Ch Ch Ch Changes… Turn to Face the Strange
By Annie Rodgers
There isn’t a song quite like David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ to evoke the power behind what is certain in life and a constant in the world of work. As the archetypal agent for change and revolution, who ‘turned and faced the strange’ throughout his career, it appears we might turn up the volume of his eponymous hit when we face a personal transition, no matter how uncomfortable.
New role, new boss, new team, new sector, new city… with the right support, we can let those fears become fascinations that help us grow and prosper. Whilst I’m no Bowie, I’m pretty adept at helping people turn to face the strange.
How we embrace change varies from the risk-averse to the ardent adventurer, but those wishing for a fulfilling career spanning decades will seek change, embrace it and evolve stronger as a result. What drives this desire isn’t always a seat at the top table, though that may be the ultimate destination, but the want for a journey that feeds an innate curiosity to continually learn and open oneself to discoveries. Those ready to embrace ‘strange fascinations’, will certainly have richer experiences, stories to tell and value to create.
Equipping people to face the change, advise on taking the risk and embark upon transition is where my first-hand experience and coaching practice create a potent mix.
No-one’s suggesting it will be without bumps in the road, but frankly standing still will petrify the soul as well as the CV.
I considered my own approach to change and career transitions earlier this year during a radio interview with Dr. Wanda Wallace’s ‘Out of the Comfort Zone’.
During my work life to date, I’ve made a number of transitions, and the feelings, actions and learnings surrounding each are important benchmarks for my personal plan and how it continues to evolve.
At various stages life got in the way of work or work got in the way of life, but rather than resenting change, I’ve learned that honest reflection with a trusted thinking partner has reminded me of what I need for me, (not family or the job), short and long term. That reflection has kept my head together, more open to change, and shielded against the sometimes damaging judgement of others. So no ‘leaning in or out’, but a sufficient amount of looking inside, as deep as I wanted to go, making choices and staying true to the course as best I could. To put things into reality, here’s just a couple of my own case studies…
Media Owner to Media Agency: ’Why on Earth leave CNBC at your ‘prime’’, said the wise old 40-year-old media veteran to the 30-year-old who just got married.
Aged 30, a VP and with a seat at the table, I left the relative stability of media sales seniority in the business goliath that is CNBC and Dow Jones to pursue a career ‘on the other side’ at a small but punchy full-service ad agency called Thoburns. This was received with slightly furrowed brows (BB –Before Botox) to the condescending ‘oh…haven’t heard of them’ to ‘didn’t you get on with the new boss at CNBC..?’ The perspective of my peer group, social and professional, couldn’t have been wider off the mark, and I was underwhelmed that they hadn’t seen the genius of my decision making. Or was I really anxious that they were right and I was wrong?
The reasons for change were strategic and personal; expanding my craft and learning by stepping into the shoes of agency clients, looking holistically at media choices rather than the often bespoke offering of a particular audience demographic, exposing myself to developing markets in Africa and Latin America, and working closely alongside a small but highly experienced team of creative, research and brand specialists. The business owner felt like a kindred spirit – we relished taking on the big guns and delivering ‘grown up’ value and nimble service to counter the complex and often vanilla repertoire of the ever monolithic media agency empires. The combination of clear and tangible learning benefits combined with personal chemistry and shared values and I was happy to take the leap.
At first I missed the brand that opened the doors and the VP title, which falls short of becoming your middle name, but you soon realise that validation of that kind can in fact limit your thinking and problem solving. You can, unwittingly, become institutionalised and toe the corporate line. At Thoburns, it was a different game, pitch, players and approach.
As for moving from large to small…no one can hide in an org chart. Accountability and managing the bottom line is forensic in a small business and the level of autonomy can wake the spirit.
Back to the Big Guys…
As I returned to a big corporation like Discovery a few years later, I would enter more entrepreneurial and a bit more feisty than the woman who left CNBC, ready to shake things up, which was in fact the brief.
At Discovery, transition came at once and change was relentless and unabated for almost five years as we overhauled the EMEA commercial business under the leadership of Arthur Bastings. Great commercial successes were accompanied by personal growth opportunities and a number of considerable sacrifices including quality family time, my energy and my headspace and almost my almost health. We were gifted with the support of a coach who made sense of many issues that would have otherwise festered or blinded me and my gratitude for the value of that lifeboat remains today.
Why don’t you lead something you know nothing about…?
My biggest challenge at Discovery was taking on new sectors of responsibility where I had little or no experience. The excitement of being handed the baton was great for the ego and personal growth. All Hail Annie, she’s got an even bigger revenue number to chase! Facing and fearing potential failure in a sector I had little knowledge (let alone track-record) only gave rise to the perceived judgement of a few who appeared to be quite happy to see me fall, and at times an anxiety that made me want to swap jobs with the nanny. I pressed on and realised the skills I had gained.
My style of leadership and strategic thinking could apply across media sales as well as distribution, my approach to client management and problem solving provided fresh perspective. With genuine humility and curiosity, ‘all’ I had to do was learn from the best, and so I hired one of the best in the role of VP Affiliate Sales and set about learning from the highly accomplished market teams in a very open and honest way, aka an audit with hopefully more panache and flair than the grey suited norm. Together with my Commercial Controller, we built a strategy from the centre that harmonised teams across the region and sought specific insights to determine where we could best add value, a valuable KPI of any central function that needs to keep its customer base happy.
Over the last couple of years, my transition has taken me from commercial advisory work to Executive Coaching. Advising on numbers and markets has been replaced by the power to help the individual to reflect in a bid to achieve personal and professional goals. My 25-year long corporate tenure, combined with the ability to create deep awareness for clients to unlock their potential, will profit individuals, teams and organisations. In this transition, I have researched, retooled and learned this new craft by way of an intensive year-long course, where study, reading and practice combined to provide the competencies and compliance of the ICF (International Coaching Federation).
Using my network and reaching out to the best operators in the field, I have practiced, partnered, shadowed and the fruits of that labour is a new partnership role with Leadership Forum Inc. With continued challenges and learnings ahead, I embrace the change in me and support my clients to rise to any transition and challenge, whatever that may be.