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Case Studies > Case Study 5

Case Study: Director Aims for VP Promotion; Gains Career Clarity & a Better Career Direction

Carol took a director’s job at a new company about nine months before contacting me to discuss what coaching could do for her. She worked at the company’s corporate headquarters. She had a few clear-cut goals in mind for herself. She called me before the holiday season set in, and decided to start working with me in January. Her background is in marketing and brand strategy. In this particular director’s role, her team created and implemented marketing tools which were intended to be used by the people at the local offices.

Carol had her goals set. Her number one priority was to be promoted to vice-president, and then to use that as leverage to find another VP spot at another company. She stated that, if she wanted to switch jobs, she wanted to be in the situation where people came looking for her, not the other way around. Her other work-goal was also related to these, in that she wanted to learn the leadership skills that were necessary for her to become a great VP. Personally, Carol was also undergoing fertility treatments to try to have a second baby at the age of 43.

Actually, that was pretty much “it” for Carol’s goals. She seemed to be very focused and determined.

Coaching Experience
My first task as Carol’s coach was to determine the “lay of the land” at her company, figuring out who were the actual decision makers regarding her future, who might help her get there, what might be in her way, and who might be in her way. Carol is an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, so she tends to lead quite well, expect others to catch the vision and do the work, and she doesn’t have time for people who drag their feet. She brings to the table a great combination of creativity, efficiency, and leadership.

Early on, she was very concerned that the company was transferring Bob from a local office to the New York office to work in New York’s local office (but the corporate office where she worked was also in the same New York building). Her concern focused on the fact that Bob would essentially be doing what she does, they were expected to cooperate and work together, and her history with Bob told her that he would not cooperate well. She also felt that Bob was a “smaller thinker.” In any case, Carol believed Bob was going to be a real problem for her.

I wondered how much of a threat he actually was, but I didn’t want her to focus a lot of coaching time (and her own “head room”) on Bob. I just didn’t know if he was as big of a threat as she thought.

Carol reported directly to the corporate president. As she told me about various workplace experiences over several weeks, the theme that emerged was that, in Carol’s eyes, people at the company were more concerned about being very nice and polite to everyone else, but not very concerned with what was going on in their industry, how they were going to remain competitive, and how they were going to retain a creative edge in their creative marketplace.

Carol also realized that most of the people around her were not strategic thinkers, which was interesting for their industry. Carol, on the other had, is a very strategic thinker and implementer. One of her early take-aways from a coaching call was that she can influence other people who are not strategic thinkers to think strategically – and that’s leadership! This is the type of leadership she is striving to achieve.

In early April, another director, Nick, informed Carol that he was being promoted to VP. While she congratulated him, it really bothered her on several levels. She and Nick had worked together on several projects, she thought he was pretty good at what he did, but he also spent a significant amount of time at work studying for his MBA (which was, to Carol, inexcusable). In addition, she was hired about three months prior to when Nick was hired. I asked her what Nick does well. She responded that he presents well to groups and he sounds impressive when he speaks.

Carol and Nick both reported to the president of the company. After letting Carol vent about her frustration with the situation, I suggested to Carol that Nick got the promotion because he asked for it. Her response was, “Really? Tell me more.” So I told her.

Way back, during Nick’s interview process, he probably stated his desire to attain a VP spot. And, once he got the director’s job, he probably continued to remind his boss (without annoying the boss, of course) of his goal of the VP promotion.

I asked Carol if she had ever expressed to her boss her desire to be promoted to VP. Her answer? No. Her reason? Because she believed she needed to prove herself as a producer before she could even mention her VP goal to her boss.

Okay. So we needed a new strategy.

Nick’s promotion to VP still had not been formally announced. I wanted Carol to meet with her boss about this topic as soon as possible, before the formal announcement and before her boss would find out that she already knew about Nick’s promotion. Also, no one likes a whiner. I wanted her to start the “VP conversation” with her boss right away and we needed for Carol to sound just like she would have sounded if she had said during her interview process that her goal was to become a VP.

We discussed what Carol could do to prepare for this discussion with her boss. She did what she needed to do, had the meeting, and thought it went fairly well. Carol included in her discussion that the reason she had not mentioned her desire to be a VP before was because she thought she needed to prove herself prior to even stating her goals.

Her boss said that they only do promotions once per year, so Carol would have to wait a year for any promotion. (Without being more involved in this organization, I’m not certain how true that is. My life experience has shown me that all things are negotiable.) However, Carol accepted that as the way things were. Carol, of course, was interested in what her boss wanted her to achieve in order to get the promotion early in the next year. Together, they came up with a list of goals. And her boss suggested they meet monthly to discuss how Carol was doing in achieving those goals in order to get the promotion.

Fast-forward to June. As we discussed what she was working on, Carol revealed that she and her team had been given an initiative to sell the marketing tools they developed to the company’s local offices, and to sell $800,000 worth of those tools for the year (which translates to about $60,000 per month). Close to the end of June, they had sold an average of about $10,000 per month. And she couldn’t understand this because, at presentations, many people stated how great the tools are.

Carol mentioned all of this so quickly – my thoughts were taking a few seconds to catch up with her.

“Okay,” I said, “Are you ready to hear what I think?” After receiving an affirmative, I told Carol that the area she worked in was more of a research & development area, not a profit center. Her area, a type of “marketing R&D,” should only be a cost center. In addition, I told her that, sure, the people in the local offices recognize that the tools she created are really great and would help them in their work. But if she could be a fly on the wall at their offices, she would probably hear them say they can’t believe the people at the corporate office expect them to pay for these tools. And then they would ask, why isn’t corporate supporting them by giving them the tools, helping them to be more successful?

