If we had a crystal ball, life would be grand. But, because we don’t, we often find ourselves at the mercy of hindsight. Hindsight being 20/20, what is one setback you faced in your career that ended up being a blessing in disguise?
Once upon a time, a former manager phoned me and told me of a company he knew that could really use my help. His words will resonate in my mind forever, “They really need HR help because the CEO has trouble making decisions and when he does, he keeps changing his mind. I’m worried the managers will run amok without any guidelines or structure.”
During our conversation, visuals of Corporate America à la Lord of the Flies were flashing through my mind. It didn’t scare me because I thrive on a challenge and have plenty of experience with HR start ups. “It’s textbook,” I thought. Well, in hindsight I should have run far away, but I jumped in.
After a few months of observing, mingling and meeting folks, it was apparent that the CEO was not leading managers but being led by them. Managers were consumed with the success of their own organizational silos. Decisions regarding staffing, salaries, bonuses, etc. were reactionary and self-serving. There was no consideration given to what was best for the business or how individual departmental decisions impacted other areas of the company. That was only one of many issues that had an unconstructive domino effect within the organization.
I put my HR experience into this project and worked on bringing cohesion to the company, improving inter-departmental communication and relationships while implementing consistent practices for legal and business reasons. I proposed a comprehensive action plan to gradually tackle one issue at a time while simultaneously educating the managers so they would be on board as well. It was HR 101 and the CEO was 100% on board. But remember, he was being led by others, including me. While I had the thumbs up from the CEO to run with the ball, many managers resisted as structure stifled their personal agendas. Managers’ frustration levels were high from ongoing in-fighting due to intransigent decisions. The employees knew it and used it to their advantage. Here’s an example:
Employee in Department A: Hi there Mr. Manager of Department Z, I don’t like my manager and would like to work with you in your department. Can you get me moved over?
Manager of Department Z: Sure, I like you and could use the help. Just grab your things and I’ll let IT know where to move your PC and phone.
Occurrences like this one happened on a regular basis without regard for other managers, workloads or employee qualifications and performance. Furious managers would come to me and request that I “undo” decisions and actions like the above example. Picture that nightmare. Ambitious ideas of wanting to educate and influence in this environment made me determined to succeed and make a difference. But most of these individuals were used to working this way and those who wanted a level of structure were in the minority and didn’t stand a chance of surviving. Neither did I.
The stress I endured during this project impacted me physically and I lost 10 pounds that I really couldn’t spare. Ultimately I collapsed in my office and quit the project that same day by way of an ambulance.
This was traumatic, embarrassing and left me feeling like a failure. On the flip side, it fiercely grabbed my attention and caused me to re-engineer my career. My determination of wanting to add value and make a positive difference consumed me. I allowed this to happen to me when I should have taken a step back and recognized that sometimes we just need to know when to say “when” and walk away.
Thank you for letting me share this story.