Internet Sales Manager. That was the title my boss gave me as I started this new adventure. Technically, he asked what title I wanted, and said that he was thinking about Internet Sales Manager. Since I really don’t care much about job titles as long as they don’t contain the word “waiting” in them, so it sounded good to me. This job turned out to be one of my best adventures so far. Looking back on it now, it prepared me for my current phase of life more than I ever could have imagined. But–spoiler alert– I didn’t imagine then that I’d be doing what I’m doing now.
At the time, this job was it. As far as I was concerned, I’d arrived at my perfect job. It felt so right. I had a boss that believed in me and communicated with me. I had a blank slate of opportunity, and I got to play in a sandbox of technology. My first hire was an assistant, and I knew it was going to be important. For the next several months, it would just be me and my assistant working on the project. I tapped into the buying department to a young, energetic, and intelligent junior buyer named Courtney. I had met her a few times while working in various stores, and I’d been impressed. She loved the idea of what we were building, and she agreed to come be a part of the new ecommerce department. She turned out to be a tremendous asset to the department. A couple of years later we even hosted a podcast together. It was called The Fringe Podcast. You may have heard of it.
We began the tedious and invigorating process of mapping out the new ecommerce platform. We spoke with people in our sister company about their website, we looked at what others in our industry were doing, and we made a master list of features we wanted. We took those features and broke them down into phases. That is, which features would be available at launch, which would be phase 2, phase 3, etc. We also made note of features and functions that we felt our competition had implemented poorly so that we could implement something better.
After that, we put together a proposal and gathered input from the operations, buying, and warehousing divisions of the company. Once we had everyone’s input, we started getting bids. Our entire fulfillment center was set up to deliver one massive order via semi-truck to each of our stores once per week; all fulfilled out of our central warehouse. With ecommerce, we had to figure out how to receive and fulfill individual orders that would ship out via various package services. To figure this out, we added to our team and set up storefronts on eBay and Amazon. Orders began pouring in from all over the country and even outside the US.
After a lot of research and interviews, we found the company that would build our new website. After months of work with their team and our various divisions, the day finally arrived to launch the new site. We wanted to flip the switch to the new site after normal business hours, so one evening, me, Courtney, the company president, IT director, merchandising director and a few others stayed late to watch it happen. This sounds silly, but the nerves I felt were similar to waiting for my wife to deliver our kids. It was a nervous energy filled with anticipation. Then, suddenly the switch was made and our new creation was turned on. A moment later, our first order came in. IT WAS ALIVE!!!!!
The next 5 years were awesome. The ecommerce division became the fastest growing division in the company. My team was very talented and we had a great bond. We implemented phase 2 and phase 3 of the website, and we embraced new media. We saw the need for our company to utilize social media to help serve our customers, so we started Twitter and Facebook accounts. Vendors weren’t always able to get us product pictures, so we created a photo studio. We even tested out technology that would later roll out to our stores that allowed us to burn CDs on-demand and carry inventory that otherwise didn’t make sense to have on hand.
My happy little bubble burst, however, in late August 2011. That was the day I realized my time at the company was ending. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was only a matter of when. Office politics are present in every organization, I’m sure, and I’d certainly seen a fair amount of it around our company. Fortunately, I’d been able to stay clear of it up to this point. But on that August day while kayaking on the Oklahoma River with my pastor, I received a phone call from Courtney that let me know office politics had finally reached my doorstep. Our division was under attack from the marketing department. When I returned, I was called into a meeting with the CEO and the marketing director. It was made clear in no uncertain terms that things were changing. Many of the programs and systems I’d started were being given over to marketing.
It was an odd meeting to say the least. Clearly other meetings between the two of them had gone on while I was gone, and I was simply being brought up to speed with their decisions. As I said, our team had started the social media accounts for the company. To be honest, most companies have their social media accounts supervised by their marketing department. But we were using the accounts to serve customers. Marketing had no interest in serving customers directly. Of course, they wanted to use the accounts for marketing purposes. We argued that marketing needs to be less than 30% off the content sent out via social media, therefore whatever they wanted to market could simply be given to us and we would make sure it was sent out. And that defense had kept them at bay for quite some time. But now they’d taken their case to the highest decision maker in the company. And as I just said, it was made clear in no uncertain terms that we would relinquish the social media accounts immediately.
