The sun was starting to set, and shadows were growing across her office. As Barbara sat there surrounded by boxes, she let out a huge sigh. She had spent the last few days going through everything in her office. Barbara thought to herself – I can’t believe this is my last day. She had one big box on either side of her desk. One labeled SAVE and the other TOSS.
As she stared into the box labeled SAVE, her eyes were drawn to two letters – one was an award she received early in her career as employee of the year and the second was the letter appointing her to her current role as Vice President of Sales. After 27 years with the firm, Barbara sadly thought, my career was not supposed to end this way.
She started right after she graduated from college, and Barbara knew that she was one of a rare few people who had an entire career at one company. She and her friends often talked about that – Barbara was proud of her loyalty and loved her work and her company. And, she had performed well and gradually moved up the organizational chart.
Over a year ago, the company had to dramatically alter its business strategy to be competitive in a fierce market that had changed with the entry of lower cost/lower coverage firms. Her boss asked Barbara to focus her time and energy on developing new markets and increasing sales substantially, leading her team to do the same. Barbara took this on as she always had. She called team meetings, told her team that it had to find new customers and increase its sales volume, and gave them suggestions that had worked before. She increased the time and effort she spent to find more customers in the markets in which she had previously worked, getting customer referrals, increasing the frequency of ads and commercials in her territory. She even had team members stage dinners at known restaurants and invited residents to her previously profitable districts to attend to discuss future financial needs and possible solutions.
This work increased both customers and sales but not by the amount that her boss thought necessary. He diligently provided her feedback during the last year, giving her suggestions of new markets that she may try to penetrate and general products that may be appealing. Barbara tried to do this but found it to be challenging. The new markets were much different from the one in which she had worked. She and most of her team didn’t know which products were needed in these younger, less wealthy markets and how to reach them with advertising and mailed brochures. Two younger members in the team did have success, but Barbara thought that was because they were about the same age as the people in the new markets.
After a year of trying and not significantly improving her unit’s performance, it became clear to both Barbara and her boss that she was not able to meet the new expectations. They discussed options that she could take, including taking a lower level position or moving to another city that had markets closer to those in which she had succeeded. Both of these seemed to her to mean public defeat, which wasn’t how she wanted to end her career. Instead, she decided to retire. She and her husband had enough assets to continue living as they had, and her two kids were working in their city.
However, even now as she sat in the shadows of her office with her boxes almost packed, Barbara thought about the past year. Could she have done something differently so she could have succeeded under the new demands? Should she have taken a different position within the firm? As she closed the top of the SAVE box, she wished more than anything that she could have ended her career feeling successful.