Pause, reset, trust

I had a meeting scheduled with my bosses yesterday to discuss our recruiting efforts. After what happened on Friday with two hand-picked candidates asked us to meet with (and turned out to be kind of awful people), I was bewildered and confused by the process. Their reaction when I tried to discuss it muddied the waters further as well as left me feeling completely disrespected and on the path to demoralized.

Sunday the scheduled meeting was moved into the afternoon and a management meeting scheduled instead – which is just me and the partners, versus the 5 of us, 2 supervisors, 3 seniors.

The situation was unfortunate, because it made me wonder who these men were and what had happened to the cooperative, creative bosses I had earlier in the week. While I am not a shareholder in this firm, I am typically included and consulted with regard to management of the firm. To be shut out and shut down so completely is awful; had they physically reached out and slapped me I would not have been more shocked and surprised.

And as if they had physically assaulted me, it gave me enough pause to stop and really consider my options and alternatives if this is the way things are going to be moving forward.

My ways of processing things is partly analysis of the situation, it’s possible reasonable (and unreasonable) explanations, and figure out what must happen to make restore peace in my fiefdom that is my day job. While I really love the staff and the role itself, if I wanted to work in a compartmentalized corporate conglomerate where I am a mere cog in the big giant wheel I would have chosen another type of firm. If it took 18 months for the partners’ Dr. Jeckyll to transform in Mr. Hyde, experience tells me the time span between future transformations will evolve into a briefer and briefer pattern.

After leaving my prior employee-based position, I swore not to put myself into another position where I am cleaning up the messes resulting from lack of communication and poor decision making. If I am in a role where I am supposed to be managing something to manage firm resources and personnel, I need to either be part of the solution or my job becomes a cancer that takes over my life.

This weekend, I decided we would resolve this issue or I would be turning in my notice. Sounds extreme, I know, but in truth I have a thriving part-time self-employment business and am routinely having to turn away referrals from existing clients because I don’t have time to take on a lot more new work. While making money is really nice – I am a capitalist at heart and do appreciate my opportunities to make lots of bucks – it is not worth sacrificing my self-respect or feeling undervalued and unappreciated. That said, I am not someone with an over-inflated ego; I so nor believe myself indispensable and beyond reproach for my skills and work habits. I am well aware that everyone is replaceable and there are literally dozens of equally to more qualified candidates out there. But whether those other candidates bring the same level of care and compassion to the work, I have no idea. I do think my empathy coupled with practicality, skill set, and willingness to be fair and balanced in dealing with people – maybe it’s less common.

M and I had discussed this extensively over the weekend, and I had a few in-depth conversations with other friends who are in similar lines of work. I needed a gut-check to ensure I was not massively overreacting. But at the end of the conversations, I would probably still be inclined to walk away if this was the new world order at my firm. Love the people, actually really like and respect the partners as well, but I cannot and will not work with my role and priorities being altered without any discussion or notice.

With this all settled for me, I went into the meeting with a clear head and an open mind. I had my hopes – an explanation at the very least – and was not completely disappointed by the outcome.

There was a genuine apology for their brush off. There was opportunity for me to vent my feelings – primarily anger, disappointment, and betrayal. I felt set-up, walking in blind with a couple of candidates they already knew or were at least familiar enough with to invite to meet with us. No debrief? No advance warning? Or was it the candidate set-up with extended hopes and expectations?

Uncomfortable silence around the table when I laid it out for them in black and white, and I was dimly reminded of reprimanding my kids in their youth. Unanimous agreement all around the process had been botched and that the candidates were unlikely to be a good fit with the type of firm they have created and the professional atmosphere they want to foster.

The why of it all still eludes me, other than the concern of adding more female professional staff looms large in their minds. I point out that yours truly is female and a manager, even if I am not an attorney and even if my male bosses dis me from time to time. However, I agree that another female hires would be beneficial. Alas, finding the most qualified female for the jobs we are seeking to fill has been a challenge as well. In addition to that, our willingness and ability to accommodate the time and schedule requests of the lady lawyers we have extended offers to have been rejected. Not our fault.

But before we dug too deeply into the actual recruiting part of our meeting, I wanted to wrap-up the communication aspect of our discussion.

Bosses agreed they botched this introduction and also agreed it might have been partly an unconscious and on purpose choice to test our mettle. Nope, I did not like that, at all, and we were very nearly back to square one.

Of the 4, all have been married and divorced at some point, although all are presently single right now. I am older by more than a decade and have been with M for more than a quarter century and know quite a bit about trust, betraying trust, and what it takes to rebuild once broken. Just in case you’re curious – it was not infidelity on either side, so much as my child victimization and M sharing it with our counselor without my permission or even telling me first. That lack of communication nearly ended our marriage, and it took a long time and therapy to recover and rebuild.

