Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Machinations and Contemplations


Let's say you work in publishing as the most recently hired staff member of a particular periodical. You don't know everything about your magazine by any stretch, but you've already done well in a few early tests that show you have promise and learn quickly.

Over the past three months, three of the five staffers who share the editing duties have left: a specialty editor with expertise in your magazine's subject matter and audience; your immediate boss, the site manager for the pub; and the other editor, who also has journalism experience. The fifth member of the team, the managing editor (ME), is part of the reason the other three have left. (All three are now at the same company, in the same field but catering to a different audience therein.)

Based on information from one of the departing editors and the ME, you know your job is secure, or at least as secure as it gets in a company that already has laid people off and now plans to cut the rent by shrinking into half the current office space. The readership seems devoted to the publication, and you've received technical and professional training in the next steps the company wants to take to stay competitive

You have just survived an extremely harried onpress cycle normally accomplished by two people. You demonstrated some good management and delegation skills in cutting just the right corners and rerouting individual tasks to get the pub out. Ordinarily, your departed boss would have directed the typesetting, proofreading, ME approval, and prepress work, with you helping her continuously to route or verify each element along the way in the manner of an ink-stained Igor. Instead, you fulfilled both roles and kept the pub from slipping past its last-ditch deadline, despite a balky computer and the midweek illness of your staff artist/designer forcing you to seek alternatives for both.

Now, your former coworkers have been reminding you to send them a resume so you can jump aboard. This seems to be what they expect. To underscore this, a fourth person from your company — a former staffer on your pub but who had been working for another magazine — has also given notice and will sign on with this rival shop. You're not getting any direct pressure, but there seems to be an assumption that you see the ME and the company as a whole in the same light they do, and will soon get as fed up as they did.

Let us add that you get a little leery of folks who expect you to join a set frame of mind; that you realize you fall easily into groupthink and consider it one of your faults; that you in fact sometimes go to perverse lengths to disappoint expectations like this, even when you know they might have a nucleus of truth. So you have to work to find your true motivations in situations like this before either jumping to conclusions or being deliberately contrary against your benefit.

Now, let's say you have less of a history with the company than your former coworkers, have no idea of what the "glory days" might have been, and believe that they are gilding them somewhat. You've met the previous ME (who always seems to get the upper hand in esteem vs. the current ME according to your old workmates) and read her memos, and feel that she may have been a truly unpleasant person to work with. She also works at this other company. Further, you don't perceive the belt-tightening and reductions in schedule wiggle-room, freelancer budget, and other previous features of your current company to be any different than those transpiring across the publishing industry . . . which invalidates another couple of your former mates' criticisms. You see these changes as challenging, but also as challenges, possibly to be circumvented successfully.

In short, not only are you thinking of at least making a medium-term go at assisting in the reconstruction of the department, but you're mulling an application for your boss's job.

One downside presents itself: You hate training. You'd much rather be independent or at least not a manager. You have mixed memories of your last bout of running a staff. Notably, you left your first job because administrative and educational duties took you away from performing the position's core duties, which you missed.

Another deficiency is that you weren't really fully trained by the time your boss left. There were a couple of key areas in which you either never got trained, or were deemed not to need familiarity, because your other coworkers were managing them. Suddenly these people are gone, in part because they burned out on these duties.

But you're beginning to perceive how they allowed themselves to get so burned out, how they didn't stand up for their need to focus on what they were hired to do by demanding of a relatively new and eager-to-please ME the extra assistance they needed after their staff was pared back more than a year ago. You feel that you'd succeed a little better at such self-advocacy, either as a manager or merely in your current position, because – let's face it — in the short term they're stuck with you and have no choice but to listen if you need to push back.

Moreover, let's say you feel that if you can match the passion of your readers for the magazine and their profession with an equal effort to rebuild the masthead and write some fine copy, and ease your ME past some of her crazier habits — which aren't deliberately pejorative when it comes down to it — you might be able to achieve something great for the business and your own career . . . the primary constituency, as always, being your own sweet ass.

And let's also say that the worst thing that happens if you do secure your boss's job, and then decide against staying, is that you have a higher title and salary for the next employer to match.

Let's sum up this thought-experiment by saying that you have to hand in a self-review for an annual performance assessment this Friday. Like many reviews, it has a category for "future development and goals."

What might you do?

1 comment:

Amy said...

I think one of your best considerations here is that you are not other people -- that after all your career moves and different job responsibilities, you know who you are and what you can do and handle, and you are not those other people who left for their own reasons. (I know personally of this, as you may know, having been relatively happy at that one place almost my whole career when many others took off soon after signing on; what some want is not what all want.) I think it is necessary to decide if you would do what it might take to commit to a move up based on your 2008 plans and goals. When I thought of the possibility of moving forward in my last place, I always thought whether I had the passion for it and the willingness to commit to it all, to be the team player. I think it sounds like there is an opportunity here that may not come again, and I am a fan at looking for these openings in life and taking advantage. Why not write up a review that lists your desire to move forward in this open group now? But only if you feel you are willing to be in that role the worker that would match it. I know you could do it, so it's just a question of seeing if they can offer you a step up. I am for it.