Unfulfilled promises – lack of respect or business reality?

After receiving multiple offers from higher paying Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, I decided to roll the dice and join a technology start-up, founded by a few members of my previous employer.

 

While I was not a part of the conceptual process in late 2001, I started during my senior year of college as a co-op, part-time employee to test the waters and for them to test me. At the time there was just the CEO and COO who worked full-time. There were two other partners but they both worked other j jobs.

 

My main incentive for coming on board was I directly reported to the CEO (he was my former boss, for whom I have great respect), mentoring and grooming by the CEO and promises of partnership, commensurate with performance (growth and expansion).

 

I am sad to report that over two years later, none of the “incentives” are still in place. The CEO, once part of the team, both in proximity (he has taken to isolating himself in conference rooms) and attendance (he is often out of the office and has taken to handing down orders through a newly hired VP). Please keep in mind we are now a seven man shop.

 

My question is how do I broach this issue of him alienating his team? At one time, the CEO and I were very close. Early on, we would take road trips for customer calls and training, at which time we grew close and I learned a tremendous amount. The majority of our time together was spent “practicing” for the call the next day, or learning how to position our products and services. 

 

After about a year, that mentorship quickly dried up, and I am now expected to run with EVERY sales opportunity, both to new AND existing customers, which can be very exhausting with little reward. My commission was “adjusted” from 12 months compensation on new accounts, to just six months, after I single-handedly added over 60 accounts in a year and a half.

 

I am perfectly fine with losing a friend, I have plenty of friends. What I need is a business mentor. However, there is NO accountability on his part. If an opportunity drops to the floor and a fumble is made, he accepts no responsibility or accountability for the folly.

 

Maybe these are typical growing pains, but as my first job, at which I gave almost $30,000 in opportunity cost in the first six months, I feel like I am being taken for granted and manipulated. If I wanted to be a cog in a wheel, I could have joined a large company in the first place, for a LOT more money. While I am certainly not out for just money, this workplace has become mundane and no fun.

 

I am at a loss for what to do and am very close to resigning in favor or another offer. I’ve enclosed a document I assembled to summarize my concerns.

 

Answer:

Everyone has big dreams at the beginning of a venture. It’s easy to promise things such as a partnership, ongoing mentoring from the CEO and fat commissions. And tying those things to “growth and expansion” seems fair and logical to everyone involved.

 

The devil is in the details, however, as you are now learning. Unfortunately, nothing was put in writing, so it was all speculation. How much “growth” and “expansion” will be enough to warrant those rewards? What amount of new business would someone have to produce to earn a partnership?

 

The reality of running a business, day to day, can feel like the morning after—a lot of headaches and a sobering scramble to manage cash flow, marketing and meet customer needs. Like most fledgling businesses, I suspect much of the profit has been plowed back into the business to grow it. And I doubt the owners have much need for more partners, unless a new partner could provide significant capital and/or a big new chunk of business or expertise. The vague offer of a partnership was premature and naïve on the part of the CEO.

 

Two of your reasons for joining the company—reporting to the CEO and learning directly from him—appear to be over. It’s unfortunate that your CEO is less available, and without knowing the details, it’s difficult to know if he has become more removed because he is running the business and negotiating deals, because he is over his head and hiding, or because you have done something to distance him. In any event, he has chosen to hire a VP who will run the details of the business. To expect him to mentor you at this stage is probably not realistic. The VP is your source of training and coaching now. If this is a dissatisfier for you, I’d suggest that you entertain the other job offers.

 

The document you attached to your letter comes across as angry. It isn’t clear if you plan on giving it to the CEO, but I’d advise against it. For example, some of your comments are too aggressive: “Jack is calling me on your behalf, very immature and unnecessary. You have my number and open communication with me, use it.” “Nothing ever seems to be your fault. Where does the buck stop?” “Setting expectations for accounts that you are not involved in and have no idea what is going on shows poor judgment.” “If I’m a cog in a wheel, why not be a cog for 4X the salary and benefits somewhere else?”

 

Telling him about all the other lucrative job offers you have turned down is not likely to have the desired affect. He’s likely to suggest that you take one of the offers, if you feel that betrayed.

 

Instead, you may want to set up a meeting in which you have an honest, respectful, heart-to-heart meeting with the CEO. Tell him you miss the good old days when you both could spend time together. Ask him about the future-- plans for growth, role of the new VP, and what it would take for you to achieve the reality of a partnership. Based on that information, your decision will be clear.

 


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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