While their behavior is small-ball in comparison, it is serious enough that I did figure out my options and whether resignation was a viable one. I do not threaten ever, and I did not give them a “my way or the highway” ultimatum speech. What I did say – I am a professional in my own right and in my own field, and I am always straightforward and honest with them about my thoughts, ideas, opinions. This is their firm; they can run it however they see fit. However, if my role in it is as they have described and up to this incident acted like it was what they wanted, the game playing and mettle-testing must cease. Immediately. Tell me it is none of my business. Decide to alter my job description and explain to me that they are implementing changes to my duties and role. But do not treat me like an unknown quantity they cannot or will not trust enough to use her best judgement. Because despite what they thought they were doing or what they intended, this is the ultimate outcome of their misstep.

They are smart men; they got the message loud and clear. There is no double-secret probation, no hoops they must jump through to make it up to me. But my expectation of being treated like a professional was crystal clear.

After a rough day with all that yesterday, it was good to have some space from them and focus on my self-employment workload today.

Life is long and relationships of all stripes complicate everything. But we will sort it out, work it out. Our first big fight; time will tell how it shapes our future.

Work and eating elephants

Yesterday was kind of a bad day. After this many years of living, working, raising a family, etc., I should recognize the signs of fatigue and proceed with caution. But even when I am tired, work must go on. Unfortunately the people around me do not always seem to get the memo that they too must do their jobs so projects can progress.

I’m in the midst of a complicated client project issue that has a lot of players, moving parts, and differences of opinions. And I, as leader of this merry band, should be be tactful and diplomatic in navigating the meetings, intense discussions, and fragile egos involved while keeping the work moving forward and on schedule. Honestly, I think I would rather be at home trying to herd the fluffbuckets.

One of the team yesterday offered up that “how do you eat and elephant?” cliche when I opened this continuation (from Monday) meeting with an announcement that we needed to make some final decisions to move forward and meet a firm deadline set by others higher up the food chain than all of us. My retort was something akin to “we are long past masticating the damn elephant! The elephant has been put through the Vitamix and we are nearing the point of drinking it through a straw, so can we please just make f–king decisions and get busy with the actual work?”

Okay, I didn’t swear out loud, but it was there inside my head. We were precisely 2 minutes into a meeting and I lost my patience and had a verbal foot-stomping tantrum. In a client’s office and meeting with the client’s staff that had clamored to work on this project with me. I had been warned by the powers that hired me that it would be a rough go at times with the appointed group. My chilly retort to a joking statement had the effect of turning down the thermostat to sub-zero temperatures. I guess it was effective, because in another 2 hours we had hammered out the foundational basics that had stalled forward progress during prior meetings and endless email threads. Not everyone got precisely what they wanted, but everyone got something and was able to go away satisfied that their concerns were heard and validated. What I found most irritating about this group that most of what had stalled progress and delayed me a week could be edited, added to, or deleted after the program is put in place. But in order for me to move forward, I needed 2 areas/descriptions pared down from over 2000 to 250 or less (per the higher ups who hired me for this work).

Working with this group reminds me why I would not want to return to a larger corporate environment on a permanent basis. The layers of management and traditional corporate structure is not a good fit for me and a big part of why I chose smaller firms.

Going forward, elephants are metaphorically banned food, off any and all menus. Just thinking about and recapping that meeting here causes a headache and the beginning of an eye twitch.

Yesterday I also had a meeting with a small start-up seeking some cost effective accounting help starting in 2016. That was kind of refreshing and scary at the same time. The principals involved are young, hip, cool, very smart guys, and yet they are not well versed in the actual running of a business. For the last 2 years they have been paying their CPA firm to manage their books and finances, and at CPA rates it’s been a huge amount of money. I was actually referred to them by their attorney and know their CPA by reputation. I was careful to stay completely neutral about what I think about him.

It would be a fairly simple, straightforward engagement. However, there are some basic decisions that need to made immediately – like what accounting software they want to use, how they want to proceed with time and billing, where the separation between what their contracted accounting does (everything except taxes) and what their CPA does (taxes) – and they are not sure what they want to do, how to proceed, wanted to discuss the pros and cons of various packages down to the most granular level. The program their CPA uses is common for larger firms, but far more than they need. I tried to answer their questions about accounting software in as much detail as I could without actually having the program open and running in front of me. Hopefully our meeting helped define the steps they need to address before engaging an accounting service or staff member. I like working with bright people, and I could see myself accepting this engagement, but not so much that I am willing to lower my billing rate or the minimum hours I will bill each month. Slowly I am learning how to prioritize work and not donate my time.

So goes the life of the independent consultant. I am getting into the groove of workflow, and no 2 days are ever alike. There are some business decisions looming large and to be explored in another post. I will say that today is already a better day with regard to mood and overall attitude. Amazing what an adequate amount of sleep can do for one’s outlook.

Happy Thursday everyone.