Exit Interview (Part 4)

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I just found out on Friday that, back in January, my boss blocked me from getting a $2,000 performance bonus that another manager had nominated me for. She really is the worst.

My manager has such a controlling personality that she never gave me anything meaningful to do, so – with all my spare time – I offered to do side projects for other managers. When I performed well, they nominated me for a recognition award, but apparently my boss told the talent forum I was having performance issues in my day job and shouldn’t be rewarded for “supposedly” performing on side projects. I am so glad that TOMORROW IS MY LAST DAY!!!

On Friday I got an automated email from HR asking me to respond to a 3-minute online exit interview. When I started at this company eight years ago, HR did face-to-face exit interviews to understand why people were leaving and how they could better the organization to prevent future exodus. It’s no surprise to me that we have devolved to a 3-minute online exit interview that only took me literally 20 seconds: First name, last name, employee number – and then select from a drop-down box the reason you are leaving. How sad. How pathetic. Eight years’ worth of a career summed up in a single drop-down box.

If I had the chance to do a real face-to-face interview with Human Resources, this is what I would have said:

“First of all, I am sharing this information with you because I want [company] to be a better company. I want y’all to succeed (in no small part because I am a shareholder). And I see gaps in the way you bring people in, the way you train them, and the way you treat them. Nothing I am about to share is out of bitterness or spite; it is an honest account of my eight year career here at [company].

“When I first hired in, [company] hired me into a virtual team. My first boss ever was based in Amsterdam, and my line manager changed four times over those first fourteen months. Still further, my first four managers here at [company] were all based in Europe. I had a virtual team, a virtual manager – no real support. And I was a 22-year-old fresh out of college. I was ready to leave by month three.

“My parents advised me to stay at my first job for at least two years, and my pension wasn’t fully vested until year three, so I stuck it out. But in that first job, I – being a Type A perfectionist, self-starter and high achiever – frantically tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with no direction from a boss who was having a personal breakdown across the pond in Europe.

“When I finally got moved to another role fourteen long months later, I was given to a first-time line manager who (blessedly was State-side but) had me doing data entry. For twelve months, I surfed the web, did data entry, asked other managers for real work, did data entry, got put on one token project, and did more data entry. Eventually I went to my line manager and told her that it was not benefiting [company] to pay me six figures to type data into a contract management system, and it was not benefiting me to have my brain rot away as I slowly went insane. She graciously (and meekly, as was her way) agreed with me, and we went together to HR, who placed me in my third role two months later.

“My third role with [company], about 2.5 years into my career, was the first time I had any real responsibility. I was finally given contracts to negotiate, bid packages to manage, and purchase orders to process. For the first time, I understood what Procurement meant, and I’d worn the title of Procurement Analyst for over two years. That was a good, meaty role with a smart, caring boss, and I learned a ton! But the moment I finally realized what Procurement was, I also realized that I had no desire to work in Procurement.

“After that, I had a couple of roles in Functional Excellence and Operational Excellence where I absolutely thrived. I had a boss who gave me free reign over big data, and once I automated all of the weekly, monthly and quarterly reports my predecessor had done manually, I had four days a week where I just got to play in the data and develop my own personal presentations for senior leadership on opportunities for improvement, prioritized by overall impact on the company. I had a boss who trusted me, respected me, and gave me the white space to think creatively. She also made sure I had a platform to senior leadership by which to voice my thoughts and analysis. Those were the best two years of my career, and my bonuses and performance scores reflected the fact that I was finally in an area I loved under a boss who knew how to lead me and champion me.

“Then we had an organizational restructuring, and I found myself shuffled around with everyone else. I ended up in Global Functions managing IT contracts – rather, one 10-year, 4 billion dollar contract. Actually, my boss managed the contract as the Procurement Lead. I was just her grunt to do her menial tasks. Except that she was so controlling that she didn’t even trust me to do her menial tasks. In two years, I never heard a single positive comment from her about my work. There was never a ‘good job on this’ or even a simple ‘thank you’ for getting something done on time – and I always got my work done on time. It would be inexcusable if I didn’t, because I was only 20% utilized. I spent the other 80% of my time asking other managers (who trusted me) for more work. Or building my network, going out for long lunches and coffee dates. Or shopping online or writing my blog.

“One year into the role, I made a few complaints; raised my hand to say that this reporting line was intolerable; that my relationship with my boss was toxic and could not last more than another year. Nothing happened, so I started to actively look externally. I started working on my teaching certification at work, studying for state certification exams and taking online courses. I didn’t have any other work to do, and I am not one to let grass grow under my feet. I will always find something productive to do, and it was [company]’s loss that they were unable to make better use of my time and talents.