Then I suggested to Carol that this supposed “failure to sell” $800,000 worth of these tools to internal, local offices could be seen as a failure on her part, resulting in her not getting the VP promotion she desired.

I suggested to Carol that she needed to work at changing the mindset of the executives who think of her area as a profit center, rather than R&D, and get them to adjust their unrealistic expectations. (I also thought the executives needed to pay closer attention to what was going on at their local offices and what the local office employees wanted and needed.

Carol stated that her boss did not have this $800,000 sales goal on the list they kept for what Carol needed to accomplish to get the VP promotion, but I wondered if that goal was in the back of her boss’ mind, anyway.

For a longer coaching program such as Carol’s (six months or more), I prepare a Mid-Point Coaching Analysis for executives to evaluate what the client wanted when we first started coaching, where we’ve been, goals that have changed, and where we’re probably going. It helps to get that “10,000 foot view” to see more clearly what is going on.

I noted Carol’s original goals, her early concerns, the overall corporate culture at her company, what was occurring regarding her promotion to VP, and how she was doing in terms of leadership.

Notably, the company’s culture didn’t require people to be strategic and it allowed people (and their programs) to move and change very slowly. While that was not a good fit for her (and people sometimes reacted negatively to Carol’s attempts to bring about strategic plans, growth, and change), this company allowed her to have quite a lot of work/life balance (which, with a husband, a three year old, and trying to have another baby meant a lot). Carol originally felt she could stay at this company for a couple more years before she would need to find something else that challenged her and fit her need to be involved as a marketing/branding strategist.

By the end of July, Carol reported to me that the executive management team (which included the VP of production & budgeting and her boss, the president), adjusted the dollars for the amount of tools her group was expected to sell for the year. (And she thanked me for that!) She also said her meetings with her boss about staying on track for the VP promotion were going well.

So that brings us to the end of August. Carol had been thinking long and hard about what she really wanted. She said during a late-August coaching call that if she got an offer from the outside for a lateral move with more money with a company that was a better fit for her (even though it would mean getting the VP promotion later), she’d take it.

Now, remember, when she first contacted me for a discussion to see if I could help her, her number one priority was getting promoted to VP at the current company.

This is one of the powers of coaching. Over some time, the client gains clarity regarding what he or she really wants, and then figures out how to get it.

Meanwhile, I reminded her she only had a few months to go before first quarter and a nearly-promised promotion to VP, which was her #1 goal. But, Carol decided her goals had changed at this point.

Interestingly, around this same time, Carol was in discussions with a friend who, like Carol, is bilingual and they were both raising their children to speak multiple languages. (In addition to English, Carol is fluent in Italian, Spanish, and German.) She and this friend decided to create an online forum as well as a local group for parents raising their children in a bilingual household. This gave us the opportunity to work together on how this small business should be structured. For example, Carol wasn’t certain if the friend should be a partner or not. The friend did not have any money available to invest in this business. Besides that, knowing Carol as I did at this point and how she prefers to work, I thought it would be best if she owned the business alone, and then allowed the friend to be a contributor to the website by writing articles, speaking at venues, etc. If her friend wanted to create and publish her own booklet, for example, Carol could allow the friend to write about the booklet on the website (no-cost advertising, in other words, in exchange for the friend’s participation and contribution). We also brainstormed other ways that Carol could find more bilingual parents, both online and locally, and how this venture could blossom into several other areas over time.

As we got into autumn, Carol updated her resume, updated her listing on LinkedIn, and decided that rather that actively look for a new job and “push” her resume out, she would let the online information “pull” possibilities to her. Actually, she was regularly contacted by headhunters who found her on LinkedIn.

When questioned again about the importance of getting that VP position, she responded that it became more important to her to find a new position which was a better fit, and that she was concerned if she was made a new VP at the current company, decision makers at other companies might disqualify her for a director position that would be great for her.

By the end of October, she had interviewed at three companies, one of which she was most excited about. She had a second interview scheduled with the person who would be her boss.

At the same time, she and her husband decided to adopt a child rather than continue infertility treatments. And she contacted an author who has written about raising bilingual children to see if they could work together on her side business.

In November, she learned someone else was chosen for the job she wanted most of the three she considered.

During a whirlwind holiday season, Carol was contacted to interview for a job in the Midwest. After several interviews, she was offered (and accepted) the VP position which was a great fit for her. In this position, she leads the planning function, which is new at this company, allowing her to build the department as she desires.

Earlier in our coaching process, Carol said, “Coaching is giving me a better sense of where I am and what I need to be working on.”

Remember, at the beginning of this case study, you read that Carol’s number one priority was to be promoted to VP at the current company, and then to use that as leverage to find a VP position at a different company.

After several “a-ha!” moments (and after being riled that another [undeserving, in her mind] person was promoted while she wasn’t), she decided to look for a lateral move to a company with an environment more suited to her strategic mind. She even decided this was more important than her original goal.

Note: Her goals changed and she changed her direction as a result. This happened in both small and big ways during the coaching process.

While I figured she would find a new position in New York, I did not guess she would wind up out of state.

The best thing about Carol’s coaching experience is that she got what she wanted, and more. She found a new job, doing strategic work she enjoys in an environment that is much more suited to her. AND she got the promotion to VP!


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