That title got your attention, isn’t it? You feel like you need a guide to succeed in your corporate job/career? Tough luck, you won’t necessarily find it here, but you will recognize yourself in some of the events described in here. This is, or will be, since it is not written yet, a small(?) story about a 10 years journey through the corporation jobs in an Eastern Europe country. Well, yes, the title was partially a plagiarism inspired from the title of Douglas Adams’ book.
The story begins when a fresh graduate found out that the bachelor degree counts for nothing in the emerging capitalist society. It was in fact a confirmation of something felt during the years in college, but it was a shock nevertheless. First job attempt was at a really small company, owned by a local, found in a newspaper after 4 months of desperate search . No contract signed, no money received, the owner was using the employees to support his political campaign and the work-related deadlines seldom contained in various forms the explicit promise of being fired. Didn’t took long to realize it was more like a slavery than a job, so this chapter ended after 6 weeks.
The first real job was in a lot bigger company, let’s call it company A, yet still a local-capital one. It helped being recommended by one of the friends from college and ironically the practical experience at the former job attempt weighed a lot in getting the job. So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. This second chapter is a bit longer, roughly 2 years. It started as a bet by the executive director, a new person with almost no work experience to be used as a consultant in changing the way a nation-wide company ran some of its processes. And it was a jungle indeed, since the most resistant to changes were the ones that asked for the change, usually bottlenecks in the processes were people that happened to be the mistress of the friend of the godfather of the … of someone close to the owner or of the high executives in the board. Numerous reports and investigations asked by a high executive about something not working as it should pointed as a root cause to a decision of that executive itself. A lot of stepping on toes with kicks in the behind as a result. Years later the retrospective conclusion was that in fact an example of flawed Change Management business case.
Fortunately it was compensated by other aspects. A big chunk of the friends from college were hired in the same company, in various departments, and it worked as a virtual team, building bridges and making things run smoother. This social network helped the company A work better despite the incompetency of a lot of managers. Sorry for being blunt here, but how do you call a manager that sends an employee a couple of times per month back and forth in the town via the public transportation system with the CD containing the database with all customers contact details, when Internet and VPN is widely spread? What about another manager over 10000+ employees that was more concerned on how much people are late or waste time on a break than the actual quality of work and measuring the results? Oh no, he was doing some kind of measuring, stalking employees through surveillance cameras and listening to conversations for hours. This way 10-15 people sent to work hard repairing what was working were regarded as more valuable than the 2 ones sent to repair what was not working.
The steady pay and the independence derived from it also felt great. It was used to fill in the gaps in the technical knowledge by attending trainings and obtaining professional certifications. Practical experience of latest technologies resulted in a growth in technical abilities. This helped moving to another job, more technical one, in the same company. It almost didn’t happened, due to amount of toes stepped, but the professionalism of the excellent head of human resources and the executive (hiring sponsor) helped tipping the balance to transfer instead of contract termination. The Damocles’ sword over the head wasn’t feeling so good, plus the fact that the social network grew thinner by resignations led to the choice of a job in company B. The HR lasted for 6 more months and the executive for 2 more years before changing their employer as well. That was quite a performance since the prototype of the employees that were selected more consistently by the managers were the ones asking „How high?” when they were requested to jump.
Company B was another big leap in financial terms, technical abilities and personal growth. This time it was a multinational company, a corporation as some might like to call it, that was outsourcing some of its capabilities in a cheaper country, with a „hungrier” and smarter workforce at a quarter of the price. Let us start financially, in 4 years the base monthly income gradually increased 4X the initial one, with some peaks due to bonuses up to 7 times. Technically, well, whatever was done later on in the career was just an adaptation of things learned there, few new important things were added. Personally, the contact with people and cultures throughout the world, visiting(via business trips or vacations) a big chunk of Europe, and some trips to North Africa and Middle East helped brushing out the remainders of the small town boy misconceptions. Ironically the excellent results of the branch were due to the local management, and even more ironically the role model that helped the growth was not a formal leader. Of course, there is the indirect management merit of selecting such a team. And what a team that was ! It felt great knowing you always had someone to rely on.
Even after 4+ years of not working there, bumping into them during the lunch break felt like being colleagues again. There were some inner circles, and some bosses’ favorites , but most of the cases these had little impact on everyone else. Things like KPIs and Performance Management were well used, although the methods were identified as such in retrospective later on. Feedback was rarely used, the lead-by-example method covered most aspects pretty well. Even if feedback was identified later, the role model was the only one giving constructive feedback, and it wasn’t a formal leader. He isn’t a formal leader now either, but what a great leader can he become if he had the opportunity ! This was actually the only place in which there was a big row with the direct manager in the HR’s presence that ended with the manager acknowledging (by silence) the feedback and acting as such in the future. It was also the only direct manager of the hitchhiker that publicly acknowledged the merits without being asked to. High pressure from customers and complex tasks were properly handled since there was no pressure from management, they knew exactly what it happened and chose to train and motivate people instead of whipping them. Team work was fantastic as mentioned earlier. There were some downsizes, of course, there was always that feeling that although members of the EU for several years, they were still treated as second-rank citizens.