“I wanted to be utilized. I wanted to add value. I wanted my work to matter; wanted my life here to matter. But I repeatedly found myself under bosses or in work stations where I wasn’t challenged; wasn’t heard; wasn’t valued. And that is the real reason I’m leaving. People say, ‘People don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.’ And it’s true that this latest boss was the worst I’ve ever had (and I’ve had 14 just at [company]). But more than leaving because of her, I am leaving because the [company] system is broken. I look at the managers ahead of me – middle management, senior management – and they are not people I want to work for. They are not people I respect, and I do not want to become them. I don’t like the direction I see this company going, and I don’t like the way leadership has been permitted to treat its people.

“You hire the best and the brightest out of college because you can. You have that brand name recognition. And you say that you want them to come in and make things better. You say you want a fresh perspective and creative thinking and innovative problem solving. But you don’t. Not really. You want lukewarm, mediocre college students who are not passionate about anything to come in and fit neatly as a cog on a wheel of the machine that you are driving into the ground. I know that’s what you subconsciously (or perhaps unintentionally) want because that is what you have done to each of the brilliant minds you’ve hired.

“Look around you. No one here likes their job. No one here laughs or smiles or has any semblance of joy. This place has no future. Unless – unless! – you take to heart words of the surely countless people like me who are telling you things you don’t want to hear. And we are saying these things because it is ultimately for your good. Things need to change if you ever want this company to be top quartile, and it all starts with how you treat people.”

Too bad they’ll never hear what I had to say. Ironically, they don’t have a proper system in place to hear that their people are not heard. It’s so beautifully and tragically poetic.

Authentically Aurora

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Termination for Cause (Part 3)

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The main purpose of middle managers, in my opinion, is to lead, guide, motivate and coach their direct reports. Vision casting is the job of senior management, and doing the day-to-day operational work is the role of individual contributors. Middle managers so focused on becoming visionary leaders that they don’t invest in their staff are a bane to organizations, as are micromanaging middle managers who who create a disconnect from their staff with their meddling.

My team at work has recurring meetings with our primary vendor every Tuesday from 7:00AM until 9:00AM. Every week, we spent two hours talking through status updates for each of the various projects on which we collaborate. If an employee were to resign and this was her last Tuesday team meeting (hypothetically speaking, of course), this would be a great time for her manager to give a small speech or simple public farewell thanking said employee for her eight years of service.

Did this hypothetical manager publicly thank this hypothetical employee during her final group meeting? No. Has she privately wished me well? No. Did she even take the opportunity to let everyone know it was my last meeting? Yes. But all she said was, “This is Aurora’s last time to join this meeting, so if you have any questions, now is the time to ask them for purposes of transition. No? Okay. Then we can go ahead and end the meeting. The rest of us will talk next week.”

Thankfully, one of the vendor representatives inadvertently shamed my boss by interjecting and saying how very nice it’s been to work with me for the past two years and that he wishes me all the best. The vendor initiated this comment. Not my boss. Not even one of my teammates. A vendor who lives in Germany and just dials in to the meeting, who had no responsibility to step into this leadership role and bid me a fond farewell – he was the one who did what my own boss could not. I wasn’t expecting my boss to take me out to a goodbye lunch or goodbye coffee (in fact, I preferred that she didn’t), but I did think my boss would at least give lip service to her managerial responsibilities.

On Wednesday mornings, we have another team call, but this one is purely internal with no vendors admitted. Thinking she may have learned from the way the vendor shamed her in the Tuesday call, I figured my boss may at least thank me for my service during this gathering of just our four immediate teammates. No. She didn’t. And I realized that, in order to be shamed by the vendor’s behavior, she would have had to be socially adept enough to realize that there was shame to be had.

Fortunately, some of my other coworkers are thoughtful and clued in to the social niceties of fond farewells. However, though most of my coworkers are friendlier and more attentive than my boss, several of them struggled a bit with the whole social intelligence thing, too.

A surprising number of my colleagues who normally have no trouble booking meetings and conference calls seemed to suddenly forget that we have visibility to each other’s Outlook calendars. Conversations like this one happened an unfathomable number of times:

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I appreciated that my colleagues wanted to meet up for one last coffee, and I know they were probably just being informal and talking out the scheduling rather than looking at my Outlook calendar to book a formal meeting, but the number of times I had this same kind of conversation made me wish people would just check my calendar so I didn’t have to tell eight different people per day that I was out of office Wednesday, already had lunch plans Monday, was in back-to-back meetings Tuesday morning but was free at time X, Y or Z.

