How do you deal with leadership that doesn’t know what they want?
I’m a director for a super small company that has some super big accounts, and it’s still run like a small mom-and-pop company. As in: no processes, few resources to help me do my job easier, too many cooks in the kitchen, no accountability, no alignment across the org. I’ve done my best to get at least my department (ahem, just me) organized, documenting everything, and working based on strategy and time management instead of just grit. But I can’t do my job without other people internally returning my emails, sticking to deadlines, and trusting my processes.
I feel I’m doing the right thing and being a good example, but no one else is on board. It makes my job really hard and leadership doesn’t understand how much work I have to put in just to cross the finish line on some projects. I’m very transparent about what’s needed and how we can solve things, but I feel like no one’s listening. How do I manage this cognitive dissonance? It’s making me unhappy at my job. Is it time to go even though I’ve been here less than a year?
Andy: I’m sorry this is happening. It sucks not to be valued for the value you bring — it truly is a dissonance, often a painful one.
Emma: I’ve absolutely been there, a few months into a new gig as it dawns on me: oh, this is how it’s going to be? It’s not a great feeling, and it’s a feeling I trust. Every time I’ve been in your situation, I’ve started looking for something new.
Andy: Know this: there’s nothing magic about the one year mark. You can quit any time. You can quit on the first day. You can quit on the second day. You can quit on the third day. I’m compelled to fill this entire newsletter with affirmations that you can quit on each and every single day. Alice Walker says, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” I don’t want you to give up your power to quit because of an invented one-year goal line.
Emma: If and when you choose to embark on a new job hunt, you can use this not-so-great experience to get more grounded about what’s going to make you feel more fulfilled — or at least, drive you less crazy. I’m curious if you’re more frustrated by the lack of operational excellence, or that your ambitious new ideas are being stonewalled.
The answer could very well be “BOTH!!” but there is some nuance there that’s going to be really helpful as you research new companies, ask questions in interviews, and so on. I’m excited that this job may be able to help you slot in one more piece of the puzzle.
Andy: There are also definitely reasons you might want to stick this job out — a killer project, a bonus, expensive dental work on good insurance.
Emma: Maybe you can’t afford to quit. If money is the issue, I wholeheartedly recommend building up a Fuck Off Fund. We’ve mentioned this before: a savings account that will free you to quit any job at any time. It is a big ask, particularly mid-pandemic, but it is an even bigger ask of your future self to stay in a job that is terrible. Buy future you an out!
Andy: I also wonder if some of the improvements you’ve been championing may actually be coming — just reeaaaalllllyy slowly. Based on your email, I’m guessing you’re as impatient as Emma and I both are, but we know plenty of people who live for the long game.
Emma: That’s a great point. The level of top-down overhaul you’d like to achieve might not be realistic in the first few months you’re at this company. You say that leadership doesn’t know what it wants, but it sounds to me like they are just comfortable operating in the status quo. It’s going to be a painstaking process to get them onboard with something new.
Andy: Yes, you can just keep plugging away, getting more and more creative in how you present change to leadership, earning their trust, and proving that your ideas hold merit. I’ve filled my tanks for this by looking at the most infinitesimal wins: Has anyone asked for a copy of your spreadsheets to use for themselves? Did one person acknowledge your deadline, even if they missed it!? This will take internal fortitude and probably some light delusion. I’ve been known to read emails out loud in various tones until one of them sounds encouraging.
Emma: You could also just… stop caring. You’ve asked for what you need in all the ways that make sense to you: transparent communication, setting a good example. There were no takers. Now you can just go with the flow of lower standards — you do your thing, they do their thing, and on it goes.
Andy: I mean, they seemed to have survived before you arrived…
Emma: Depending on your personality, checking out like this can feel pretty icky. Try to think of it as freeing instead. You get to coast on the wake of everyone else’s chaos.
Andy: The flip side of that “not my pig, not my farm” style is to implement consequences. If your teammates and peers aren’t listening to your reasonable requests, firing up a bigger engine can make them give you what you need. Right now, what are the consequences for someone not following your processes?
Emma: I’m guessing: None?
Andy: In practice, this could look like making a decision without getting everyone’s sign off. If they miss the marketing feedback deadline, too bad! The fliers have already been printed!
Implementing this will likely involve saying no, without apology, over and over and over again, even when it feels impossible. I’ve had to force myself to log off when my impulse is to update Asana all night. I’ve paid upfront for 5:30p yoga classes just so I have to leave work on time. It often ruffles feathers and may even get you “in trouble.” But it also has the potential to give you the sense of authority and control you crave.
Emma: If you feel as exhausted as we do just thinking about these strategies, take it as evidence that there’s an expiration date on this job. And it’s approaching quickly.
Andy: We’d love an update when you decide what you’re going to do. Please write!