The Last Eight Months
This story is about my experience working for a five-year-old immigration “start-up” company in a Training Manager role for their US Operations.
My introduction to this immigration services start-up company started with a job posting for a Training Manager, to which I applied. I first interviewed with the Director of Operations on May 11, 2021. After a series of interviews, I was offered a job in June 2021, but I rescinded the offer as my current employer, at the time, gave me a counter offer. Things didn’t work out, so after a new round of interviews on October 20, 2021, I ended up working there.
I started working at the company on November 8, 2021. They gave me an office, which was fantastic. The environment was laid-back, and the employees were friendly. The opportunity excited me. This experience was a new industry and a chance to create a learning environment. I spent time job-shadowing, observing processes, conducting training needs analysis, learning about the industry, and reviewing available process flows.
Operations and Finance gave me the task of sourcing and deploying a learning management system. The business wanted this platform in place as soon as possible. There was a sense of urgency toward getting this done, and I couldn’t understand why.
Two weeks into the job, I had a virtual one-on-one introduction call with the CEO. It was an awkward conversation; while we were talking, he looked me up on LinkedIn and asked, “What is Community College Air Force?” I gave him an explanation related to my formal education in the United States Air Force. His demeanor changed. He asked me about thoughts for improving the customer experience, mentioned a technique used by an Air BnB to enhance the level of service, and shared the link to an article. He told me to look into implementing training for this then he ended the call.
In early December 2021, the CEO, a few executives, and others visited the Operations Center, where I worked. Time spent in meetings, team events, and one-on-ones. I, along with Operations management, had dinner with the CEO and Chief of Staff. It was a decent night of food and conversation. The following day, the CEO stopped by my office. He asked if I thought it was a good idea to sit with the team and observe their processes to become more empathetic to their struggles. I agreed that it was a good idea then he asked, “why aren’t you doing it?” I was caught off-guard by his question. I tried to tell him I did shadowing and showed him the process flows I documented from my observations. He didn’t show interest in my response.
He asked me why my office lacked decoration and whether I felt I needed an office. I told him it didn’t matter where I sat. Later that day, I learned from my manager and co-workers that his “conversations” focused on me, along with questions about why I hadn’t been conducting training with the staff when I started in November.
I conducted a new product training and a company values workshop by mid-December. I also started doing product evaluations with a couple of LMS vendors. The company decided to ramp up hiring new employees, and the Director of Operations tasked me with implementing a formal New Hire training program for the first class on January 3, 2022. We had to leave our offices and work on the floor by the end of the calendar year.
I worked 12-hour days, weekends, and holidays to meet the January 3, 2022 deadline. The challenges; I had to learn about US Immigration, two different admin systems, USCIS petitions, and two different processes (manual vs. digital). I created a 5-day program but wasn’t happy with the product. The plan, new hires to go through formal classroom learning & development to establish core knowledge and obtain their technical training while on the job. The reason is that the class was a mix of both brands, so there were two systems, two processes, and procedures after being told we would only hire for one.
On January 3, 2022, I conducted the first formal new hire class. It was not as good as I had hoped, but it was not as bad as I expected. The feedback was positive; however, there were bumps in the road. The post-training feedback confirmed my feelings about the program.
A Fast-Paced Nightmare
On January 3, 2022, the company fired our general manager. The Director of Operations filled the role pending a replacement. Operations scheduled another new hire class for early February 2022, and the content required changes based on employee feedback. In addition, I spent time evaluating LMS vendors, writing the LMS requirements, and the proposal for the company’s executive team.
The People Operations (HR) Team recruited me to implement a New Hire Cohort program for remote workers. While I could leverage existing new hire content, it required building from scratch. The first class had a start date of the end of March 2022 and a quarterly schedule. They also asked me to develop and deliver interview training.
I trained my second new hire class in early February while going through contract negotiations with a prospective LMS vendor. Both parties signed the contract, and I began managing the LMS implementation, with a 30-day deadline to have it up and running (Phase One). I had to prep and train another new hire class in March 2022, develop and deliver product training for child visas, create content for the LMS end of March deployment, and develop and provide training to address quality issues with the affidavit of support filings.
