My job changed January 1st, 2016, the first day of what we called “NewCo.” There was a lot of talk about “Legacy” company x and y. All I really knew was that the culture and feel of the company I was working for had changed.
Regardless of what it became, it simply wasn’t what it was. My new manager was dramatically different from the leadership I had. The feel of the language changed and it was up to the employees of the company acquired to learn it. I was thankful to have an opportunity to serve this new company, but I also recognized that I was an artifact of the old. Ironically, I was new to the old company and had just started to get settled into the culture. It wasn’t easy to learn the culture of a company with a rich history of over 130 years, but I did have pride in the company.
When I initially joined, I interviewed leaders, peers and staff across the company. It was a learning experience similar to a consulting engagement except that I chose them and they chose me to be with them for my career. I was honored, humbled, proud, excited, nervous, hopeful and I had so much energy that it just poured out of me.
My Global CIO was challenging corporate norms, he was constantly critiqued about his decisions and under considerable pressure from those he served. His motto was “To deliver on commitments and exceed expectations.” His office was behind a security door, but he wasn’t there in the office, he was out with us on the floor. He told me when I first joined that my most important job was to work with partners and understand what they needed, why they needed it, and find ways to help, not hinder. Beyond that he told me that he was counting on me to keep our promises.
As I started to learn more about the company and meet people along the way, my network started to grow. The opportunity to meet people and learn about what they do for a living was fascinating. The experience that people have over careers spanning, in some cases, 45 years, all came with stories. Lessons, instruction, passion, love and thoughts of the future were all there. It was a true blessing to have this opportunity to learn. Senior leaders, like the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) opened the door for conversation and education. The Innovation Officer taught a master class on the insurance industry with every exchange. His understanding of the industry and his knowledge of how things worked at the company were so wide and deep that I would have to take snapshots of the whiteboard or come up to see him with a computer or notepad on every occasion. He shared his knowledge and made certain that when I walked out of the office that I could understand the language, the story, and his intention. Beyond that, his leadership style was familiar to me from my military history of working with DoD leadership. Both the CIO and CInnO, believed in excellence and backed it with their leadership.
The days were filled with learning to negotiate and build the partnership network. Some people outwardly rejected the work I brought and others embraced it. Where doors opened, we built relationships day by day. One of my team members leading a strategic program and project organization would meet me every Tuesday. She was an organizational coach and friend that would allow me to bounce ideas off and discuss pain points. She helped me navigate the daily challenges. The CIO presented everyone on our team an opportunity for leadership coaching with a company called “Brand Velocity” with leaders coming from various industries. These folks could walk into a room and know everything about you in a Gladwell Blink. They didn’t leave that first assessment to make a decision about us individually, they gave us a chance. One of the coaches said, “I don’t coach B players, once I confirm where you are, if you are an A, we are going to get you to A+ and beyond.” I was humbled by the investment by my company and that I had a chance to sit with and talk to global leaders in industry. What I found was caring people coming from years of experience where there was recognition that companies have to make tough decisions, but they can make these with integrity and respect for their employees.
From my perspective, it took a chunk of the company and consultants to coach me and interact with me for me to be an effective leader. I also made friends with brilliant people across the organization. Some have become close personal friends that I cherish the relationships.
I took a turn with all the support in 2015 and got on the highway of successful growth. Our projects and initiatives were at the bleeding edge of what is now being discussed and known as “Digital Workplace.” My partnerships with HR, IT, Business leaders, Innovation and others felt like a family matter. We had challenges and difficult things to work on, but my team was empowered to do what they needed to do. In fact, without the good graces of my team (you know who you are Tina, Deb, Jane, Pat, Ian, Mitch, Terri). In the beginning we had only 6 + Mitch. With their support, we were imagining possibilities and realizing them in short order. I would also like to state for the record that most folks were either late Gen X or Boomer. Once they gave me a chance, I couldn’t help but literally experience their support. The projects and initiatives saved the company millions of dollars in 3-6 months of operation. The savings spilled over to revenue generation and we were all at a loss in terms of words to express our excitement.
Tina wrote something recently in reflection of our experience. The Howie Experience they are her words untouched in anyway by me.
As we accelerated and gained momentum by the forces of the crowd and our network, we were consistently writing, learning, and adjusting to meet growing demands. While we were a small team initially, we grew our work across the many. By the end of 2015, we realized savings and reallocation of monies into 20 million dollars. While all this was wonderful, our team was aware in mid-2015 that things would change in 2016.
On January 1, 2016, we were faced with integrating new team members and down shifting our work. Our focus moved more towards technology and our team size at that point was over 5x larger. We had to quickly regroup and adjust. (Probably a good story for another time.) To note, many of the people that merged with my team became a part of the family. I will leave their names from here out of respect for their current role and position.
My personal network from my years at Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, Joint Forces, Exxon Mobil and friends I have met along the way had always been strong. In my life, I have been more than lucky to meet people that I share a bond of brotherly connection, kindness, respect, and admiration. These people became family and I never let them go and they never let me go to far as well. In a recent presentation by Kim Bullock and Wendy Woodson at KM World, Wendy and Kim explained to a packed room of KM’ers that our external network has been critical to our internal organizational success and that our connection to others is one of our greatest strengths. As they presented, I could only feel pride that after all these years, we kept so closely tied. No geographic or work boundaries could keep us from helping each other and others.
My network and my relationships are what drive me. My passion to help others is only exceeded by my humility on how others have helped me. When people ask me over the years why I would help or advocate for them, my answer is simple, it is my way of paying it forward. If you are reading this and you know me, I am talking about you.
On Monday, November 6th, I was informed that as a result of the M&A, a large portion of my team would be released from our current responsibilities. While this is difficult for all involved, it wasn’t a day of sadness. On that day for myself and my team, my network came out and hugged me both virtually and physically. I literally called a very good friend and recent business partner and asked him if he was heading down 200 miles to KM World. His response was, “I am on my way, and I am coming to get you now. Be ready.” I jumped in the car and we drove down to KM World where many of my closest friends were. It was an outpouring of understanding and connection. While I don’t know where the road will take me from here, I know that without a doubt my network is full of people that I am absolutely proud and honored to have a connection to.
On my first day of my next chapter, I wasn’t alone. My network of family and friends were there and gave me the positive reassurance, advice, and empathy that I needed to take my next steps. I am thankful, grateful, and honestly humbled by you and I won’t let you down.
2 thoughts on “Day 0 – The Network Came to Help”
Howie. First, it is YOU who will not be let down by US. Thank you for your passion, generosity, authenticity, and grace. Second, I am certain that it meant at least as much for Wendy to have you there for her as it meant to you. Third, you had an amazing experience, one you’ll carry forward and teach others – I wish I could be among them (stranger things have happened!) – followed by a terrible loss. No one lost more than your former employer though. To the first person who reads this post, and thinks, “I want Howie,” I hope they truly embrace who you are and what is possible and resist the temptation to try to change you. We’ d never been more proud to know you.
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Forgive the typo.
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