A recurring theme of the blog is the idea that there are promises that are made to employees when they come on board and those promises in many cases are not fulfilled. Why is that? Part of the reason is that the professional believes what they are told rather than being honest with themselves and what is easily observable. The sales pitches are very slick from recruiters. They do have a problem and they need to fix this problem with the best available professional. Generally speaking recruiters are being honest, but just because the person selling you on something believes it to be true, doesn’t mean it actually IS true. There are a bunch of analogies from other areas of our life.
Don’t believe the lies about ‘building your credit’ because the person trying to sell you on that concept is usually better served by overextending you. After a few decades of fees, penalties, and interest then the benefits of only using cash vs. credit tends to seem obvious. The bank isn’t going to tell you this.
The roommate / family member / friend who just needs a little help to get a new car. Except you have to remember that they need that help for a reason, a reason that was usually in their control. They will never tell you that they knew the idiot they loaned their car to used recreational drugs and that’s why it was totaled.
The pool/boat/timeshare is used allot less than you were told you would use it when they sold it to you, so maybe it was better if you didn’t get it and just rented it later.
Sadly this type of perspective generally only comes after you have gotten burned a few times in your life. Wouldn’t it be nice if when you were 18 and looked at the banker selling you on plastic, you had the forethought to think “I know a bunch of wealthy people and they never use credit so this isn’t going to go well”, or look at your friend and think “There is something else going on here if she thought it was a good idea to loan her only method of transportation to a druggie”, or look at the pool/boat/timeshare sales rep and think, “let me prove to myself first that i’m going to use this enough to get my money’s worth by renting it first before I commit”.
Unfortunately the same basic thing happens with our professional lives. We tend to see it more with smaller family oriented business, but it can happen in any organization. The local area non-profit, the local school, etc.. For the purpose of this article I’ll concentrate on the small business and the Professional Individual Contributor needing to have eyes wide open.
What happens when the mom and pop shop gets big, but it’s still run by a mom and pop?
In many cases the reality of small business is that they start it’s a family situation with a strong family dynamic, including all the dysfunction that happens in a family. As anyone who has a family knows, the disfunction in a family is unique when compared to the professional world, which has it’s own set of dysfunctional behaviors. This isn’t really news as any working professional will tell you. The challenge with smaller family business is when growth happens yet, the now not so small business maintains the less than professional culture even when they aren’t small anymore.
I recall one instance very early in my career when a highly seasoned accounting professional was hired to help get the accounts receivable office of a very large auto parts manufacturer into order. When I say very large, i’m talking approximately 500 employees and the current equivalent of hundreds of millions in revenue if my memory is correct. The Husband / Father in this organization was in charge of engineering and the wife handled the office. Many of the kids and their spouses were all management, or if not management, they were interspliced into the different areas. The organization was large enough where there was some level of upward mobility and professionalism, but the roots of the organization as a family business were everywhere. The accounting professional took great offense when the owner’s wife was trying to solve an invoicing problem for a customer and decided to hand it off to the the new AR professional. In doing so she referred to the AR professional as ‘one of the clerks’. The professional took the comment very personally. I recall her venting about being called a clerk. She ranted about how what she does is so very complicated and how she has such a better grasp on the proper functioning of an AR department than the owner’s wife who keeps screwing it up. She vented that’s why she was having so much trouble affecting change the growing department needed, because she finally got it.. They hired her for her professional skills but in reality, she was just looked at as one of the clerks.
I remembered that older experience because, once again the same issues reared their head with a company I am involved with. In this more recent example, there were some more disgruntled office managers at a small to mid-sized manufacturer that is squarely based in a very, and I mean very rural setting, the company made products designed for the farming market. There was a bit of a kerfuffle and bad feelings all around. One exiting staff sent the plant manager (son of the owners) a link to the an article on life hacks: 8 Reasons Great Employees Quit (Even Though They Like The Job):
I read through the article and thought there was some good commentary on each of the 8 reasons that directly related to the ‘clerks’ comment from earlier and the current situation the rural manufacturer found themselves in.
- Disrespected and undervalued staff
Of course the staff won’t be respected. It takes an amazing individual with humility to understand there are others who can do some things better. If you have started and built a business from nothing to dozens or hundreds of employees then the reality is your usually not too humble. If you are working for the owner, then the feeling on the part of the owner generally is: They have money, you don’t. They have a job to be done, you don’t have one to do.. So why should they listen to you?!?
Goal for the PIC: Understand that you won’t be respected, this is especially true with an owner with a big ego. Don’t take it personally! Remember, and this is really hard pill to swallow, but they DO have money and you DON’T. Have the humility they do not, and plan your exit if you don’t like their attitude.
- No career progression
Owners like to put the family members they trust or eventually want to give the business to in charge of the organization. You can’t blame them, it’s their ‘legacy’. So if all the management positions are being filled by family, it’s pretty obvious that even the most highly qualified professional will never ascend to a real position of power.
Another challenge is if the owners don’t want to actually grow the business.. They are happy with their usually good income and don’t wish to work harder to get over the hump of diminishing returns. Hint: this is obviously the case if the business has been around for decades and hasn’t seen significant growth and change.
Goal for the PIC: Take a quick lay of the land and understand what the reality of your career ladder is going to be. Take the job if that’s the best that’s available but if that’s the case then start planning your exit from day one. Don’t drink the kool-aid when they say they are looking for you to help them grow when for forty years they haven’t grown beyond a single location and twenty people.