But that’s not what caused me to realize my days were numbered. During the meeting, the marketing director said that two buyers had come to him asking if his team could get photos for some of their products. As he told it, they told him that the photos my team had created were terrible. They’d asked me to get new pictures, but we’d dropped the ball. I knew this was a complete lie. I knew that neither of those buyers had made such a request or had such a conversation with me or my team. I also knew that the marketing director had told at least one lie about me to another employee before. So I spoke up and called him out on his lies. I told the CEO about the previous instance of lying. I asked the marketing director to name the two buyers so I could fact check him. He complied.
Over the next couple of days, I had separate conversations with each of those buyers. Both buyers were quite upset. They verified that the marketing director was lying. They each knew exactly the conversation that had taken place. In both cases, the bad photos were photos received from the vendor. They had not even requested new photos from my team. They both felt it was very clear that my team was not at fault and said that my name or division never even came up in the conversation.
With this new information, I set up a meeting with the CEO. I shared the version of events that the two buyers shared. I told him how I’d spoken with them separately, and how each of their stories match the other, but neither of their stories matched the story the marketing director gave. The CEO responded and said that nothing would be changing and that it sounded like a problem I needed to work out with the marketing director.
So I set up a meeting with the marketing director. I told him about the corroborating stories of the buyers and how they proved he was lying about me again. His response was to deflect the whole thing. Even though the meeting we had had with the CEO had taken place less than a week prior, his response was that my accusation of him lying was about something that happened in the past. He didn’t want to dwell on the past. And at that point, he refused to talk about it any more.
I WAS LIVID. I can only think of two other times in my 18 year career that I got so angry. I raised my voice, told him he was being ridiculous and he owed me an apology. I demanded he go to the CEO and confess. He had damaged the reputation I’d spent over 17 years building, and he needed to own up to his lies. Nope. He’s not going to live in the past.
As I stormed out of his office his staff just looked at me in wide-eyed amazement. Clearly they’d heard me yelling at their boss. Looking back on that moment, I wish I hadn’t simply glanced at them and left. I wish I’d called him out in front of his whole team for being the liar he was. But I didn’t. As I understand it, things finally caught up to him at some point after I left. But that day, that moment, knowing I’d battled office politics at the top of the company and lost, well, that was the beginning of the end.
My direct supervisor was the company president. He fought for me, but could only do so much. Within 8 months of that day, the president would turn in his resignation. He himself fed up with the politics. He had been my superman. There was no one left to shield me from the attacks. It was clear that the company and I now had completely different visions for the future of ecommerce. I’d lost all respect for the marketing director and a tremendous amount of respect for the CEO. Now the only question was whether I’d be leaving on my terms or theirs.
As you’ll learn more about next week, after this pivotal moment, it still took well over a year for me to exit the company. During that time we had an author come speak at one of our bi-annual meetings. The author said something that changed my life, because it changed my heart.
Up to that point, when I thought of what the marketing director did, I got angry. I wanted justice. I wanted the CEO to come into my office and tell me he’d made a mistake. I wanted an apology. The author, I wish I could recall his name, said that we must forgive those that wrong us. He said that if we don’t forgive, those wounds turn to bitterness. I could definitely see that bitterness had already started forming around this wound. He said that not forgiving would ultimately harm us much more than the person who wronged us.
Furthermore, he said that if we were waiting around for that person to own up to their error or for some form of justice to be served before allowing ourselves to forgive, we may never find forgiveness. Then he dropped a truth bomb that shook me deep in my heart. He said, some people don’t even know the damage they’ve done to you, so expecting them to apologize is never going to happen. We have to forgive, even if the person who wronged us never asks us for forgiveness.
Is it possible to forgive someone even if they don’t realize they need to ask for forgiveness? I mean, I knew it was possible to forgive someone who was simply refusing to ask for forgiveness, but I’d never thought about the distinction he was making. This was a person that had no idea they’d hurt me. It wasn’t refusal to seek forgiveness, it was ignorance that damage had been done.
Of course, my situation isn’t exactly like he was describing. The marketing manager clearly knew he’d hurt me, but I honestly don’t think he had any idea just how deeply the situation impacted me. One thing was certain: He was never going to seek forgiveness, and I had to forgive him anyway. And so I did. I let go of the anger. The bitterness disappeared. I found freedom from the pain. I escaped the entrapment of unmet expectations.
I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday episode 568, “Forgiving the Unrepentant.” Next week the pendulum swings and I share a story about my struggle with honesty. Stuff I Learned Yesterday is part of the Golden Spiral Media podcast network. Join me on Twitter at GSMPodcasts, or Facebook.