On the first day of class, Miles Arnone commented, “think about your philosophy to ethics and integrity beforehand. If you don’t, you will get stuck in a bad situation where you make a last minute, emotional decision which you will later regret. “1 He later went on to say, “know yourself, be consistent and know your partners.”2 Know yourself is undoubtedly the most powerful lesson I learned from Managing People & Organizations. In truly knowing myself, I will make smarter decisions which are better aligned with my values and which “maximize my potential to be happy.”3 Secondly, I learned to pay more attention to culture in evaluating job opportunities. And lastly, I learned of the necessity of being proactive in managing my own career.
As one of the oldest women in the 2011 MBA graduating class, I’d like to say that I know myself well, but the truth is I don’t. I am just beginning to know myself. Knowing yourself is a byproduct of making decisions, having diverse experiences, and actively reflecting on those experiences. Until I was twenty five, I simply didn’t participate in many of those activities, rather I operated on autopilot and either allowed others to make decisions for me or simply stumbled upon opportunities which nudged me along a single dimensional path. For instance, as a teenager, I let my father decide which after school sports I would participate in. I wasn’t good at softball or tennis, but my dad wanted me to play, so I did. I attended Wake Forest University, where the only thing that differentiated me from my classmates was that I came from a middle class white family, not an upper middle class white family. Needless to say there was little diversity. But this environment was what I was used to. The small town in central New Jersey that I grew up in was also extremely homogenous, so attending Wake was not much of a stretch. In college, I majored in finance less because I was interested in it and more because my dad wanted me to develop marketable skills to build my resume and sell to employers. I played it safe by accepting the first job offered to me in the fall of my senior year and moved to Charlotte to work for Wachovia after graduation. I didn’t explore a single other alternative. In Charlotte, I would consider myself extremely fortunate to have fallen upon some phenomenal work experiences, but I also had my share that were not so pleasant. And as I described in my Core Values essay, I finally hit my breaking point and wanted out of Charlotte all together. Accepting a job in Boston and committing to the move was the first big, independent decision I made in my whole life!
At that point, I decided to stop being a bystander and to start taking control of the direction I wanted my life to go. Instead of letting others decide for me or agonizing over how to decide, I learned that that I control the outcomes of my decisions. It’s my responsibility to manage the ambiguity of difficult decisions, recover from the mistakes of poor decisions, and exploit the opportunities inherent in good decisions. I was able to persevere through some difficult situations, which in turn helped me to build confidence. Riding on this high, I picked up my current boyfriend at a bar in Boston. A year earlier, I never would have been able to summon the courage to approach a guy. But I was confident and it worked; we’ve been together for nearly two years! Together we have had some amazing experiences: snowmobiling in Vermont, travelling Europe in a brand new BMW, meeting his parents and grandparents in his native country, Bulgaria, biking through Acadia National Park and hiking Mount Washington. I am a better, stronger person for having lived these tremendous experiences with someone who enjoys adventure as much as I do.
Steve Ainsley admitted to our class that he had not reflected on the turbulent past seven months at the Boston Globe until just a few weeks ago.4 His comment stuck with me because I find myself too often forgetting to reflect on significant events. The process of writing my Core Values Essay forced me to step back, think about my experiences and, more importantly, identify why they were meaningful. This period of reflection allowed me to recognize the three values which have guided my life. More importantly, it clarified why some of my job choices were not a good fit, and how to better evaluate opportunities moving forward which are aligned with my value system. It’s crystal clear to me now that reflection time is needed to draw out the meaning behind my diverse experiences. Without it, those experiences can drift into passive memories rather than remain as powerful learning opportunities.
Though I have a lot more work to do in getting to know myself, at least I am at a point where I recognize its significance. The better I know myself, the better the future decisions I will make.
The Importance of Cultural Fit
Earlier in my career, I made the mistake of focusing too much on the job description and the “artifacts of an organization’s culture”5 and not enough on culture itself. I hadn’t yet identified community/ sense of belonging as one of my core values, and thus neglected to research culture in applying to jobs. Also, I had not fully reflected on the way in which strong cultural alignment enhanced my work output and poor cultural alignment detracted from it. Instead, I was more interested in reading about the glamorous responsibilities I could have than about interviewing my boss and evaluating the decision making process in the organization. But, during the course of the past seven weeks I realized how important company culture is to me and my happiness with the job I am employed to do.
Three months into my job at Old Mutual I knew it wasn’t a good cultural fit. The senior management team bragged of an open door policy yet never spent time in the office. The hierarchical system did not encourage creativity and prevented younger people from advancing. Decision were made by three people who never interacted with others in the organization and the preferred method of delivering communications regarding business performance was through a quarterly email to all employees. The atmosphere was completely impersonal and opposite of what I valued. Peter Drucker said, “to work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to non performance.”6 He was right. I was unhappy, and I know it showed in the attitude I brought to work every day. My number one priority was getting into MBA school, not superior job performance for Old Mutual. I didn’t fit in there because I wasn’t “motivated primarily by money or status. Great people want to work on exciting projects. Great people want to feel like impact players. Put simply, great people want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves.”7 I was lonely, bored and uninspired, so I left. Anybody can write a thoughtful job description, but it’s much more difficult to instill a sense of belonging in an organization’s culture.