I struggled with determining the data to report at the monthly business review meetings. The CEO shared his criticism with my supervisor. Employee performance metrics were inconsistent between the two brands, and quality-related feedback was subjective. Everything was an experiment done rapidly.
My stress level was high as I had to perform every task associated with the ADDIE learning and development model. I asked my supervisor about hiring a training coordinator or facilitator, which was part of my job description; the company budgeted two positions, but I couldn’t hire the first one until June 2022.
By the end of March 2022, I delivered my third new hire training class and my first new hire cohort workshop and deployed the learning management system (LMS) to the US Operations team.
The CEO and new VP of Global Customer Success visited the office in the first week of April, focusing on introductions with the new VP. During dinner, the CEO asked, “what is one thing we would change about the company?” I couldn’t think of a response, so I replied, “cut back on the number of Slack channels.”
The next day, the CEO and I had a scheduled one-on-one meeting. He had me follow him to the breakroom, where I watched him attempt to make tea; then, we walked to an empty office. The conversation started with him asking me how often I work with the team leads. I let him know that we work together periodically based on operational needs. He then asked if they’d given me feedback regarding training. This moment felt like that exact moment back in December; my mind went blank as I began staring at the ceiling.
He told me the feedback was, “training is terrible.” I was not expecting that feedback. He asked why I thought the leads didn’t share that feedback; “maybe they didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” He wondered whether I went out with team members for drinks. I shared with him the importance of a balance between work and family, especially since the events of the pandemic and losing my father to prostate cancer in 2021. His last question, “what is the one thing you would fix at the company?” I sat quietly for a few seconds and told him I would have to consider it. He told me to fix the training, and the meeting ended.
In April 2022, I delivered the Affidavit of Support workshop, the Interview training, and the Child Visas product training. I added courses to the LMS. The VP of Global Customer Success tasked me with creating an interview-based assessment for screening, establishing a “level-up” program, and delivering cross-training for the Operations team. I initiated phase two of the LMS deployment for the Customer Success teams in the Philippines. I started work on training for an initiative that changed the way the company provided legal information.
During the April Monthly Business Review(MBR) meeting, the CEO brought up metrics for training. I planned to have metrics defined by the next MBR meeting. The CEO brought it up again a week later at a project status meeting, putting me on the spot again; he asked, “I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but when will we have metrics for training?” I told him next month, which was May 2022. I felt the writing was on the wall at this point, and I didn’t believe I could turn my situation around.
Mid-May 2022, I received approval to hire a Sr. Training Coordinator; by the end of May, the position went out for recruitment. By Mid-June, the company implemented a hiring freeze, placing the role on hold. The only reason I found out was due to me asking the recruiter and being told not to speak with any candidates – followed by the message coming from the VP of Global Customer Success. The “Legal Initiative” training I worked on was deprioritized. We shelved the pre-employment assessment because of the hiring freeze.
I worked on the cross-training content, updated the New Hire Cohort content, developed eLearning content for the Philippines launch, and formalized the “level-up” program plan. By the end of June 2022, I launched the LMS for the Ops teams in the Philippines, initiated content development for cross-training, delivered my second New Hire Cohort workshop, and rolled out additional eLearning content.
I decided to plan for transition in preparation for my impending departure. From April to June, I interviewed with various organizations for a project manager role. I received an offer of employment on July 6, 2022, and I gave my notice on July 10, 2022. My last day with the company was July 15, 2022.
The Lesson Learned
Sadly, my interactions with the CEO sullied my perspective of “start-up” companies. However, I learned a lot, and I value the experience. Some good people worked there and contributed to the small successes I achieved. The do more with less mentality was detrimental to my success. Despite being highly organized, I could not analyze, design, develop, deliver, and evaluate training on a continuous cycle; against varying business expectations with very high demands. The CEO formed a negative opinion of me from our first encounter, which created an uneasy relationship, and I expected him to fire me every day.
I am continually learning that some roles and environments create problematic situations, and walking away from them is okay.
I’m reminded of a decision I made six years ago.
If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read my story.