14 February 2020

Work 2.0 – Dealing with new Challenges

“You don’t have to think that the marketing of the product depends on you alone.

About a year ago I had my first working day as marketing and sales manager. I knew that the task would be challenging, not only because of the familiarization with a new area of responsibility, but also considering the upcoming change to a new division and company. What would the next few months hold in store for me? What would I get involved in and, above all, what would the change ultimately mean for me? One thing I knew: Saying goodbye to a beloved company and dealing with new opportunities and risks.

Every Beginning is Hard

I had been searching for a long time to find a suitable position after my trainee program, but the signs seemed to be bad. Either I lacked experience or the right timing. Internal restructuring and vague statements about the likelihood of hiring did the rest. I decided to apply for a job within the same cooperation but outside my current company.

Applying Differently

I have had various job interviews in different areas. As I was in my last trainee rotation during the application phase and thus on an assignment in Mexico, I had no other choice but to conduct the interviews online. Although this gave me the opportunity to get in touch with various departments, I was not able to get to know my potentially new colleagues and locations personally. In my opinion, I was definitely facing a risky situation. Would I get involved in something that I would regret afterwards?

For the most part, the discussions were very pleasant. Still, I was missing something. Something that I originally could not grasp and put into words. Was it perhaps the structure of the conversation? A certain pattern could definitely be recognized: I began by presenting my curriculum vitae. This was followed by a presentation by the head of department and the working environment. The interview was followed by a round of arguments to justify the filling of the position and the recruitment in the department. In the end, the head of department provided me reasons that strengthened or weakened my arguments. What would the department offer me? I somehow found the question inappropriate. Couldn’t I already be happy if I was offered a job?

The Final Spurt

The last weeks of my trainee program had begun. I was in my last month of the delegation and had already submitted my application for leave. I got nervous. Would I still be able to find a position before my trainee period ended? I had already had one or two positive conversations, but the final commitments were still to come. The future therefore remained uncertain.

Work 2.0?

In the end, I discovered by chance a rather unconventional tender for a company-internal start-up. “Why not?” I thought and applied. The interview went quite unusual. Sure, I was also supposed to introduce myself, but compared to my previous interviews, it wasn’t me who provided arguments for a position in the department, but the boss himself:

  • Self-realization,
  • creative freedom and a
  • hierarchy-free, authentic working environment

– and all this in the corporate area. I was surprised. My current boss had taken on a different role in the job interview than I was used to. Not a stubborn dictation of tasks, but a joint elaboration of the job, with plenty of room for creative freedom. Not a classic executive-employee interview, but communication at eye level. No micromanagement, but an open design of tasks including the possibility to emphasis on specific tasks and development areas – even beyond the actual job description. In short: the opportunity to define your role. The position almost seemed too good.

So, Where was the Catch?

In a sense, the position was an experiment – not only for me, but also for the department itself. I had previously worked in project management, marketing and partner management. My previous team colleagues were therefore relatively similar in character – at least in principle. The upcoming change, however, was not to be made to a marketing or sales department (as one could possibly deduce from the job title). No, I changed into a field unknown to me until then – the R&D department of a software product.

What was so special about it? The department was supposed to be a self-contained unit in which all functional areas necessary for a product life cycle were represented. This meant that in addition to development, marketing and sales should also have its right to exist within the department. The setting was thus new and represented an experiment for the company. Was it sensible to appoint a marketing and sales manager to the development department? Could this construct work at all? Weren’t the differences too big and the mutual understanding too small?

One thing was clear from the outset: I had prejudices against software developers. So, if the experiment was to be successful, I definitely had to deal with my unconscious bias. 

Unconscious Bias?

Like everyone else, I associate certain social stereotypes with certain groups of people, whether I like it or not. Until then, the type of software developer offered me a lot of potential in terms of prejudices – introverted, single-player and, if talkative: straightforward, honest and direct communication, coupled with a lack of empathy. Where did these prejudices come from? From my direct family environment. My brother, himself a software developer, had certainly contributed to the formation of these prejudices. Had I dealt with them critically until then? Not so much. To be honest, I had rather avoided this type of person until then. Whether it was time to change this? The job seemed too tempting to let prejudice frighten me.

You’ll be different from the rest of the team. Can you handle it?

The statement of my future boss made it clear to me that I was not the only one who was prepared for a challenging time.

First Contact

My first month was tough. After my eight months as a trainee in Latin America, my return to Germany was like a shock. I was looking forward to the new position – but I definitely had to struggle. With me, with the classic German culture, with my values. I really appreciated the Mexican, warmhearted culture, which is why the rather reserved approach of my German colleagues hit me all the harder. The new way of working from the point of view of agility and time boxing also seemed very strange to me at first. In the future, we were supposed to work in a self-organized way, but what did this mean and where should I start?

At the beginning I could not grasp my role. I didn’t know where to start, let alone how to prove my added value. The statements of some colleagues suggested to me that if it comes to the crunch, marketing material could be created by myself:

In case of emergency I can get something done by my own.

I got to know team playing differently.

You don’t have to think that the marketing of the product depends on you alone

was another statement that suggested to me at first that I shouldn’t take myself too seriously. Of course, I knew that developing the product was a team effort and without development there would be no marketing. But I was still annoyed by the statement. Empathy was definitely not a strength of certain colleagues. Shouldn’t it be the job of a marketing and sales manager to feel responsible for marketing?

The tip of the iceberg came after three weeks – in a conflict situation, it turned out that a colleague’s time invested in me was seen by him as waste, as I simply didn’t deliver results yet. Once again I was confronted with straightforward communication.  What was I actually doing to myself here?

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