But the catch up coffees and lunches were nice. And in just a few days now, I’m about to be really free – with no Outlook calendar or vendor meetings or team meetings or anything. I can’t wait!

Authentically Aurora

Today is a Day for Chocolate Cake

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Sometimes you have a boss who says that you don’t ask enough questions and are therefore incompetent, resulting in a poor performance rating (no matter that one typically asks questions when one does not understand anything; not vice versa).

Sometimes that same boss, once you start forcing yourself to ask more questions, provides the feedback that you require too much oversight, resulting in a poor performance rating.

On days fraught with such inane and contradictory feedback, one must go home and eat a small piece of dark chocolate.

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Sometimes you have a boss who happens to be a micro-manager incapable of delegating meaningful tasks, and this boss may present you with strong criticism based on your supposed lack of independence or ability to provide meaningful contributions to the team.

Sometimes that boss will refuse to let facts get in the way of her predisposition to dislike you – facts like your track record for never delivering a project behind schedule, and facts like your negotiating millions of dollars’ worth of savings for the company despite your boss’s inability to provide meaningful work.

On days filled with such frustration and injustice, one must stop by Starbucks for a Grande Mocha Frappuccino.

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Sometimes you have a boss who is so disrespectful and maddeningly incompetent at her role as manager that you have to run into the girls’ bathroom to cry at the office, and you’re not sure if it’s out of anger, frustration, sadness or hopelessness.

Sometimes after you’ve already had a long day of work, the bridal boutique where you returned your wedding dress two years earlier when your groom got cold feet right before the wedding – that bridal boutique sends you an email wishing you a happy wedding anniversary and inviting you and your nonexistent husband to be featured in their magazine.

On days like that, one must go home and bake oneself an ENTIRE FREAKING LOAF OF CHOCOLATE CAKE.

To be eaten alone.

On the couch.

In one sitting.

Today is a day for chocolate cake.

Authentically Aurora

Candid Conversation

Dilbert ExpectationsIn my experience, people who ask a ton of questions and need a lot of oversight are considered newbies, whereas people who are independent, individual contributors are considered competent.

Not so in the mind of my Category Manager.

At the end of last year in my year-end review, I was given a ranking of “performs below average”. The reason given was that I don’t ask enough questions. My Category Manager (who serves as something of a “dotted-line manager” in our matrix organizational structure) shared with my boss that she has a lot more projects she needs me to take on, but she doesn’t feel comfortable giving them to me because she thinks I can’t even handle what I have going on right now.

I come in at 8am and leave at 4pm every day, after taking an hour lunch break. I am bored out of my mind, and the work hours I keep speak to that fact. But her perception is that I am overwhelmed and don’t understand anything – that I am incompetent – because I don’t ask her a lot of questions. I guess it never occurred to her that I don’t ask questions because I don’t need her answers. I have things handled.

But she is a control freak who needs to feel needed. So my lack of question-asking leads her to feel like she’s not in control, which somehow makes her believe that I am incompetent.

In our 8:30pm conference call on Wednesday night (that’s right; we have weekly night calls), she made an off-hand comment in front of the team that she would like me to read up more about our SAP HANA contract to ensure I am able to add value during a benchmark study taking place next month. Irritated with her lack of confidence in me and annoyed by the scheduling of yet another meaningless hour-and-a-half-long call, I decided I’d had enough of her condescension.

“I know it’s your perception that I’m incompetent and clueless, and you want me to read more legal documentation and ask you more questions,” I began, “But I feel like I have a pretty good handle on SAP HANA. I understand our RBU structure and the fact that we are in the process of migrating from Application-Based to Dynamic HANA. I understand the pros and cons of our options, and I know the breakdown of our RBUs based on Hardware, Software, Storage and our Data Centers. I recognize both the fixed and variable costs; which ones are consumption based versus a fixed fee. I believe I am able to speak intelligently in the benchmarking sessions, so don’t think that just because you don’t hear me show off about my knowledge doesn’t mean that I don’t know what’s going on.”

There was stunned silence on the phone line for a moment; then she moved on to another topic, but she brought up the conversation again the next morning. “You seemed a bit tense last night,” she commented.

“No,” I said casually, “I just wanted you to know that I am not incompetent despite the fact that I don’t ask you a lot of questions.”

She paused; then said, “I hope you’re passionate about the things you’re working on.”

I just stared at her, unsure how to respond.

“Are you passionate about IT?” she asked.

I am not a lier, but I also wanted to give as diplomatic an answer as possible. “I wouldn’t say that I am passionate about IT, but I still want to do a good job at what I do.”

