The One Piece of Career Advice I Wish I’d Had When I Was Younger
Answer by Ian Mathews, Senior Executive for two Fortune 500 companies, on Quora:
No one is looking out for your career.
My first manager out of college was amazing. He was patient, motivating and loyal to his team.
He pushed us but took time to celebrate when we delivered. This is a rare attribute in a corporate world where no conversation seems to end without asking for more.
In a short period of time under this manager, I won several top sales awards and was promoted to sales manager in only three years.
He made us feel like insiders, sharing information typically reserved for executives.
If we were facing genuine resistance, he fought for us. Not just the “I’ll run it up the chain” nonsense you get from yes-men, but legitimate battling.
When an employee sees their manager in the trenches, listening and fighting for their team, it can be incredibly motivating.
We worked for one of the smallest business units in a massive company.
One day, we came in to the office to learn about an internal company merger. It was communicated in an email and from what we could tell, our small business was being merged into a much larger business.
I hustled down to my manager’s office to get the scoop. He was always in the loop on this type of stuff and I planned to bust his chops for not looping me in earlier.
He was reading the same email very carefully. It struck me that he was learning about this merger the same way I did.
“I’ll make some calls and see what I can learn.”
This wasn’t the first re-organization I had been through. Big companies go through these internal mergers for one reason.
To reduce staff.
They communicate something entirely different. Creating value, simplifying the customer experience, selling a more valuable bundle, blah, blah, blah.
The real reason is always cost reduction. The larger business gobbles up the smaller business, keeps sales and key technical resources, then reduces functions like back office, accounting, HR, management, etc.
This is especially true when the overall business is declining or flat.
We didn’t learn much after that email. Two months went by and it was business as usual.
We kept on working, all with this approaching storm cloud on the horizon.
My team would ask what I knew. I would mutter, “We’ll know soon” and then call my boss and ask the same.
Finally, we had our annual manager’s meeting after the close of the year. The first big change was that our meeting was now combined with our new merger partner.
Good or bad, we would learn what we needed to know at this meeting.
The first day of meetings was filled with presentations from executives I didn’t know. PowerPoint slides explained the merger with colorful bar charts and catchy buzz words like “synergy”, “better together” and “one team”.
They were talking without saying anything at all, a skill I had yet to master as a young manager. The only thing I could discern was tone. It was clear that they saw our cute little business as inferior to theirs.
They had big plans to optimize us, succeed where we had failed and get us back on track. In other words, this was not a merger of equals (they never are).
Our boss set up an early dinner with his direct reports. There were six of us managers.
We sucked down a drink and talked about how odd the meeting was.
We didn’t know that his day had been considerably worse than ours.
During one of the breaks, he had been pulled aside and told that his position was being eliminated. After 15 years with the company, he no longer had a job.
We were stunned. This was a friend and he looked crushed.
That feeling lasted about two seconds. Next, came panic. Were we on our way out the door too?
He didn’t make us ask that awkward question. He told us that decisions hadn’t been made at our level and that there would be some competition for front line management positions.
There would be cuts but not as deep as the executive ranks.
“Do you know who is going to make that decision?”