It was a great evening. Good friends. Good food. Many laughs. Larry, whose story you can read here, was having dinner with Sam to get his ideas on getting back into the workforce. Larry had retired from his job at the mutual workplace that he and Sam had worked, but in truth, he was forced to retire by a management intent on wearing him down so he would leave. That was over six months ago, so Sam was happy that Larry wanted to talk.
Over dinner, the conversation naturally drifted towards their prior, shared workplace, with stories being swapped, and gaps filled in from different points of view. Larry was ready to jump back into the workforce, but hadn’t prepared a resume for many years. That was where Sam came in. He had gained a reputation among his former co-workers as a good resume doctor, so Larry sought him out.
“I don’t know why it took me so long to jump back in the job hunt”, Larry admitted. It was over six months ago that he retired, and he was not the type of guy who would just want to sit and take it easy for the rest of his life. Sam smiled. He knew exactly why Larry had taken so long. He needed to heal.
If we are fortunate in our work lives, we have workplaces that we cannot wait to get to each morning. They nurture us, uplift us, and give us the ability to grow as a person and in a community. Those places have low turnover and are the places where you have to ‘know someone’ to get hired into.
If we are less fortunate in our work lives, we go to workplaces that are simply workplaces. You put in your time each day, do your work, and clock out. They are not very uplifting, but they are also not damaging. They are simply places you spend eight hours or more doing your work so you can get to the people and things you enjoy.
If we are unfortunate in our work lives, we work for those places which are designed to damage our hearts and souls. We have managers who believe only by degrading you can they raise themselves up. They believe that the only way they can show that they are truly in power is to make your life miserable. An insult or slight is always on their lips, and the only words they know about your performance is ‘never good enough’.
They seem to enjoy inflicting pain and look for new ways to do it. They are always the victim, and you are always the aggressor, though the truth is just the opposite. Nobody is happy under them, yet in too many cases they stay in power.
When you finally escape that workplace, you think you can just go on with you life. Sadly, you have to, but you can’t just walk away like nothing happened. Those workplaces affect both your heart and soul. They leave scars and injuries. Those scars take time to heal. You may not want to admit it, give into it, or think it is silly to think that way, but that doesn’t change what has happened to you. It also doesn’t change that you need to heal. Hopefully where you have gone to upon fleeing that workplace is one which allows you to heal and see the true worth that you have.
Larry took this all in and had to agree with Sam, though he did have one question. How did Sam know this? Easy, Sam replied, he left the organization later than Larry did. Guess who was still in the process of healing?
A job description recently went up for a high level position at a company. It was the the leader of the publishing arm of the company. Since the company had many high profile publications, and were facing fierce competition, they wanted to make sure they hired the right person. With the help of HR, they carefully crafted a job description that would encompass all the aspects of the position and the challenges that they would face going forward.
Who did they want for this position? Let’s look at the requirements for the candidate:
- An advanced degree – PhD preferred
- An advanced degree in a field that many of the customers of the publication had, but had nothing at all to do with publishing
Nobody seemed to tell these people that people usually get PhDs so they can be published, not publish someone else’s content. They also didn’t tell them that it might be helpful to have an advanced degree in, oh I don’t know, a publishing related field.
This reminded me of a few times in my career where I was told I could not move forward because I didn’t have a certain certification. Now, this certification wasn’t mandatory for any position I was applying for. It wouldn’t replace the experience, the knowledge of the organization, or the subject matter knowledge that I had accumulated. Would it have helped? Yes. Was it a deal breaker in terms of being able to do the job? No.
The above two examples, the degree and the certification are nothing more than vanity plates for the department or the organization. They are to be used for bragging rights, not for job performance. They will not help move business forward, get things done, or improve the conditions of anyone. Sadly, the opposite at times happens. The person meets all the vanity qualifications and is horrible at their job. The company or department has focused so hard on getting someone who fills out the vanity that they shortchange whether the person is a good manager, knowledgeable in the field, or has the qualifications that really matter. Everyone suffers then.
Let’s start focusing on what truly matters for an organization:
- Has the knowledge, skills, and background to do the job required
- Has an impressive track record of people management and leadership, showing how they raised the standard for people-focused leadership
- Can make a positive impact on the company and its people
If they happen to have an impressive piece of paper as well, so much the better. However, let’s put the truly important things first instead of the vanity plates.
Sarah found herself in a quandary. The new manager in her department, the one brought in the replace the retired Maxine, had just left…after six months in the job. Now, of course, there was rank speculation about why there was such a short tenure in the department, especially since the manager resigned after having found another job. Suffice it to say that you don’t leave a job after such a short time without a good reason, such as complete and utter disillusionment in your boss or the department itself. However, that is not the point of the story.
That left the department two managers short, a situation that Sarah wanted to correct as soon as possible. Her solution? Promote one of the people in the department to the manager position. She would be showing that she does promote from within and give opportunity to those in the non-managerial ranks, and fill a gaping hole in her management ranks.
There was only one problem with this. Her choice? An employee who had been in the department and with the company for 2 months. Yes, 2 months and receiving a promotion.
In two months, you may know where the washrooms are. You’ve met some employees. You can get yourself in to and out of the parking lot.
In two months, you don’t know the company culture, values, or ways of operating. You don’t know the buildings, the associates, or history of where you are working. In two months, you are basically treading water, getting your job done, and making sure you don’t drown.
In two months, you don’t get a promotion. You have not had time to prove yourself worthy of it, or given your vision, or showed by your work that this is a natural progression. Even if you have the qualification on that piece of paper called a resume, you have not had time to show how accurate that resume is.
A good manager knows this, and is more attuned to these factors. A good manager looks beyond whether they like you and the need to fill a hole quickly. A good manager is sensitive to how the department will view this, and how it will reflect upon their managerial ability. A good manager knows that 2 months is no proof that someone is qualified for a promotion.
Then again, if the person was a good leader in the first place, the first manager would never have quit.
You could hear the pure joy in Sarah’s words in the email. She was announcing the promotions of three of her managers to higher level manager positions within the organization. Sarah extolled their virtues, recounted their successes, and gave each one of them her heartiest congratulations, and encouraged the staff to do the same.
If you looked at the numbers, as much of the non-managerial staff did, you began to notice a recurring pattern in the department. In the past eight years, there had been about twelve promotions of existing managers into higher level managerial positions. In the same eight years, the number of non-managers in the department who had been promoted into the management ranks? One.
It wasn’t that the opportunities weren’t there. In that same time period, there had been five openings for a manager within the department. All save for one was filled by an outside candidate. It wasn’t that employees in the department hadn’t applied. In at least two of those instances, staff from the department applied for the positions. What were they told? “We’re not even going to consider you for the job”. Great recruiting tool, huh? In the one time when they did hire internally, an extensive search was conducted externally before management was forced to realized that no one had the skills that the person right in front of them had.
What Sarah and her predecessors in the department had done was to make management in the department an exclusive club. The velvet ropes had been put up and a ‘No Staff Allowed’ sign had been hung on them. On the other side of the ropes there were promotions and self-congratulations, all in view of those who knew, no matter how hard they strived, how far they advanced in knowledge or skill, they would not get the chance to pass beyond those velvet ropes. Their colleagues within the company, those colleagues with progressive managers, were moving up the ladder. Sarah’s people knew they could not even step on the first rung. The only chance they would have is to move on to another company. When that day came, Sarah and the group behind the velvet ropes would wonder why they were leaving.
They would not worry long. They would console themselves with another round of internal promotions.