Good things come to an end, of course, the CEO of company B signed some „dirty contracts” with high incentives for himself that coupled with the economic crisis led to a critical situation of company B. He was fired, and an accountant came to fill its place. Why mentioning the accountant part? Well, it was a desperate measure, with a drastic plan, fire as much as you can and sell as many portions of the company as possible to avoid bankruptcy. So company B was partially acquired by company D, and a lot of people got fired. This way it was very visible what Eastern Europe states do to protect the employees in cases like this compared to Western Europe : Western Europe employee had 6 months notice and financial compensation from half to a full year’s earning, which was regarded as awful. Eastern Europe ones had 2 months notice and compensation from 1 to 3 month’s earnings, and it was regarded as a good compensation. It was clear now more than ever that to high-level management people are just numbers on pieces of paper and it felt like loyalty, creativity and hard work dedicated to a company can at any time be rewarded with a kick in a soft place when you least expected, thus, person No.1 should always come first when making choices. Some might say employees are paid as compensation. Well, the feeling doesn’t come from lack of payment, but from being lied to in your face until the last second that everything is fine so you can give your best then being fired.
The next chapter begins, company C, with less than a third of the previous income, amount of work and technical challenges. Still a multinational, bigger one. The second rate citizen feeling was worse, awful treatment by western colleagues which were actually lazier, incompetent, and self sufficient. Some of you might know about the propaganda, company values, the employee is the highest value, and the rest of the bla bla’s ? By value they usually mean commodity. You know that saying, that in the past ships were sent to get slaves, now money are sent for interest and profit? This is how colonists must have felt before rebelling against the empires. Good performance doesn’t get unnoticed, so the reward was the message to „take it easy, you make your [western] colleagues look bad since you are doing so much” and that year’s appraisal was „succeeds(3/5)”. That felt unsettling! Bad performance doesn’t get unnoticed either, so the management gradually changed, more credit being awarded to the Eastern Europe, and the hitchhiker ended up as one of the managers. A promise was made then, struggle to avoid all the bad management seen all these years, treating people like trash, and many others. Transition from technical to a manager position is not easy, for anyone. Fortunately there was an excellent quality training facilitated by the employer. Concepts like feedback and 360 degrees feedback, getting things done, leadership, strategic management, communication skills, mentoring and coaching, opened a whole new world and great fresh perspective on things. Of course all these concepts were passed to the ones that were interested in. This in fact became the biggest motivation to keep the hitchhiker going through the days, helping people to grow.
Situation in real world is never as you learn about it in school or trainings. These new skills and knowledge acquired gradually eventually shown that the reality looks even more twisted than before. Bad management was more obvious. Now Eastern Europe was outsourcing to India and treating those people the same as Western Europe did to them. An inner circle was formed, calling all the shots, ignoring all feedback, with a sense of superiority at high peaks. To get into this circle meant to do whatever crazy thing was asked of you from above and ask the exact same thing from bellow.
When one gets the feeling that unconditioned obedience is demanded at the expense of creativity, common sense and personal choices independence, should sit back and think about it, isn’t this another type of slavery?
More projects, more deadlines for things to be ready „yesterday” then not being asked about them for 2-3 months, lack of prioritization and communication of what was the goal. Everything was equally important and urgent. Projects and initiatives cancelled very close to reaching them without explanation increased frustration. Strategical updates ended up to be reaching only the inner circle. The inner circle grew, with the hiring of relatives and friends. The ones standing in their way were executed by negative rumour spreading and defamation of character. Good performers and HIPOs were obviously considered a threat, marginalized, treated awfully, categorized as negativists although they advocated for realism and eventually resigned. People were fired for stupid reasons, but mostly for stepping on the toes of someone in the inner circle. . Branch manager getting drunk at team building parties, hitting at female employees, eventually scoring and being covered by the inner circle. An employee being bullied by someone in the inner circle couldn’t complain about it to the direct manager since the direct manager was married with the bullying person. Bullying was a common attitude from the inner circle members.
The hitchhiker saw all the people he tried to grow in his team dropping like flies : can’t take it anymore, I like you, learned a lot from you, but this is my resignation. For a while the branch manager succeeded to convince him that he had a problem, and unable to retain his team members and everything in the company was fine. This lasted for a while, until noticing that more and more people outside the inner circle noticed the same issues as the hitchhiker. As a result, an outer circle was formed, with positive rumor spreading about the quality people, to counteract the inner circle. It was broken by resignations, including the hitchhiker’s. The legacy remained though, there were a lot of newly hired quality people that immediately spot awkward things like conversations during crises periods starting with „who do we fire?” to rebuild the outer circle, to keep them going until finding another job, or as a rebel leadership alternative for the next shift of power.
As a result the hitchhiker is working now in Company D on an non-executive position. He realized in fact now that the inner circle managers were scared, frustrated and were yelling and threatening people because they are managing from deficit for more than 3 years now. There were a lot of things that were learned, the best outcome being the leadership and management training, which he is grateful to both facilitators and trainers. The emotional scars though, will need a lot of sessions of therapy, which would be also beneficial to some of the former colleagues, inner and outer circle alike. It was the most acute feeling of being pushed into becoming someone who is not, bully, careless about people and giving up on the life-lasting inner values. But there is no resentment, there’s no envy for the inner circle’s position. Company D is a great workplace, for now.
You are now at the end of the story and free to draw any conclusions from its title, just bear in mind that the main reason to choose it was marketing purposes.