It's not you it's us
...but you're still fired
Photo by Nathan Shively on Unsplash
Those sickening words, it’s not you it’s me, make us think of young love. The helplessness felt, the empty pit of despair, wishing it wasn’t true, but deep down knowing it is. It’s a fatal moment and no one can cope with only being friends. The love of your life, impossible to live without, has dumped you. Unusual then, to be levelled at a newly appointed Marketing Director.
Something crazy happened
Being in a job for less than 3 weeks before being fired usually means something extraordinary has happened. Perhaps they turned up on day one, but no one has seen them since lunchtime, which was over a week ago. The confused company, frustrated and concerned after several days of failing to make contact, discover that they’re in Spain on holiday. A letter of dismissal lands on the holiday makers doormat, opened 3 weeks after their first day in the new job.
Or perhaps it was gross misconduct, entirely inappropriate behaviour towards a longterm serving member of staff whose only crime was to be enjoying a peaceful lunch in the breakout area at the wrong time with a love for Sudoko?
My very real friend had been a head of marcomms / chief product owner and previously head of social for a well-known high street brand for over 4 years before she was offered an opportunity to join a start-up as their shiny new Marketing Director. They were growing and were looking for a professional marketer to help steer them on the next stage of their journey.
The interview process was no different to a more established business. It started with a reach out from a head hunter on Linkedin before a round of interviews with the start-up, whittling down their short list to a conclusion.
In her third week, she was sacked. Technically, it was less than two, because she caught Covid off a generous donor on the Central line as she travelled to work. She continued to work from home, such was the commitment to her new job. Thankfully, her symptoms were no worse than a heavy cold, the double jab protecting her from anything really nasty.
How much can you really do in less than a month?
She realised within an hour of her first morning that chaos reigned. Firefighting seemed to be the only way this company knew how to function. Okay, it wasn’t what she was used to or necessarily expecting. But she was crystal clear why she was there and how her skills could provide immediate value by sorting out the marketing strategy and basic best practise for this screaming baby. She was under no illusion - it wasn’t going to be easy. Isn’t that why she left her old company in the first place? A new challenge, where she could really put her honed skills to the test and build something worthy, ensuring the longterm survival and growth of the company. Her first big obstacle was working out how to ween these knee-jerkers off a feast of tactical activity, aimlessly trying to stamp out fires which reappeared with alarming regularity.
First things first
Her first presentation to the two founders and the C-suite leadership team was unexceptional apart from one key missing ingredient, a response. No one said anything – even after several prompts. They listened, nodded and left the Zoom call. Perhaps they didn’t truly understand the impact of real marketing or more likely didn’t like the look it?
Like first steps in an untamed, overgrown garden, it’s all about priorities, starting with the weeds and preparing the soil. The web site needed immediate attention. Customer journeys regularly ended abruptly without capturing anything, never mind a sale. They’d even detracted from the core objective and confused the consumer further by offering COVID testing. This is not consistent with trying to build a new brand but has all the hallmarks of investors wanting to see any sort of return.
Her spidy sense was more than tingling
She concluded with her husband that if it continued as badly as it had started, she would resign before Christmas. She’d just finished writing a brief to give to a number of agencies to pitch for their web business when they did the dastardly deed.
The Head of HR was sent to say goodbye. She had no idea why they were sacking her and embarrassingly could offer no explanation, except this wasn’t the first time and they weren’t ready for a senior leader. The office was deserted when she left her meeting. Her boss and the rest of the board had suddenly become unavailable and left for the day with prior commitments of cowardice and unprofessionalism.
And the law won
UK employment law is on their side. Until 2 years is up you really don’t have any rights. She took legal advice because of the extraordinary circumstances, but there is no case to answer. The company doesn’t even have to offer an explanation. What would they say?
Is the recruitment process questionable?
I think the agency are partly culpable. While you expect all clients to behave professionally, agencies are often more concerned with winning the business first. Worrying about a company’s suitability or track record comes second. Would it have been that difficult to establish whether this start-up had a habit of hiring and firing? Perhaps it wasn’t in their interest to dig too deeply or perhaps they’ve changed their mind now there’s no fee to collect?
In the end though, their downside is a temporary financial blip. A career is now in triage having suffered collateral damage because she trusted their reputation to provide a bonafide employer, her one crime, buying the billy bullshit being pedalled, with just a cursory, if anything else suitable comes up, we’ll let you know, since.
The other side
We were very grateful for UK employment laws when CitNOW was growing quickly. Sales people who promised much at interview, came and went, hopefully to join our competitors. Start-ups regularly make mistakes and don’t have the time to try and make it work with a square peg. It’s smarter to let them go and reassess before starting the hiring process again.
It’s not always the employee who ends up being the loser. One of our first hires in Germany was a salesperson who managed to work for no more than 6-weeks before they started complaining about their bad back. We continued to pay his salary for over a year and a final percentage of his annual sales bonus before we were finally rid of him. He never made a sale and only worked for 6 weeks. He was a professional ambulance chaser; well versed in employing a lawyer to take full advantage of German employment law.
Now what? Free support for others
The good news is another senior role will appear, it just takes time. In the meantime, my senior marketer has a sale on. She is offering her services on a pro bono basis to help any company who wouldn’t normally be able to afford her skills. If you know of a company who could use a marketing troubleshooter on a very temporary basis, get in touch and I’ll make the connection.