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

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

Termination for Convenience (Part 2)

Cookies.jpgCelebrating my 30th birthday with my family last Sunday night – and also celebrating my soon-to-be-announced resignation from my current employer – my dad told a story of one of his old colleagues who, twenty years ago when this colleague was laid off, brought in cookies that his wife had baked and shared them with the office as a token of goodwill. His graciousness was so striking that my dad still remembers his actions two decades later. And Dad suggested that I do the same. “It makes quite a statement.”

For my family birthday celebration, my mom had made sugar cookies with my face and “Nerdy Thirty” screen printed on them in edible icing. There were a couple dozen cookies left over at the end of the party, so she suggested I take them into work. So that very next day – the day I resigned – I took in cookies of my face for everyone to eat.

On the elevator ride up to the 21st floor of the skyscraper where I work, six other people crowded in and kept eyeing the container of cookies in my arms. Finally, one older man broke the silence, leaning in to peer at the cookies. “Where’s the photo of my face?” He grinned at me.

He was trying to be funny, but it came off as more awkward than anything else, so I just fake laughed and tried not to look too uncomfortable. Someone else jumped in and asked, “Is that a photo of the girl who turned 30?”

It was a good likeness of me, so I was surprised at the question, but I nodded in confirmation. “Yep. It’s me. Yesterday was my 30th birthday.”

Instead of a chorus of “Happy Birthday!” from all the strangers in the elevator (emphasis on “strange”), I was surrounded by shifting eyes and uncomfortable silence. Confused at the response, I realized they must have thought I made cookies for myself and brought them into the office in order to celebrate myself. It was a Monday morning, so someone more perceptive would probably have realized they were left over from a weekend party, and I didn’t feel like making the effort to correct their thinking, so we all finished the elevator ride up in awkward silence before – ding! – the elevator stopped on 21, and I gratefully got out.

Hours later, I stopped by the kitchen area and found one of my colleagues picking up one of my “Nerdy Thirty” cookies. Striking up conversation, I asked, “So what do you think? Is it a good likeness?” I smiled at him, tilting my head for effect.

Instead of thanking me for the cookie, or wishing me a happy birthday, or even commenting on how great the cookies looked, he glanced at the now half-eaten photo of my face and mumbled, “Is it supposed to be you?” He bit again into the cookie, shrugging and turning away to refill his water bottle. “I guess kinda,” he shrugged again. There was no excitement, no congratulations – either on my birthday or my resignation – no comment of “what cool personalized cookies!”

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was astonished at how thoughtless, awkward and utterly self-focused everyone around me seems to be. When my boss was only focused about how my resignation inconvenienced her; when both strangers and colleagues were just interested in eating a cookie and not thanking or congratulating me; when I saw the types of responses I received from my farewell note – all of these stand as reminders of how completely selfish people are, unconcerned with the affairs of others except as it impacts them.

I sent out a heartfelt note to all of my friends, colleagues and stakeholders, recalling fond memories, focusing only on the positives of the past eight years and thanking them for their support, encouragement and collaboration. This is one of the actual responses I got back:

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Total lack of social skills and a punctuation error? You’d think I work with a bunch of engineers or something.

Authentically Aurora

Resigned & Ecstatic (Part 1)

Victorious Business Woman

My first act as a 30-year-old was to quit my job.

That makes it sound like a knee-jerk reaction to hitting a life milestone, but giving my two weeks’ notice to the company where I’ve spent the past eight years was a long time in coming. Very nearly eight years in coming.

My boss and I have had a strained relationship, to put it mildly. One of my colleagues commented recently, “In the two years we’ve worked for her, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a single kind or encouraging word to you.” Reflecting back over my time on this team, I was surprised to realize that was true. I have never been praised or even thanked for anything I have done in two years; every comment is laced with criticism and negativity.

Despite that, I decided to make a concerted effort to be gracious and respectful during my resignation. My boss was on vacation the entire week of Spring Break, so I could have easily resigned while she was out, sending her a curt email or just leaving a signed resignation letter on her desk. But I waited until she was back in the office on Monday, and I asked her if she had time to grab a conference room to discuss my career.

Once alone with my boss, I stated simply that I had decided to resign from the company. “I’m giving my two weeks’ notice effective immediately, with my last day in the office being April 3rd.” Although I didn’t have to do so, I went on, “I really hope you find a great replacement for me – someone who is passionate about this work and brings subject matter expertise to the role. And I wish you all the best in the future.”

I was proud of myself for the upright way I handled an exchange where I could have been mean and bitter or scornful and gloating. I rose above the situation, and I counted that as a victory, especially considering the number of times I fantasized about storming out of the office and telling her off.

When I finished speaking, instead of thanking me for my service, or asking if there was anything she could do to keep me, or to ask what I’m doing next, or to ask how she could have been a better boss, or even to simply wish me well in the future, all she said – in her typical abrasive manner – was, “Two weeks isn’t enough time to transition someone. I won’t even have the job posting up by the time you leave. This isn’t enough time. You are really inconveniencing me by leaving the company with only two weeks’ notice.”

How dare she. Two weeks is standard – and I didn’t legally even have to give that much notice! All she could focus on was how I was inconveniencing her by leaving the company. For an instant, I was filled with anger; then – just as quickly – the anger dissipated into amusement. How typical. How expected. What a confirmation that I am, in fact, making the right choice!

When I spoke with my dad about it later, he echoed what I myself had thought. “Aurora, if she had responded in any other way – saying she was sorry to see you go or thanking you for your service – you might have felt torn or even second-guessed your decision. But she has given you the blessing of knowing that, without a doubt, you made the right decision.”

I certainly did. I already feel the weight lifting from my shoulders. Thirty is off to a great start!

Authentically Aurora