Everyone needs a good kick in the butt at some point in their professional career.
Not physically, of course. I’m talking about the unexpected downsizing. A call into HR. Learning the hard way what it means to miss quota. Completely tanking a big presentation because you were too cocky.
Or, in my case, not fully understanding what it means to work for someone else.
A few years back, I switched from being self-employed to working remote for a startup company where I still had a high degree of autonomy (but little decision making capability). About two years in, nearly 100% of the people and structure that was there when I began had moved on or been reorganized (because, #growingpains and #startuplife).
When you’re remote in an organization that’s just beginning to understand remote culture, it can definitely feel like you’re on an island. I had those feelings, made worse by the fact I was a team of one. You see, my role essentially sold my time to customers. The more work I had on my plate, the less time I had to take on more, and the easier it was to get defensive about how and what we sold.
Negativity and frustration crept in and affected my work output.
You see where this is going, right?
One day I hop on a call with my manager, someone who I only barely knew at the time, and our video call “dings” with a new and unexpected attendee: our team’s people partner.
So many little things led up to this point where my work ethic and commitment to my employer were questioned.
The feedback was humbling to say the least. And by the end of that meeting, I understood what it meant to work for someone else.
I understood that, despite my capabilities in so many areas, I needed to be someone people got excited to work with.
I understood that the client work came first, even if my content for an upcoming speaking gig could totally get repurposed into something for the company.
I understood that my direct and open book personality works great in some relationships and not-so-great in others.
I understood that my age can make the above point an even more delicate thing to navigate.
But most importantly, I understood that it was in my power to change all of this and my manager legitimately wanted to see that happen.
Feedback is a gift
For the next three months we met weekly about production and priorities. My manager and I had dozens of private message exchanges about fitting in. That was the hardest part, to be honest. When you’re remote, communication almost exclusively via messaging and the occasional video chat. One misinterpretation can wipe away all the progress.
The production and priorities feedback was easier. I knew my stuff and simply had to demonstrate it. To his credit, my manager would go out of his way to highlight positive feedback to others in the organization (going back to that remote = unawareness bit).
By the end of the year there was no doubt that I was a positively-contributing employee again. My employer’s willingness to stick it out and let me course correct was a true gift. Plus, my manager and I had started building a better rapport (remember, when all this went down we barely knew each other).
Still, so much was changing on my team and at the company that I spent an afternoon cleaning up my LinkedIn profile…just in case. And then something pretty remarkable happened.
What’s a career accelerator?
I can’t speak for everyone but I assume you’ll agree that company kickoffs can be a love-hate thing. Lots of meetings and presentations, big promises and rally cries. If you’re the least bit cynical, they get old. Fast.
During our company kickoff this year, our People team spoke about wanting to position us as a career accelerator. Put simply, this is a company whose priority is its employees (I know, I know, eye roll central).
But something stuck with me during this presentation. Something that, at my stage in life and career, was worth taking a bet on.
They said that their goal was to have you look back on your professional career and say that this company played a pivotal role in why you are where you are today.
“That’s a bold statement,” I thought to myself. I noted to be on the lookout to see if they followed through.
Then I had another realization: yes, I could choose to sit back with a skeptical eye and see if they took care of me. Or, I could choose to trust that my employer was giving me the platform to be the best me possible, so why not go all in?
Lemme tell you that realizing this was a pivotal moment in my professional career. Touché.
Trust is a two-way street
It’s really amazing what you can do when you trust the people you work with. I don’t just mean trust falls and team building exercises, I mean extending the notion of trust through all parts of the company. There’s very little friction getting in the way of giving your best self at work when you know that leadership truly values what that “best self” might be.
And by “best self” I don’t mean metric-based evaluations like sell the most stuff or ship the most product. You’re an individual and have a unique set of skills, interests, experiences and values that make up who you are. Find ways to align them with your company and help build a stronger, more connected culture. A stronger culture leads to many positive things for both the company and its employees, but at the heart of it all is trust.
Consider this your kick in the butt to take a look at the relationship you have with your team, manager and employer: is it rooted in trust? Could it be moving forward?
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