“What can we do to make you passionate about IT?” She seemed to believe that was possible, just because she’s a freak of nature who actually gets off on this stuff.

“I don’t know that I’m wired to get excited about IT contracts, but that doesn’t mean I won’t deliver good work.”

“Why did you take this job?” she finally asked pointedly. She has never wanted me on her team despite the fact that – by her own admission – I do deliver.

My direct boss is the reason I took the job. I like and respect him; I’d worked for him before, and he asked me to be on his team again. But I hadn’t known at the time that I’d end up doing all of my work for this madwoman. And I couldn’t believe she would be so blunt as to ask me why I even took the job.

“Patrick. I took the job because Patrick asked me to, and I like and respect him.”

“Well,” she said with a disapproving look, “Your first year in the role is almost over. Just three more years, and you can move on.”

Is there any question as to why I am looking for a new job?

Authentically Aurora

I’m an Incompetent Sloth

I’m at the office right now, and I kind of want to go to the girls’ bathroom and cry in one of the stalls. I’ve done it plenty of times before. But I’m going to write instead. Because both crying and writing are ways for me to get everything out, but the latter results in far less puffy eyes. A girl’s got to have her priorities.

I had my Mid Year Review at work this week. A few months ago, I joined a new group in the company that does Procurement for IT services. When I joined the group, I sort of knew was a computer server was. I mean, I’d seen them in spy movies and stuff. Now I’m in charge of managing a 10 year, 6 billion dollar contract for hosting and storage IT services. No big deal.

computer serversFortunately, I work for woman who is a subject matter expert, having earned her degree in IT prior to starting a career in IT Procurement where she has worked for the past twenty years. Unfortunately, this woman is strict, harsh, and encapsulates everything one would expect from someone who grew up in East Germany. Which she did.

Since she has worked in this space for so long, this East German manager typically has difficulty speaking at a basic enough level for new staff like myself to understand. I’ve felt like I’ve made huge strides toward understanding IT in the past few months, despite our communication issues (both ethnically and technologically). For example, I can now translate this sentence:

“The CCN for the DTAO NSD went to the PPC and IBB last week. For K2, we are moving toward ROMv1 prior to DG3.”

That means:

“The Contract Change Note for the Desktop Anywhere Online new service development went to the IT Business Boards last week. For K2 Blackpearl, we are moving toward Rough Order of Magnitude version 1 prior to Decision Gate 3.”

Which means:

“A contract amendment for one service line went to two different business approval boards last week. Another service line is going through a re-pricing exercise.”

Brilliant, right? Once I learned to translate the IT jargon; then I just had to get up to speed on what the heck DTAO, K2, Filemover, Control M, Sabrix, Webphere, XenApp and TAD4D actually are. One is a license reporting application; another is eHosting software; yet another is tax reporting software.

Further to understanding the various applications, I got to connect with the various Product Managers, Project Managers, Service Managers, Product Management Advisors, Category Service Managers, Business Managers and Product Architects – both internal and external – for each of the service lines. Working on a global, virtual team, it is of course no problem at all to keep straight all the people I have never met face to face: Kelvinder, Satish, Bhavesh, Sanjay, Kayoor, Christine #1, Christine #2, Paul, Alexander, Mike, Michele, Haley, Linda, Katrin, Gerdien, Igor and Shadonna.

So now, after four months “in seat”, I still don’t enjoy the work, but I am finally starting to feel like I at least have developed enough knowledge and competence to where I can start adding value. But, as I discovered this week per my Mid Year Review results, my East German manager has yet to be impressed.

In the field where she was supposed to fill out “What this individual has done well“, she wrote:

“Despite extensive onboarding, [Aurora] has made slower than expected progress.” She went on, “She has to quickly increase her knowledge base regarding IT to be successful in the future. She should… be more confident”, ask more questions and act more independently.

Okay, first of all, if that’s the “What this individual has done well” section, I don’t even want to read on to the improvement areas. Secondly, aren’t asking more questions and acting more independently mutually exclusive?

In my last role, I was called arrogant and over-confident. Now I’m being labeled insecure and lacking in confidence.

In my last role, I was told that I dug into too many of the technological details and was advised to focus just on the commercial side. Now I’m being told that I am technologically incompetent and lacking in knowledge.

At some point, some encouragement would be nice. Either at work or at home. At work, I’m an incompetent sloth. At home, I’m a duplicitous woman lacking integrity.

I’m tired of being beaten down. Hey life! Hey God!

(…is anybody listening?)

Authentically Aurora