Going back to the family run business, there are family scripts and personalities that are prevalent. Professional Individual contributors need to understand that if your getting involved in a smallish organization that’s been small for a while, it’s because new ideas and new concepts like color and sex blind management are not even comprehended. And even if they are they aren’t really a priority or considered to be valid in any way. In these environments men are considered men, women are considered women.. Racial profile of cultural group X are all..- pick your racial stereotype.
Goal for the PIC: Don’t take it personally.. If your just ‘one of the girls’ accept that’s the way it is because that’s the way the 80 year old founder / owner thinks. Provide your professional service, and plan your exit.
- Low morale
Low Morale is part of the burn and churn cycle. This is especially evident if there is no growth at the company or organization. No growth = no new jobs created so old jobs are being filled for a reason.
Goal for the PIC: Try and have a good mix of “Realist” and “Pollyanna”. Try and play the ever positive part.. Everything is going to be great! You never know, this time it just may work! This is really difficult to do in the face of the drudgery of a unhappy workplace, but it may change the tone to make the place bearable enough while you are looking to get to a better situation.
- No recognition or reward
The reality is in a small minded organization you are there to do your job. Going back to the humility concept, you need humility to value someone’s contribution. If you don’t value it, why would you provide recognition or a reward. Owners of smallish business tend not to be cheerleaders, they tend to be task masters.
If you need recognition to feel fulfilled, then my recommendation is to get a high level credential (Nurse, PhD, LCSW) and get a low paid job working for a non-profit or educational institution. The less money an organization has for salaries the more recognition you will see.
Goal for the PIC: Understand the mentality of the owner. You exist to serve them and if you go over and above, that just tells them they did a good job in picking you. Other than “don’t let this bother you” I have little advice. You don’t go to a daycare to find a quiet workspace and don’t go to a small business to find recognition or reward.
- Discouraging enthusiasm
Bottom line, and this is especially true for that small business / organization who has been around for decades.. At this point it’s just a J-O-B to them, why get excited about changing things, why get motivated to try something new. They have already done it, and they have a point.. Most things didn’t work. Trying something new will cost them money. It’s not about growing.. It’s about maximizing profits.. That means paying their staff as little as possible and keeps costs as low as possible. Enthusiasm usually brings new ideas and new concepts.
Recommendation for the PIC: Always try and keep in mind that there usually a reason for discouraging enthusiasm.
- Promoting the wrong people
The ‘wrong people’ tend to be family members in many instances. The reason for this is beyond obvious. Seriously, if the son of the owner is an idiot, and you actually resent the owner for promoting the son to manager, then the problem is with you for not comprehending human nature, not the owner or the son.
If on the other hand the ‘wrong people’ is someone who is under qualified, completely unqualified, a BS artist, etc.. either the owner / manager is tremendously incompetent (not usually the case), or there is another priority. You are a professional, you have the training to think bigger picture.. There are usually other reasons that are taken into account that you may not know about. The owner may want a BS artist in that role. The BS artist may be .50/hr less than the qualified guy was asking. Never underestimate a small minded small business owner’s desire to cut costs. Every .50/hr that he doesn’t pay to the highly qualified person goes to the owner’s pocket.
Goal for the PIC: Don’t assume that the person got promoted because they had their nose up the owners butt, or lied to the owner. Make the assumption that something else was going on, the owner had a priority that was not about the effective running of the organization, even if that decision made your life much harder. It’ll be easier to deal with the idiot if you figure out exactly what the real motivations were on the part of the owner/manager who made the actual decision. You may not like or agree with it, but you’ll understand and that will make it easier to deal with.
- Hierarchy instead of autonomy
This is another one where the concept of the owner’s financial acumen gets in the way. Generally small business have a much smaller percentage of professionals to general labor and trades. Labor, usually by rote, has to be micromanaged for the highest possible productivity. In an environment where owners and their close confidants including family see every penny expended as a penny out of their pockets, is it any wonder that they want every single decision to be overseen?
Goal for the PIC: Accept the hierarchy and autocratic nature. Don’t try and fight it, just try and figure out the best way to address the different personalities.
Yes, you have to make a move.
The whole point of the original article is a list of reasons why people leave jobs. The reasons listed are very valid. From that perspective the points made were solid. Professionals are educated, they are trained to see the big picture, to understand how investment in time and resources can achieve the greater goal. At the same time we are human, we are emotional creatures and these emotions can get in the way of clear thinking. This is especially true when our daily work activities, which comprise the majority of our efforts every single day, are being hamstrung by what seems to be small mindedness.
We have the skill set to understand the reality of our situation. This ability to comprehend should take precedence over the emotional toll we deal with when all of our training and understanding of effective management of a work environment is being ignored in favor of screwed up priorities.
So ultimately this boils down to: set clear expectations for your environment. The old guy isn’t going to change. Your hard work won’t be appreciated, just expected. The idiot will get promoted ahead of you because they are really effective at that one thing the boss prioritizes. If you get pissed off or frustrated at this reality you are just wasting energy.. Don’t waste the energy hoping for things to change.
On the positive side, you are a professional, you do understand your environment. If you are dealing with these issues you are working and drawing an income, even if you are unhappy with that income. You can use this time to make a change or prepare for your next reach for the brass ring. All you have to do is go through the motions, and after a while it’s pretty easy to do even if going through them is professionally unfulfilling.
Yes, you are treading water, you can be upset that the current isn’t taking you anywhere, or you can use this time as a moment of rest to decide where you want to swim to next. Sometimes lack of progress is much better than getting ahead with a shark right behind you.