Thursday, April 8, 2010

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.

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