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Until the day she was called into a meeting room without notice and told her role, and the career she had worked so incredibly hard for; sacrificed so much for – was as good as over.
Her role as General Manager of a major division with one of the world’s most recognised brands was now redundant. Those words “Your role has been redundant”. Such cold and disheartening words but ones heard by so many in this time of economic uncertainty and change. The one constant we can rely on these days is change. But for many, change isn’t positive – it’s heartbreaking, shocking, crushing. It’s career ruining. It can be life ruining.
But it wasn’t always this way…
Her career began perfectly. A fantastic high school education, followed by a coveted Commerce/Law degree, with honours to boot. She wanted to work for one of the big global brands that people would “oooh” and “ahhhh” over when they heard she secured the top graduate placement. Of course, she secured the top graduate placement.
After 3 years on the Graduate Program at this global organisation, she was recognised as top developing talent and sent to New York on an “Emerging Leaders Talent Program”. For 6 months, she worked across multiple business areas and got to know how large organisations managed themselves. But more importantly, she learnt what it was to work hard, and as a female coming through the ranks, be strong with a “take no prisoners” approach. This was business after all. And business is a man’s world so she had to learn how to conduct herself accordingly. She had to sharpen, or harden, her edge – or so she thought. It seems so 1980’s, but she wanted to do what she had to do to succeed.
And succeed she did. Soon after returning to Australia she was appointed into her first management role. She was given two direct reports, juniors but she was now a leader all the same. She thrived on this. She loved the acclaim that came with her being one of the youngest female leaders ever appointed.
She nailed that position, as she had always done. After 12 months, as recognised ‘top talent’ she was appointed into her first serious leadership role as the Head of Consumer Marketing. She now managed one of the largest customer bases in the market, with a reporting division of 35 people. Wow, she really had made it.
All went swimmingly. Her results were outstanding. She out-performed what were very ambitious commercial KPIs. Her teams were engaged and she’d successfully stepped up to the challenge of going from ‘peer’ to ‘leader’. But she wanted more. She’d been in the role for 2 years now and was getting itchy feet. Two years? Surely it was time for her to receive her next promotion?
And so it was. She got promoted again. Could her career journey be any more perfect? She was now, after only 8 years with the organisation, the General Manager, Marketing, Product and Operations. She was 32 years old. Her peer group were senior leaders who had been with the organisation for many years – so many more years than her – and she was now really playing with the big cats in the executive team. She would nail it, as she’d always done – wouldn’t she?
For the first time in her career, though, she felt a little out of her depth. Was it due to the scale of her role? No. Was it because she now had a division of 80 people? No. Was it that her KPIs were bigger than ever? No. It was because the ‘playing field’ had changed. There seemed to be more politics. Her GM peers were fierce. They were all fighting for their own agendas, arguing over who owned what function and who had the ultimate say on strategy, budgets and direction. She spent her days going from meeting to meeting, presentation to presentation. She no longer had the time she wanted – felt she needed – for her team. Her head was spinning daily. She was working in the big time now – but was she succeeding? She began to wonder.
Things started to change. Her work ethic and drive were as strong as ever, however the way she was used to get things done was different. The goal posts had moved. She was told to cut costs from her division so she reduced budgets and made 10 roles redundant. She delivered it factually and directly, as advised. But her team suffered. Her engagement scores had gone from the highest in the company to one of the lowest. Her people were disengaged and she was losing top talent to competitors. But her results were still strong. She had cut her operating costs after all so everything would be fine. Wouldn’t it?
The 6 months that followed were tough. She became more reclusive, remaining in the safety of her office rather than walking the floor and engaging with her teams and stakeholders. She began losing confidence in herself, and it showed. She was overwhelmed. And then she fell pregnant. What wonderful news! Not only was she going to be a mum but she had a ‘get out’ clause!
What happened next is not an uncommon story. She took 12 months off on maternity leave and during that time, her role was care-taken by another leader…who did an amazing job. They weren’t as strong as her in marketing and product, but their engagement scores with the team returned to being the best in the company and the executive team earmarked them for big things. The business started to get a bit worried. Would things regress when she returned from maternity leave?
When she returned she felt their animosity. Things had changed. She’d started to lose confidence before she went on leave but now? She felt out of touch. Like she didn’t belong there anymore. Was the struggle worth it, anyway? She had a baby at home and wasn’t sure if she wanted the pressure and stress.
Shaken, confused, she decided to take a different role in the company; a sideways step with less people reporting into her and a lower profile in the organisation. And she stayed there for the next 4 years. Her career aspirations were different now. She was a mother, and she just didn’t feel like the talented, high-powered executive she once was. And she certainly didn’t have the support internally she once did. She also no longer had the time, or quite frankly, the care to present the way she used to – or to invest in key relationships as she once did. She only had time to ‘do her job’ and nothing else.
So what happened in the end? This incredibly talented star performer took a serious fall from grace. She didn’t believe it was worth it anymore. She didn’t believe SHE was worth it anymore. She felt like people didn’t have her on the pedestal that they used to, and there wasn’t anything she could do about it. It was better to just fade into the background.
Then the inevitable happened. Now just a blip on the radar, the organisation decided that her role was to be made redundant. All that she’d worked for was reduced to a pay-out and a career in ruins.
What a shame. It didn’t have to be that way. All she had to do was believe, adjust and then REBRAND. And then others would see the compelling results. This was a state of mind. It had nothing to do with her ability. It had nothing to do with being in that particular organisation. Her potential was unchanged – she was still whip-smart, experienced, worth it. But her EQ – her emotional intelligence and self-awareness, belief – were shot.
So how can you protect yourself so this doesn’t happen to you? It’s time to stop burying your head in the sand and realise that your career might already be on the path to derailment…
Enough of getting up and going to work every day like an uninspired robot or lacking the confidence or belief in yourself that you deserve. It’s time to remove yourself, from yourself, and start taking control of your career future. Time to look inside from the outside and realise what others see. For better or for worse, it’s time to ask the tough questions, the ones you don’t necessarily want to hear the answers to but you know, deep down, you’ll be better for it. It’s time to make sure that your story doesn’t end like this one.
I happen to know someone who can help.
By Hayley James, Founder and Managing Director