I have an interesting situation. I left a big consulting firm two years ago, under not so good terms. I was with the company about five years. To this day I do not know if I was ousted, kicked out by my boss, kicked out by several peers I wasn’t friendly with; but most likely a combination. Officially, I was given good severance, and my boss did make public overtures that I would be welcomed back. Further, several others in my group hired me as a contractor for various special projects. However, I kept on hearing small tidbits that basically, after I left, every promotion I had ever received was called into question (I was promoted only 4 months before being let go, and on average got a promotion every year and a half). Projects I had worked on were torn apart, and without me there to explain my work, it wasn’t too hard for my contributions to the company to appear less than stellar.
I understand now that I had an HR file, which my boss kept on me, and had forwarded to the secretary of the group, who then forwarded my personnel info to her friends. This secretary was also friends with many very senior employees, who were primarily the ones I understand as being those making sure I wouldn’t be remembered in a good light. I can’t help but think that perhaps all of the things I heard about the group speaking badly of me after I left was to make sure I couldn’t return any time soon and find out for myself if my personnel info had been leaked and given to various employees in appropriately.
Now, what have we here? I contacted one of my friends from my former company about a job out in the area of the country he had spent some time in for business school. I immediately got an offer, to which I am grateful to him. However, my main project is to help make the new firm draw more business from my former company. In fact, one of my main deliverables is to work on the business plan my former company had mocked me for, which now they see as important.
My stomach simply churns at the thought of doing work I always thought was important, that I believe was denigrated for very political reasons, and the whole time knowing that my former colleagues can pretty much take my name off the project and divvy up the credit amongst themselves. I’m just at loss at what to do. Until recently, I had more or less gotten the old resentment and unhappiness with my old company and colleagues out of my system, but the thought of working on an old project, at a reduced pay (I’m making slightly less now) after an ouster, after having my work derided for very suspicious reasons, I’m very inclined to quit my new job. I’ve talked to my new company however, and they see my primary value in the knowledge and experience I bring from my old one, so I won’t be able to hop into another role at this new company, at least for a while.
I understand that at work, a person needs to separate himself from taking things too personally, and to view things in business and professional manners. However, how much can a person take?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
Thanks for your letter. It raises some hot issues around business intelligence and the value of not burning bridges. To figure out a solution let’s focus on the core complaint in your letter and what your reaction is to date:
“However, my main project is to help make the new firm draw more business from my former company. In fact, one of my main deliverables is to work on the business plan my former company had mocked me for, which now they see as important… My stomach simply churns at the thought of doing work I always thought was important…”
Your response to this new opportunity is that it is a bitter pill to swallow. You’d rather have been hired at this new company with a blank slate, a fresh start. But the reality is that the prime asset you have is business intelligence from your previous employer. The new employer sees this as valuable, otherwise they would have hired someone else. I can just imagine the hiring conversation they had. Perhaps it went something like this,
“This new guy will be perfect. We’ve got to get him. He used to work at the company, and this project was his baby. He knows everything about it, and he’s got the inside scoop on who the actors are too. He’ll help us to win more business from the company, which could be worth ten times his salary. This is a master stroke. We’re so lucky to tap into his intelligence and at this price…”
A stepping stone to bigger things
You are in a competitive industry where what, and whom you know can have tremendous value. So don’t let your personal feelings blind you to what a great opportunity this is. Try to improve your attitude by taking the long view. This project can be a stepping stone to bigger things.
A kick in the pants for a great idea
I feel your pain. We’ve been ‘kicked in the pants’ many times, and it can be a bitter pill to swallow. Let me share with you what is now an amusing anecdote from our marketing business. Over the years I’ve presented many ideas to clients about trends that we believe are going to directly affect their business.
One was to a business education company that we’d worked with successfully for many years. In 1995 we went in and pitched them on the huge opportunity they had if they offered their training over the Internet. We said, “You can expand your audience, sell more seminars and books, and also reduce costs by publishing your catalogue online…”
The reaction? “Don’t waste our time. The Internet is a flaky fringe thing that has no value to our customers.” We were treated as though we were trying to pull the wool over their eyes, and steal money from their pockets. They just didn’t get it.
What did we do? We were shocked by their negative reaction, because we genuinely believed that we saw a great marketing opportunity for them. But we moved on and pitched other clients. We chalked it up to experience. And whenever we felt a little bitter, we consoled ourselves by saying, “One day, they’ll recognize what a brilliant idea it was. They just weren’t ready.”
And you know what? That day came. I met the Vice-President of Marketing (now ex-VP), and he said, “I really should have listened to you. You guys were right. We should have jumped on the Internet. If only…”
So sweet victory may still be yours. And you have an even better chance to maintain some tiny bit of intellectual ownership of the project by staying involved. (If it really hits big, you can add it to your resume — because you were on the team.)
The other point that bears noting is that you are a consultant, which means your ideas-are-for-hire. Not all of your brilliant ideas will be implemented. That is a fact of life. Unless you are the top dog, the CEO (and even then outside forces can upset brilliant ideas, e.g. analysts and board members second-guessing company decisions), you do not have control.
To answer your letter I also turned to a veteran in the consulting field, Susan Bulkeley Butler, Author of “Become the CEO of You, Inc.” Susan enjoyed a long and very successful career working for consulting giant, Accenture. Susan advised,
“Looking at the “glass half-full”, you have been hired by a new company at a lower salary than before, but you were also given a good severance. And, because of your capabilities, your new employer wants you to grow their business with the previous company. I believe you have an opportunity to take the good work that you did and be of tremendous value to your new company. Additionally, if your old employer hired you after you resigned, someone had confidence in your abilities. Now you need to have confidence in yourself to go back and be successful.
If you believe you can be successful in the new project, you need to get over the past, learn from it and move on….look forward to the future. If however, you believe that the old environment would be one that would impede your success; I would have a discussion with your employer. You certainly don’t want to take on anything that would not be successful. Perhaps the project team could be structured so that you are more in the background using your knowledge and experience with the people and others would be more in the forefront. This way, the team is a winner and you have been a tremendous asset.
Lastly, do you have a mentor? I would suggest this would be a good conversation to have with her/him. Many times I have found that with a good listener asking the right questions I have come up with the right solution myself. Mentors are essential for all of us to have on our team. Best of luck in your new career and in your project.”
The other aspect to your letter is suspicion that your personnel file was not treated as confidential. This is troubling but you need to move on and treat it as water-under-the-bridge. I would highly suggest reading ‘Survival of the Savvy’ by Dr. Rick Brandon and Dr. Marty Seldman for tips on how your can protect yourself in the future. In the book they explore the idea of how employees can create positive buzz about themselves, and build a stronger base to sell ideas up the food chain. They also talk about the different types of people in organizations, from the overly political to the under political.
Remember they hired you for your brains and your business contacts. Be proud of that.
Best of luck in making the most of your new job. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2006. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.
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