The economy and the resulting miserable state of the job market forced many financial executives to downshift, i.e. take jobs way below their levels of expertise, authority, and adequate compensation. It's been almost a year since I wrote about the heartbreaking reality of first finding such a position and then accepting it for the sake of having food on the table and keeping the roof over your family's head. Yet, the painful topic is still relevant.
But let's look a little further. We have an opportunity to examine an interesting situation brought to my attention by an actual downshifter - a former CFO of a, now defunct, $500-million-dollar firm. After a year of a futile job-hunting he accepted, at 50% of his former compensation, a Controller's position in a young and small ($30 million) company, ran by two owners - a female CEO and her partner with a COO title.
How many times did I write about accidental bosses? And here we go again: this business has started because the two partners got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time with extensive connections and sufficient funding at hand. Neither of them actually needed it to survive, but the opportunity were too exciting to pass up.
Guess what? The CEO never led a company before. She never even worked in a commercial enterprise. Her partner has an MBA from an Ivy League school, but he only worked overseas. Neither have the chops to make good executives, yet both have undeniable talents and a lot of enthusiasm. She is a sales ace and the toughest negotiator you can find. He is incredibly detailed-oriented.
Not only that they managed to get the company off the ground eight years ago, they kept it growing with minimal labor resources, including a single bookkeeper. Hiring a senior financial person was definitely not among their priorities. Until... Some people are just born lucky. An even bigger opportunity presented itself. To implement it they needed more capital. The dogged COO wore down one of the major banks into providing them with a substantial trade finance line. Among bank's mandates was hiring a proper Controller.
Enter our former CFO.
Because both execs are not very clear on the leadership functions, the division of responsibilities is blurred. The COO was in charge of the Controller's hiring. The CEO never even saw the candidate's resume or salary history. When COO decided that this is their guy, the CEO was called in for a minute to shake the future Controller's hand.
Yet, once our downshifter started working there, he realized that the woman's word was the final authority on pretty much all other issues. Now, because she lacks corporate experience, she is not capable of assessing the Controller's performance. In her mind, any other accountant would provide the same input as this guy, who managed in the first three months to correct more procedural, systematic, recording, and administrative errors than he did in 25 years before this job. Moreover, he contributes into the company's strategic decisions. All that for a price of a low-brow peripheral Controller. The CEO has no clue that what she's got was a gift; that she got very lucky again and obtained an Hermes bag for the price of a Coach.
This is a big problem. If your boss doesn't understand your value, she cannot appreciate your contribution. The fact that someone with lower qualifications and less experience would not be able to attend to the sophisticated tasks you accomplish remains unnoticed. As a result, you are helping to better the company without a chance for a fair reward.
What to do in this situation? You are not the type to brag every time you do something extraordinary. The first thought comes to mind is to re-introduce yourself. The guy who hired you didn't share your resume with his partner, so give her one together with your salary history. You can say, "I understand you've never had a chance to look at it before and I think it's not fair for either of us." I know some people will say it's tasteless, but the options here are limited.
Secondly, you must propose a proper evaluation system for all staff members. Because these people have no idea how to go about it, they will turn to you. This is your chance! Provide them with the format that allows employees to list their own accomplishments. Then, make sure that reviews are actually conducted.
Finally, if you don't get satisfactory acknowledgement anyway, start looking for another job. Maybe you will be luckier this time around. It's like I always say, employment at will works both ways: they can separate from you at any time, but so can you.