Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ASBPE National Blog: Ethics Nemesis Report: Outside Interference and Supplier Puff Pieces

ASBPE National Blog: Ethics Nemesis Report: Outside Interference and Supplier Puff Pieces

I loved this piece by ASBPE Ethics Chairman Howard Rauch. The ethics committee at ASBPE has been so valuable to me in the past whenever I faced one of the many ethics dilemmas presented by my old employer. Some of the circumstances mentioned in Howard's blog hit VERY close to home for me.

I am, however, heartened by the fact that a client of his actually had a publisher willing to go to bat for his editor to the point of losing a contract in favor of being an ethical company. Wow! That publisher is definitely my hero.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Feeling Negative About Negativity

I've been thinking a lot lately about negativity, since that is the "reason" my boss threw into my termination letter.

What I did to spark my firing was indeed negative by its definition: "refusing consent, as to a proposal." Although, strictly speaking, I didn't refuse the request to violate professional ethics. I only stated I was uncomfortable doing so and itemized the ways doing such a thing would damage the magazine and our company.

I was terminated before I had a chance to refuse.

Despite the accusation to the contrary, I've come to believe that I am not a negative person; I was simply in a negative situation. Negativity to my boss was asking her to interact in some way with a difficult situation or any type of request. The couple of times I had the "negative" thrown at me all dealt with me asking for a raise or more money for something. My boss wanted shiny, happy employees, grateful to be allowed to provide their expertise for below industry wages.

That's her right. It's her company, so she can pay people what she wants.

And, it's my right not to violate my profession's ethics.

I just wished it paid better.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bitter much?

I think it is natural to be bitter when you lose a job. You lose more than an income (although that income is extraordinarily important). You can lose a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning, your co-worker support system and, if you are like me, your sense of accomplishment.

I loved the feeling of completing something every day, whether it was an article written or edited, a proof signed off on or a new connection made. I accomplished something every day and it felt great.

I felt validated.

Losing my job the way I did just seems like a waste to me. In a perfect world, it wouldn't have happened. The bosses at my company regularly told the staff that they didn't need a reason to fire us. Missouri is an "at-will" state. While not a good way to motivate or inspire employees, they were right. They didn't need a reason.

I suspect my boss was tired of me saying I was uncomfortable with violating professional ethics, and finally decided, "hey, we can fire her." So, she did. And, she had every right to do so. Was it reasonable? No. Will they be a better company because of it? No. Am I better off? Oh, yes.

I think I'm most bitter because I didn't see it coming. I felt very secure that my "mad skills," my work ethic and my knowledge would protect me. I was wrong...and it is easy to be bitter about that. I hate being wrong.

But, along with the bitterness, I feel great relief to be free from a toxic environment that I did not have the courage to leave on my own. I liked my job too much. I liked most of my co-workers. And, I was good at my job...something I derived great satisfaction from.

I won't be so naive again. And, I know the types of questions I need to ask to make sure that my next boss is a great leader and manager. I made the mistake of ignoring some warning signs in my interview that should have tipped me off to the reality I was soon to face.

So, sure, I'll admit to the bitterness. Because the bitterness will go away...but my mad skills are here to stay.

Drinking the Kool-aid

Earlier this year, we were treated once again to the "state of the company" by our bosses. I had been through a couple of these by this point. In the past, these involved a rundown of how the business was doing, why we the staff were incompetent and not doing enough to increase profits and how everything was going to change. It was more or less an exercise in negativity (there's that word again) and futility. It was also more or less a joke among most of my fellow staffers who had lived through more of these than I had.

Generally speaking, associations hire association management companies to handle the administrative and creative functions that the members themselves do not have time or expertise to do. Most associations get their start as volunteer created and run entities. As they mature, it becomes necessary to bring in outside administrators to handle the day to day functions.

The company I worked for was first and foremost an association management company. I worked for a small off-shoot company that handled publishing responsibilities for three association magazines and one independent for-profit magazine. At its core, my job was a lot of fun. I love editing, writing and project management. In my three years with the company, I (along with a talented art director) redesigned four magazines, redesigned one website, launched a blog, webinar series and social media offerings. I kept extremely busy as deadlines were relentless, but I enjoyed the mechanics of my job.

The bosses' focus was on the association management part of the company, so I didn't get a lot of attention, which was fine with me. Occasionally, situations would come up that I wasn't "authorized" to handle. I'd go to my boss and ask for assistance. A lot of times I was met with resentment that I was asking for her involvement. She didn't have time; I was being "negative;" etc., etc. (Being faulted for negativity was the pat answer for anything that involved my boss being required to actually "manage" something.) In spite of all of this, I managed my publications efficiently and with great results.

Back to the state of the company....this particular meeting was a little different. I thought I spied real enthusiasm for what they were preaching this year. We were going to change directions from being an association management company to being an association leadership company. We were going to "partner" with our associations and help them launch themselves into the new business sphere. We were to showcase our expertise and meet resistance head on, convincing the associations' leadership that we were going to take them to "the next level." The slackers were going to be let go. If you didn't produce, you didn't stay. Well, I thought, no worries there. I always met deadlines, my magazines were loved by the members, I pitched in whereever help was needed and we regularly won awards.

OK...I drank the Kool-aid. I was excited to continue to lead my publications and continue to develop new ways of communicating with my associations' members. I was actually really looking forward to what we were going to accomplish in the next year..

The high was short-lived. This "New Company" I worked for was the same "pig in lipstick." There was to be no leading. Actually, there was to be no complaining or challenging resistance; we weren't even really a management company anymore. We were a "do whatever the client wants, no matter how ridiculous or damaging."

No amount of Kool-aid covers the fact that when your bosses are too weak to stand up for their supposed principles and too weak to back up their professional staffs, the next level you are going to reach is a lower one.

Is this Irony?

I was fired by courier. Maybe that's just a little bit ironic considering one of the four (yes, FOUR) magazines I edited and managed was devoted to the courier profession.

I knew something was up, but I did not expect this. Just a few days earlier, my boss again told me how great my work was and how valuable I was to the company. But then I had the audacity to disagree with her about the ethics of something that a volunteer wanted me to do.

It was the last straw, it seems. Never mind the awards I won for the company. Never mind the fact I regularly received enthusiastic responses from readers that I liked to keep in a file called "love letters." Never mind my unique commitment to meeting deadlines or my never telling people I was too busy to help them.

I said I disagreed with some rather ridiculous demands. How dare I be so negative!

My boss couldn't even fire me to my face. She sent a courier to my home, after 5 p.m. on a Friday, with a letter cutting me loose.

And, that Friday night I slept better than I had in three years.