I USED TO BE A ROBOT

The following blog post is based on actual personal experiences in the companies I used to work for. I was surprised how quickly I turned from an ambitious young man into a well paid robot. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware that this transition was happening. I just did my job, ran the tasks that were expected from me and copied methods and behavior of my peers just to fit in. Only in late 2015 did I notice that my job had started to look like a repetitive series of tasks and that I was just a robot executing them. My creativity was never needed, in spite the fact I was actually hired to bring change and….surprisingly, creative solutions. I was dumbed down into “hands on deck”.

Farmers vs. Hunters

“You are a true farmer” were the exact words my sales team leader had told me well into my first year of my initial career starting job. There were two types of sales people as he explained to me:

Hunters: They behave like the actual hunters we used to have. Tracking down their prey, waiting for the right time to attack and then going in for an instant kill. They can feed the tribe for a couple of days before food runs out and panic sets in. They need to keep hunting for food almost daily. In sales terms, they are great at getting short term success and hitting their targets easily. However, they burn through clients like there’s no tomorrow.

Farmers: They typically are like modern farmers and move slower than hunters. Farmers build a community around them and treat their sales work like a farm with live stock. They take care of every living animal on their land, feeding and nurturing them daily. Farmers understand that raising a cow can take a couple of years, but will give milk and meat as the very basics. The cow will take care of the land and the by-products can resort in different types of dairy products for direct sales. In sales term, farmers build relationship that may not lead to direct sales, but will eventually lead to loyal customers who might bring in new customers or more business themselves.

I had taken an enormous sense of pride by being called a farmer. As much as my manager wanted quick results, and thus instant gratification, I understood that taking time and building trust with clients would get me further. In previous sales jobs I had gotten stick many times for delivering too much service and not doing the “hard sales” they insisted on. Too much service to me sounds the same as saying “liking your customers too much”. Of course we need to make money, but you can do that short term or long term. I’m more into the latter.

From Farmer to Robot

After a couple of years and some great times later, I got an opportunity to work for a different company. There was an opening in sales at a giant, international corporate with over 130.000 people on the payroll. I saw it as a giant leap in my career and a chance to accelerate my learning and to climb up the corporate ladder. Obviously, from that point of view I needed no time to think about it. The first meeting was an in-office skype call, because the interviewers didn’t take the time out to meeting in person for the first interviews. The second meeting was face-to-face, as I actually prefer. I was hired for the position I was aiming for and quickly turned into…..a robot.

Like I said earlier, I love building connections with clients and learning all about them. Nurturing relationships, feeding conversation and obviously some day harvesting the mutual benefits. In spite of what was discussed in the interviews, they were not looking for a farmer. They were looking for “hands” to handle incoming requests and making quotations based off of them. There was no building, there was no talking and there certainly was no “long term”……”just send them out and make sure the requests inbox is empty by the end of the day”

But it’s not only the lack of relationship building or supplier-client contact. It was the sheer lack of anything that I loved doing previously. My past job had given me so much back in return and the customers felt like people you “kind of knew” at some point, at least on a professional level. The company I now worked for just had a shortage in people handling requests. They didn’t care of hit rates or reasons why people requested specific products, as long as they got a quotation the same day. Creativity or any human skills was better kept at  home as it would only be gathering dust at the office. But it’s not just the content of the work. It was the culture as well. Actually, it was the toxic combination of both of them together.

Looking for robots, hiring humans

As modern and innovate as the products were, the company culture wasn’t any of those two. After punching in at the start of your day, you were to sit behind the computer and send/receive e-mails all day. If you left your desk for any amount of time without being in a meeting, you were considered not to be working. That didn’t feel nice at all, but it could get worse:

– You could save up an extra day of free time if you wouldn’t get ill that year (because you have full control over your immune system and catching a flue should cost you any bonus or benefit).

– Every day you were to punch in – and out – at a central clock. Taking an external lunch break? Better punch out! This is purely to keep track of you working your 8-hours-a-day exactly to the minute.

– There were daily meetings where you were to tell why certain (small) tasks were not yet completed. You would then get new instructions how to complete the tasks, making it feel like “de-bugging” the code of a robot.

– Lunches were mandatory between the span of an hour and eating at your desk (even when not working, but for time management sake) was not allowed. So you better be hungry and done between 12:00 and 01:00.

Of course those examples aren’t the end of the world, but together with the redundant work and the lack of communication other than just between me and the colleagues around me, it felt like robotized work. In other words: a well trained robot could easily do 75% of the work. Actually, if it WOULD have done that work for me, I could have created time to call those clients, to point out those improvements I saw but never had time to address….I could do so many things that would have made my job so much more personal and enjoyable. Also, not to mention to growth in business I could have started to create.

Short-circuit for humans

Inevitably I ran straight into a short-circuit or “Burn-out” as we humans call it. Not because of pressure from long hours of stressing about deadlines. I was burnt out from acting like something I wasn’t and didn’t want to be. I really wanted to be a creative sales employee who would grow the company through great ideas and hard work. Instead, I was seen as a flesh and blood typewriter that needed to be micro-managed. The very things that define me as a human were outsourced and left out completely. Once I recovered, I quit my job the same day. Nothing is more important to me than feeling human, using my skills and personal traits and connecting with other people. So I built my own company, where I could do just that: be creative, add value to people and help people and their brands grow through personal connection. So long robot Ferry, hello again human Ferry.