly, the conversation with the recruiter went down another path.
Back to the requests I have received the last 2 months.
A question I always ask when someone requests I act as a referee for them is “why are you seeking the alternative role?”
As a Leader/Manager, I was always thrilled when a valued employee left to join another organisation, or to take up an opportunity within the same group, as long as they were doing so to further their objectives and not to simply get away.
To put it another way, as long as they were running to something and not away from what they have, I was always thrilled.
Many employers have turnover as a measure of engagement success however I wonder if this is a true reflection of Leadership?
As Leaders, if we understand the Goals and Objectives of our team members, it is a fundamental responsibility to support their development towards achieving their goals.
Where this becomes challenging is where their goals may be doing something different in an entirely un-related field.
I recall a colleague some years ago who had a desire to be a Florist. She was a successful Senior Corporate Accountant at the time.
More recently, I was aware of a successful Senior Professional who was studying Interior Decorating. They felt the need to be secretive about it and to manage the demands of family and a very busy professional life while studying part time. By becoming aware of this objective, I was able to be supportive and encouraging and in response, they became one of the most productive, consistent and reliable Team Members. Corporate and Team Member objectives were achieved even though I knew they would eventually leave.
If you are a Leader, ask yourself if you truly know and understand the individual Goals and Objectives of each Team Member?
This means much more than the 6-monthly personal development conversation, the one where we may seek to say no more than what is expected of us.
Take the conversations to the next level, challenge the answers to confirm their authenticity and use examples. I have regularly relayed the story about the Accountant wanting to be a Florist as an example of how expansive our conversation can be.
However, there will always be the group of Team Members who genuinely want to keep doing what they are doing and that is totally acceptable, desirable and expected. It is important however to also challenge such answers in order to be sure of their authenticity. I always found a powerful question to be “what is the role doing for you?” It is then our Leadership responsibility to help them be the best version they can possibly be.
Finally, the cornerstone of meaningful personal development support is the creation of an environment where Team Members feel safe and feel they can trust and be trusted. If you are a Leader and development conversation result in benign responses, it is time to look inwardly.