WHAT WERE THE RESULTS? That's the mantra of database executives, product managers, marketing directors and presidents. Direct marketing is measurable — and that is its appeal.
But results are not the only gauge of success. In an economy where every employee must contribute to the bottom line, people are being laid off due to some very serious mistakes in career management.
For example, real damage can occur when a person lacks core competencies. One marketing director changed jobs every year or two, ever increasing her salary and responsibilities to senior levels.
After putting in her usual two years at an Eastern U.S. bank, she was promoted to senior vice president. But only a short time later she had to leave with a severance package because of a staff reduction. Eventually, she got married and started her own business.
What went wrong?
Every job offers a level of opportunity for learning and growth; indeed, professionals often jump at the chance to learn more. But the person must already have a grasp of the basics.
Buyer/merchandisers must bring with them valuable relationships with suppliers of innovative products and a track record of negotiating favorable prices. A database manager must be a statistical and technological whiz. A list manager must know what's in the marketplace, what has traditionally worked and why. A vice president of sales will deliver numbers through other people and know how to manage them. And a vice president of marketing must be a strategic thinker, have project management and people management skills, be comfortable with multitasking and have industry-specific experience — that is, in business-to-business or business-to-consumer.
Another measure of success is meeting goals and projections. A marketing executive for a one-product company consistently missed the mark with his projections. He tested 50,000 names on a list, and then overestimated response rates on the rollout. But instead of reading his cues during the testing and questioning, he placed blame everywhere but in his own backyard: “The list didn't perform…they lied to me…the program is fundamentally flawed…the creative is off.”
Numbers alone aren't enough to do you in. When sales executives miss a sales quota, there is cause for concern. But it's worse if they fail to evaluate themselves accurately and accept responsibility for mistakes. This is a time for creative problem-solving — an opportunity to come up with additional programs and create new alliances and relationships. When marketers fail to do this, their employers lose faith in their projections and trust in their ability to do the job.
Not meeting deadlines is a sure career buster. A vice president of merchandising was fired because she managed 10 titles but could not organize deadlines and missed half of her dates. She had 12 people on her team, and she nurtured a culture of not accepting responsibility. She would find fault with other departments within the organization, and her team, under her lead, learned to do the same. Unable to assess her assets and liabilities and see her own inability to multitask (or to hire people who could do it), she blindly went on accusing others until she was marched out the door. Wise executives know they have liabilities, and compensate for them by hiring team members who can fill in.
Career performance is measured in many other ways. Are you aware of your need to communicate your successes? Do you do it with diplomacy and panache — or do you think that as long as you're doing a good job it will be noticed?
A senior-level professional in a catalog company lost his last position because he didn't recognize the need to do PR for himself. While he was focused on the day-to-day operations of his $30-million catalog, he mismanaged his relationship with the billion-dollar corporation that owned it. He failed to report regularly to corporate, to spend time once a month with the chief financial officer and his peers, and to tell the story of his creativity in facing challenges. The result is that he was not seen as a team player and in this tight market, he became dispensable.
Then there are executives who manage down real well, who are loved and feel protected by their staff, but who do not create the same bonded relationship with the senior management team. This is a person who the staff depends on for answers, and is a fierce mother-father-protector and defender of the staff's needs. But he or she is seen as defensive, someone who needs to be right all the time and who continually bucks the system.
It's important to pick your battles, and more important to build the right relationship with the leadership team. When you create an “us vs. them” scenario, you are doomed to failure.
One senior executive had developed incredible loyalty from the people who reported to her. This was generally acknowledged within the company but was also something that upper management disliked. In its estimation, these employees worked for her and not the company.
Similarly, a manager at a direct response agency often went to battle for her account supervisor. This subordinate was doing a less than spectacular job, but the manager felt sorry for her because she was 60 years old and needed the position. In the end, it was the manager who took the fall. She was let go for not managing deadwood in her department appropriately. Amazingly, the account supervisor was kept on.
The bottom line is that careers are measured by relationships. Competence is basic to a good career, but getting ahead is always helped immeasurably by the guidance of a mentor: an executive who sees something of him or herself in you, and is willing to take an interest in you and create opportunities for you. If you are not on the lookout for a mentor, you may be setting up a career buster.
One executive's mentor kept a watchful eye out for her, and kept moving her up and giving her chances to learn all aspects of the business. This person was even given training in a “charm school” for corporate executives. Her temperament fit in with the corporate culture, and the careful eye of her mentor kept her career running smoothly — until he left. With a new leadership team, the culture changed and so did her fortunes. She, however, smartly moved to another company and cultivated a new mentor who has partnered with her to keep her career on track.
In some major corporations like General Electric, fast-track candidates get moved from function to function and eventually become chief operations officers in training. After five years, they have been given the opportunity to run marketing, operations and finance — with full responsibility for profit and loss.
In the end, a career boom or bust is in your hands. When you are able to realistically evaluate your skills and assets and your shortcomings and liabilities, you have what you need to keep your career going — on your own terms.
Knowing yourself in this manner makes it much easier for you to manage the various relationships within an organization and gives you a sure-fire formula for career success.
VICTORIA JAMES is president of Victoria James Executive Search Inc., Stamford, CT, a management search firm focused on the direct marketing business.