So about a year ago an exciting but scary opportunity presented itself to me at work.
I’d been trundling along with the same general activities for quite a while, there are challenges and long term projects running all the time and I thought I was pretty contented.
Then, early last year I got picked to spend 9 months being mentored by someone from the executive team. It was an accident, so I didn’t have a plan for what I wanted to achieve with my mentor.
We initially talked about the parts of my work life that I find challenging: the arsehole, getting stuff done, a general desire for promotion and progress, and about what could make the job of everyone in my role easier.
By our next meeting, I was starting to form an idea of a project. It’s a big deal. I wanted to invent a new job role in our company, to bridge the gap between the technical writing teams and the operational R&D team. We just needed to persuade the powers that be that this role would be beneficial to lots of functions and would add value for our customers. Oh and I wanted to do that job. So there was some early progress.
What happened next
Between us, my mentor and I put together a nice polished presentation about why the role I described would be good, what value it could bring and why I’d be good at it. We ran it past a contact in HR and I filled in some official forms (but didn’t submit them). Then I gritted my teeth, and pulled together all my courage to message the potential manager at head office who I needed to convince.
After a good deal of waiting, rescheduling, and getting mildly annoyed (during the more progress phase), I finally met with the manager. She recognised the value but the ratios and staffing levels just weren’t going to work. She has 1 person on her team for every 1500 developers. She couldn’t justify adding one more to serve the interests of just 140 technical writers.
In one sentence my hope and plans were dashed – gently and with respect mind you.
There was a “but” though, she had two potential openings in her team for general operations work. However, one was very junior and the other very technical, well beyond my skills.
At that point, the other dimension to it all was my ridiculously super over-supportive manager. I still can’t tell if she’s petrified of losing me and over-doing her show of support out of dedication to being a good manager above the needs of the team and her own ability to fulfil the role I currently do…. or whether she wants to get rid of me because I do some leadership stuff and she wants that perceived power. I’m still not sure what’s going on, and that’s sadly eroded the trust between me and my manager.
So after all that, there was no change in the status quo. Finally, in February this year (2022) the leaders of all the technical writing groups managed to tie down the operations manager for a big meeting (rescheduled three or four times as usual). As a group, we presented to her all the things I’d said in our 1-1 meetings. We described the challenges and asked for at least a point of contact, someone on her team who could meet with us on a monthly basis.
At last, she held her hands up and said that she’d been responsible for us for several years and had essentially done nothing, had no time to do anything, and could not commit to that changing any time soon. She’s still hiring those two new roles and she might be able to provide a point of contact at some point. But until then, we just have to live with the situation as it is.
We were all hugely disappointed and depressed about this. Being honest and recognising a failure (personal, professional, or corporate) is all well and good but unless it’s accompanied by a commitment to change and improve, it’s pretty worthless.
My attitude at this point is that I’ll wait three months for the new hires to be in place, ask again about having a dedicated person willing to talk about our needs and if nothing happens then…. we’ll go out on our own. I’ll take that as a sign that there’s no value placed on what we do and no desire to support us, so we can do what we want – since no one cares right? If we want to make changes, we’ll do that, unilaterally and without approval since no one else has any interest.
Except we won’t do that, because we respect the opinions, plans, and designs of management even if they don’t appreciate the tech writers. We’ll create solutions and then ask for approval. Hopefully we’ll get somewhere in the end, just at a glacial slow place.
My mentoring formally came to an end in January and I had a wrap up meeting with my mentor. He was very sympathetic to the situation we’d ended up in, just as disappointed that we hadn’t achieved our goal as I am. However, we both recognised that we’d pushed the agenda of technical writing with some more senior members of the company and at least got them to admit that we aren’t well served to fulfil the aims of our jobs. My mentor has said to get in touch any time for advice or if he can help with anything. I think we’ll keep in touch. He said I’d opened his eyes to a whole part of what we do as a company that he had no idea about and I certainly learned a lot about communication, strategy and how to present proposals for change.
Have you ever been disappointed when a really valuable proposal was turned down? Or been mentored, either positively or without success?