I’ve always been of the belief that the different experiences we have throughout both our work and personal lives – whether they be positive or negative – can have a profound effect on how we progress. It all depends on the way in which we react to them, work through them, and learn from them.
Here’s a story about a largely negative employment experience of mine from a number of years back that knocked me down hard at the time, until I eventually started to understand what a pivotal moment this was, and how eventually it had a profound and positive impact on my life.
Here’s my story.
After an extensive recruitment process, I was brought into this business to create a marketing function from scratch. Basically, they wanted someone to create, implement and manage a full marketing plan.
Fantastic I thought. What an incredible opportunity. After all, building a marketing department from the ground up was my forte and now I was finally being provided with the resources to really do it properly. Super excited, I was salivating at the thought of getting my teeth stuck right into it.
On day one, I arrived to a very warm welcome with several of the managers telling me how eagerly they have been waiting for me to come on board.
As I too was eager to get going, I quickly set up introductory meetings with all of the key players. While initially overwhelmed by their warmth and kindness, I soon started to see that their ideas of what marketing is about were very different to mine.
A couple of things soon became apparent.
Firstly, although they held various titles of senior business managers and heads of departments, they all came from a clinical background and had an almost entirely reactive approach to the needs of the clients.
While I know how important it is to have a client centric approach, what I was hearing was more along the lines of “What do you want?” followed by “Yes, we’ll do it.”, rather than how can we seriously add real value to both the client experience and our overall service offering.
And secondly, while they were excited to have a marketing manager come on board, what they were really excited about was having a personalised collateral producer on hand to tailor brochures to their clients’ requests.
Hmmm… Ok, I was starting to see that I had my work cut out for me here.
Far from getting down about it, I saw this as a fantastic opportunity. Working with managers that didn’t understand marketing was nothing new to me, and I always relished the challenge of convincing them otherwise. I knew that there was so much to be achieved if I did this right.
Over the first couple of months, I immersed myself in the business with a passion and drive like I’d never had before. I was loving it. I spoke to as many people as possible, and did everything I could to learn the business, the dynamics, the politics, etc, etc.
Even though the whole time I was getting inundated with requests for a new brochure or poster, I took it all in my stride and slowly started placing together the framework for a marketing plan.
Once I had this together, the next step was to meet with and discuss my plan with each of the department heads, which was about 6 people. I sent out meeting requests. No response. I sent follow up emails. No response. I made phone calls. No answer.
Then a few concerns crept in.
As weeks went by with complete silence, I was getting a little concerned.
This was a very autonomous role, and I didn’t have a direct manager easily accessible to take my concerns to. Once I finally managed to pin down the CEO, I discovered that he was great personal friends with each of the department heads and quickly made excuses for their behaviour. He also emphasised how important it was that I engage each of these people in the process.
Ok, a little easier said than done.
Eventually, through nothing more than keeping an eye on their offices and quickly darting in on the rare occasion that I spied their presence, I managed to catch up with at least most of them.
They all quickly rejected the entire notion of a formalised marketing plan, and again started firing requests at me for client collateral before quickly ushering me out.
Wow! At this point I reflected back to the recruitment process and the discussions around this being a managerial position with a seat at the big table. However, the reality was proving to be very different, and I couldn’t quite work out why.
Soon after, the CEO stepped down and someone from another area of the business stepped in.
Despite being a little surprised that this particular individual was now in the CEO chair, I took it as my opportunity to finally get all these issues out on the table and addressed.
So, I prepared carefully and took my case to him. The old saying ‘a deer in the headlights’ sprung to mind when I landed this on him. He clearly had no idea what to do about it. Each of these department heads were older than him, more experienced than him and had much stronger personalities. Basically, I had little confidence that anything would be done.
I was starting to feel a little bit shattered.
So, that night, I wrote my letter of resignation. I wasn’t necessarily planning on handing it in. It was dependant on my next meeting with the new CEO.
The (final) meeting.
The meeting began with the CEO telling me that he’s received some quite negative feedback about me from the department heads. A little shocked, I enquired as to what this was so we could work through it all and look at resolving things. He refused to tell me. I asked again, explaining again my experiences. Yet, once again he refused to divulge. He then just sat there looking at me – in silence (and shaking a little bit).
The great irony here is that this business’s service offering is actually in managing these types of situations.
All I could think is that this situation is in no way sustainable.
At that moment, with a heavy heart I pulled out my resignation letter and handed it to him. I just couldn’t remain in that environment any longer.
I walked out of there after only 6 months. I didn’t feel good about it. To be honest, I felt downright rotten. I felt completely broken, like I’d failed.
I’m not too proud to admit that in the months following I sunk into quite a deep depression. I didn’t have another job to go to, it was during the global financial crisis and I had a family to support.
Several months later, I discovered that the parent company who acquired this business not long before I started were the ones that wanted to bring a marketing manager in to create a more commercial/strategic business – all of the things that I was trying to do.
It turns out it was the existing management team that didn’t want a bar of it.
That is when the penny dropped for me. It probably should have made me feel a little better, but by that point my depression had taken over to the point where I was completely numb to so much going on around me.
Eventually, after a very tough period of unemployment, I secured a new marketing job, and eventually started to rise up from the ashes. I’d be lying if I said this happened quickly. It took a fair bit of time. Yet, thanks to the support of some good people and my own dogged determination, I started to move forward into a more positive mental space.
It was then that I was able to look back on that toxic employment experience with a clearer mind, and by removing that bitterness I was able to start to understand what I did right and wrong, and how I would approach things differently next time to ensure that I never had a repeat experience. I sure as hell couldn’t go through that again.
So, over time I took these learnings with me and used them in the most constructive and positive way.
I’m proud to say that I’ve moved on to become what I believe to be a smarter, happier, more resilient, more strategic, and more politically astute marketer (and a better person) – and I’ve never looked back.
It’s bizarre to think how much of this positivity I owe to what I now consider to be the toughest and most negative period of my entire life.
It goes to show that no matter how tough things get, you just never know what is waiting around the corner.