Every few years, I rewrite my bio. The most recent version began like this: “When you love what you do, can you really call it a job?” Please don’t hate me. My professional life wasn’t always this rosy. Striking a balance between my work and my personal life was, and continues to be, a challenge.
Last week I wrote about my stressful and somewhat calamitous first foray into web design. My budding career in the brave new tech world ended when two organizations that got married young divorced. The trips to San Francisco to write code and sample crème brûlée were over. I was back at my desk in the Communications Department waiting for breaking news. When something finally happened, I pounded out a press release on a machine that, even then, was considered vintage. My programmer passed the time writing thank you notes for her wedding gifts.
Lessons were learned. One of them was that persistence and grit can keep you in the game. There weren’t many association people building websites at the time, and word about my skills was running through the grapevine. Association X came calling with a better offer. They wanted me to start a for-profit subsidiary to develop websites for other organizations. Things were looking up. it sounded like there might be more travel and more crème brûlée in my future. Of course, I said yes.
I arrived for my first day at work and was told something like this, “Here’s a desk, a phone, and a computer. You’re going to be golden. Now go launch a new company.” Although I had an early and strong attraction to entrepreneurship, this was bigger than Girl Scout cookies. Uncertain where to start, I picked up the phone. I burned through all the CEO’s contacts.
My ear was bruised and my throat was raw, but to my amazement, I had leads, customers, and websites to build. I started hiring a team. It was like riding Goliath at Six Flags. We were having fun, but survival wasn’t a given. Y2K loomed. We wondered if the code in those shiny new websites was going to unravel. Adding to the panic quotient, were server rooms that got hot enough to make you crave a piña colada and a very skewed staff to work ratio.
The staffing problems extended beyond my own tiny domain. Association X was chewing up CEOs and spitting them out. I had the privilege of telling one of my favorites that nobody minded his after-hours cocktails in the office, but we were afraid the cigarettes might burn the place down. Unfortunately, he was the one who went up in flames. Not so nice for him, but a blessing for me. My boss was promoted to the C-suite.
My life was progressing along with my career. In 2001, I was pregnant with my first daughter. As these things sometimes go, the account manager for my small team was one step ahead of me. When postpartum depression caused her to make maternity leave permanent, I was in the final month of my pregnancy. I started recruiting immediately and was overjoyed to find Amanda. She had the skills that we needed and then some.
I had a meeting scheduled with HR to discuss Amanda’s employment, but it got bumped for something more urgent and far more important. I went into labor early. My beautiful daughter, Ashley, arrived at 3:15 in the morning. By nine, I was on the phone with HR and my boss begging them to push (pun intended) the paper work through to hire Amanda. I had a document outlining her compensation structure on my desk.
I still have to pinch myself to confirm that I’m remembering this correctly. The HR staff were derailed by the need to act quickly. They proffered every excuse in the book. Amanda lived too far away. The commission structure was wrong. She wasn’t the right fit. It was a lesson I will never forget. They were ready to sacrifice opportunity for self-interest and process. As the lactation specialist and a nurse looked patiently on I said, “Make the freaking offer!” and slammed down the phone.
I called my boss the next day to apologize. His response was, “I told them not to mess with a woman who just gave birth.” Amanda was hired. I was pleased about the result, but no one should have to lobby for staff resources and celebrate the birth of their first child in the same moment.
It’s great that employers are recognizing the value of promoting a healthy lifestyle. Although, I don’t always see it playing out in reality. Big corporations generally understand the benefits of helping their employees to integrate the personal and professional. My guess is that most of the Fortune 500 offer some sort of flexible work policies. Businesses also provide perks like gym memberships, free counseling and day care services. I recently heard about an organization that encourages the employees to plant gardens on the campus.
This is still not the norm in the association world. Even as the workforce is being changed by technology and demographics, associations seem to be slow to warm to the idea that they must compete for the best employees and that motivating and retaining a great staff should be a top priority. We have it backwards if we imagine that great work comes without great people.
I’d like to be proven wrong. Let me know what your organization is doing to find and keep the best and brightest. If you don’t have strategies in place, what are the roadblocks? Has anyone else taken a conference call in the delivery room? Post your comments below. I’ll summarize the feedback in a future blog.