This class helped me to see that in order to be happy, the job and the culture both have to fit. I’ll find the sweet spot in a job which not only allows me to engage in high quality work with advancement opportunity, but also connects me to my organization. I don’t want to be a job hopper anymore, rather I would like to settle down and establish a long term career with one organization. I’ve already started practicing how to look for these qualities by attending information sessions on campus at BC. Thus far, I am most impressed with ExxonMobil. The presenters spoke not only about the different lines of business, financial evaluation criteria and potential projects a new hire may work on, but also about their personal experiences with ExxonMobil. One presenter announced she had worked for the company for over twenty years. As a mother of four, she was able to have a family but still pursue career progression. Tones throughout the presentation emphasized leadership promotion from within and teamwork by way of close interaction with the operating areas of the business. 8 I truly got the feeling that working for Exxon would both challenge me professionally but would also fulfill my need to be involved in a community-based organizational culture. It’s too early to say that I am targeting this company for employment, but I feel much more confident in assessing opportunities now that I know more about what I am looking for.
Take “Responsibility for Relationships”9 and Seek out Good Managers
At Old Mutual I was negatively impacted not only by the culture but also by the hands off management style. My boss failed to conduct one-on-ones and regularly cancelled team meetings which had been scheduled. When we did interact, his comments were condescending in nature rather than constructive. Contrary to Drucker’s advice: “listen first, speak last,”10 my manager consistently was the first, last, and loudest to have his opinion heard. Furthermore, information did not flow through him to the rest of the team, which was a critical reason I disengaged so quickly. We never forged a strong relationship and I felt as though he was totally disinterested in my career progression. What’s more, I didn’t have strong relations with my coworkers either. As Coffman said in his interview with Fortune Magazine, “the quality of the relationships you have with your manager and your coworkers helps some of the most productive people get through those leaving moments.”11 I had neither a strong bond with my manager nor developed relationships with my colleagues, thus I followed your advice: “if your boss sucks and you have no friends, then get out.”12
What I didn’t understand then, but I do now is that I could have been more proactive in establishing a stronger relationship with my manager and influencing his management style toward one that I find more relatable. By “taking responsibility for communication”13 I could have enabled him to be more effective. At the onset I should have shared with my manager a synopsis of my strengths, what skills I am looking to develop, the values I consider most important, and how I like to receive information. Rather than have him guess at how I work my best, open and clear communication early in our relationship could have completely changed the dynamics of how we worked together. By “getting the undiscussables on the table” 14 I could have more effectively managed the manager. While I regret that I didn’t know this earlier, I look forward to practicing this valuable lesson in the future on my first managerial role.
Though I have only worked for two companies thus far in my seven year career, I have held five distinct positions and have been managed by nine individuals. Clearly, I am no expert in picking managers. But you convinced me that I don’t have to be. During your Management lecture, a student asked your advice on how to start looking for jobs. You replied, “look for good companies. Good companies have good managers and you can move around.”15 I am confident that if I start here, search for companies with strong cultures and which are aligned with my core values, then I will find the right fit.
As mentioned earlier, I would like to find a company where I can settle down, become a lifelong employee, and ultimately rise to a managerial level within an organization. Your class helped to focus me on what makes me happy, and therefore how I need to approach decisions regarding my career. By knowing myself through more active reflection, seeking out cultural fit, and more actively taking responsibility for my relationships, I have gained more confidence in my ability to make the right decisions moving forward.
1. Miles Arnone guest lecture.
2. Miles Arnone guest lecture.
3. Radin, Bob. “Managing People and Organizations MB-712 Syllabus.” 1 July 2009: p.5.
4. Steve Ainsley guest lecture.
5. Schein, E. “What is an Organization’s Culture?” Harvard Business Review. 20 May 1999: p. 4.
6. Drucker, Peter. “Managing Oneself.” Harvard Business Review. January 2005.
7. Taylor, Bill. “Memo to a Young Leader: What Kind of Boss are You?” Blog. 3 May 2001.
8. ExxonMobil Information Sessions at Boston College on October 8, 2009.
9. Drucker, Peter. “Managing Oneself.” Harvard Business Review. January 2005: p.107.
10. Drucker, Peter. “What Makes an Effective Executive.” Harvard Business Review. June 2004: p. 63.
11. Coffman, Curt. “It’s the Manager, Stupid.” Fortune. 25 October 1999: p. 368.
12. Bob Radin Management lecture.
13. Drucker, Peter. “Managing Oneself.” Harvard Business Review. January 2005: p.107.
14. Tony DaDante guest lecture.
15. Bob Radin Management lecture.