Cassandra Jennings | Crain's Sacramento

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Cassandra Jennings

Background:  

The Greater Sacramento Urban League helps enhance education, job development and management skills for people in the Sacramento region. It is a subsidiary of the National Urban League, a historic civil rights organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of underserved urban communities.

The Mistake:

Don’t assume you know what people want.

I was trying to develop a department – a leadership one – and actually diversify it with women and minorities in the leadership.

I had a candidate in mind. I had consulted with a few people in the department, and they agreed that it was a good choice. When I offered a position to the person, we talked about what the duties were. Then I said, “We’ll talk about it on Monday.”

Monday, the employee came back in, and the response was, “I can’t believe you offered me that job – it’s demeaning; it’s awful to me. How could you do this?”

I thought, “My goodness…did I miss something here?”

I had assumed that the employee wanted to be head of that department. Years ago, in another job, management offered me a position that was a lateral move. I eventually thought it was a good idea because I could learn something new, and it would lead to bigger opportunities later on.

I apologized to the employee; said I was sorry I had misread things. I told the person I still thought they would be fine in the position, but it was OK if they would rather stay where they were.

We need to check our intuitiveness and make sure we understand what we – and our employees – truly want.

The Lesson:

When I made my lateral move, the management knew me well enough. They knew if they needed somebody, they could tell me, “I’ve got a vacancy over here, and I have to move you,” and there would be no problem. They knew enough to tell that I wanted upward mobility anywhere within the organization, even if I eventually ended up doing something different than I planned.

But as I tried to read this employee, I didn’t know if they really wanted upward mobility in the organization – or at least, not in this department. I think what the person tried to tell me when they declined my offer was that they wanted advancement only in the narrow scope of what their job was. It wasn’t something I’d considered, because in that employee’s place, I would have made the move.

Obviously, I didn’t read this person quite right. Unfortunately, they also misunderstood what I was trying to do. It caused some problems down the road.

I think most of us are professionals. We try to at least rationalize when we do something else or try to present opportunities to others. But we need to check our intuitiveness and make sure we understand what we – and our employees – truly want before we get too far out there.

 

Follow Greater Sacramento Urban League on Twitter at @gsul1968.

Photo: Cassandra Jennings | Courtesy Sacramento Urban League.

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