The seven-year itch saga of a human capital professional in a consulting firm.
A few days ago, on a bright winter morning (Yes, you read it right, winters in Mumbai are more pleasant than any other season), I was skimming through WhatsApp on my way to work, when one of the messages caught my eye. It was a common one that I had seen regularly on Facebook timelines as well as on Twitter feeds. However, this time around, the message seemed to resonate more than usual. It said – “You can’t make everyone happy all the time…you’re not an ice-cream wallah!!!”
As an HR professional, this has been a frequent dilemma I have faced all through my seven-year career with my current organisation. Was I meant to say and do things that people around me liked to hear or was it more important to do the right thing? The third option being, like most would say, play to the gallery. Every situation demands a different you. Almost always, I would end up doing the right thing because the soft voice within wouldn’t let me choose any other. While somewhere, it helped me fast-track my career and gain acceptance and acknowledgement from all the right people whom I looked up to, my growth did not come without its share of hurdles.
Job Loyalty today to the Gen Z millennial is similar to a live-in relationship —you stick around till the going’s great until either you or your manager decides to move on for being denied the grade-bump that either of you felt you deserved. At my first job, compromise was key and everyone had an adjusting attitude. Those who didn’t get promoted a particular year simply waited patiently for their chance another year. Pull factors weren’t as compelling as they are today. You had dime-a-dozen cases of staff being felicitated for doing the same job from the same desk for decades. Monotony was the new consistency. Very early in my career, I realised that slipping into my comfort zone was detrimental to my growth. As time went by, I switched jobs and began my journey with an organisation known to cut through complexity. Every organisation has a culture that defines who it is and this organisation was no different. As I navigated my early days here, I realised that one of the most important drivers towards getting your job done was to establish credibility with your stakeholders. It is important for them to perceive you as independent, and capable of adding value. Galvanising all the passion and commitment within, I went at it full throttle, slogging like a workhorse.
My expectations from my reportees to bring in the same amount of passion, commitment and workaholism to the table backfired miserably. While my stakeholders and superiors had no reason to complain about my performance, my own team had a different story to tell. When one of them moved on within nine months of working with me, I got a first-hand experience of ‘People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’. While it was very easy for me to deny it and attribute the exit to all factors others than me, I knew it was time to introspect.
Call it beginner’s luck, or God (& stakeholders) just being kind or me simply being at the right place at the right time always-my efforts in my formative years got noticed and I soon grew from the grass-root level into a manager. It was always the destination that motivated me, little did I know that once I arrive there I would have been happier enjoying the journey.
The destination turned out to be a rather rude wake-up call. Although I had exhibited managerial traits in my day-to-day dealings, which gave me the edge, but as they say, leading the self isn’t enough, a managerial role is also a lot about leading others. It gets even more challenging when one has to inspire a team for whom workspace is just a spec in their life space. My expectations from my reportees to bring in the same amount of passion, commitment and workaholism to the table backfired miserably. While my stakeholders and superiors had no reason to complain about my performance, my own team had a different story to tell. When one of them moved on within nine months of working with me, I got a first-hand experience of ‘People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’. While it was very easy for me to deny it and attribute the exit to all factors others than me, I knew it was time to introspect.
Perhaps I was being unrealistic. Fighting off an uncomfortable perception, that had started to develop, about myself, I realised it was going to be a tough task shaking this monkey off my back.
As stray thoughts began making me feel vulnerable, it became difficult to bring myself to work. Deep within I knew this too shall pass. Eventually, greater sense did prevail. I did not want to abandon my six-year career that was built brick-by-brick, upping my HR credibility quotient. If there was someone who’d be setting things in order, it’d have to be me. Fortunately, for me, I did not have to look outside for solutions. Self-introspection and improvement seemed easier than trying to change the world. One mentor stood by me as a rock and resonated my internal thoughts. I knew all I had to do was tweak myself a little bit without compromising my core ideals and losing sight of my stakeholders. I had to nurture the feminine in me, marrying my task side with the people side. In short, I had to replicate the formula that worked with my business stakeholders, now with my own team. And that’s what I did. I started approaching my team and our deliverables differently. In addition, I enhanced my network, bounced off my thoughts with fellow HR professionals at various speaking forums and asked questions inquisitively with the desire to learn and improve. Someone, somewhere would have heard me in some forum, which led to me speaking at a leading business school. Step by step, college by college, forum by forum, conclave to conclave I paved inroads to IIMs and IITs, pursuing my passion to engage and share insights with budding talent.
While popular perception is always hard to change, I decided to focus on things, which were under my control at work and continued to impact hundreds of lives on weekends— through my 1:1 connects, coaching sessions, guest lectures and presence on various forums as a moderator and panelist. As my experience and expertise increased, so did my stakeholders’ trust in me, to deliver meaningful solutions to people issues they were facing.
By the end of my second year as a manager, I could experience the metamorphosis I had undergone. It was a tough journey, but an enjoyable one. Not for anything else, but for my own self I knew that this would hold me in good stead. Something unheard of, something that I knew was difficult but not impossible, successfully hit another milestone nine months ago, as I got bumped up to associate director.
More than me, my mother was happy and so was everyone in my family. After all, there are many silent tears and sacrifices that go into making individuals chase their dreams. Parties and back-pats thrilled me but I was also cognizant of the fact that with this came a huge sense of responsibility and ownership as well.
That very sense of responsibility reinstated my faith in the system, in the people around me, and in the fact that one should continue to do the right thing.
Today, I have a team that I am proud of. They got me and I got us.
All my failures as a manager prepped me towards becoming a better associate director. These nine months in this position have not just been the double of the four and a half months of this financial year, but actually multifold.
We work through the nights together, have each other’s back and most importantly, keep adding value to the business we support.
As nine months have passed, I sense a rebirth of sorts within me. A new child has been born and this child will now give birth to a family.
(The author is associate director, human resources, KPMG India. The views expressed in the article are personal and do not reflect the views of KPMG or HRKatha.)