The Non-Compete Sliding Scale: Degree of Talent vs. Quality of HR Pro…

Got a call from a good friend who had been presented with the first non-compete of her career to sign.  Her questions were good ones - what should I do? - and more importantly - Am I allowed to ask questions?  How is asking questions perceived by HR?

Non-competes are shrouded in mystery to many.  I won't debate the merits or enforceability of non-competes with this post, but I will shed some light to the uninitiated on how asking questions regarding a non-compete you've been presented with is perceived in the HR community.

Like all things in life, how asking questions about a non-compete is perceived depends on who's asking... and who's listening.  The reaction to your questions is based on a sliding scale of how talented you are, and how the HR Pro fielding your questions views the world:

1. The more talented you are, the more it's expected that you'll have questions.  Early career or commodity talent usually doesn't have a lot of questions about non-completes, and that's because they're not thinking too much about their next step.  Conversely, the more talented an individual is in their field, the more they've thought about their next step, including possibilities outside their company.  Smart companies and managers understand this, so the more talented or highly regarded you are in your field, the more questions are expected.

2. The quality of the HR Pro fielding your question also matters when attempting to work through non-compete issues.  If you're dealing with an HR Pro who views the world as a pure administrator, it's likely he or she will simply be trying to check the box (got all the non-competes signed) and nothing more.  However, if you're dealing with an HR Pro who views the world from a talent perspective (actively recruits, interested in things like performance management, succession planning, etc.), they expect a talented person is going to have questions.

The sliding scale described above is alive and well in organizations when you're presented with a non-compete.  If your company presents you with a non-compete, it's likely you need to sign it to remain employed, but the more talented you are, the more it's expected that you'll ask questions.  If you're talented (and you need to look inward on that one), and if you run into a HR Pro who doesn't really seem interested in discussing the specifics, the advice is pretty simple:

Escalate it to your line manager for discussion.  Odds are your manager will understand your questions where the administrative personnel FTE did not.

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