Sometimes we have to make gut-wrenching decisions at work. I'm not talking about what to wear on casual Friday, though admittedly that did cause me some personal angst for about 18 months.
Instead, I am talking about those moments where the personal collides with the political and the practical.
I got my first in-house job with Nissan, who poached me from its outside PR agency. In a weird, but not so uncommon twist of fate I switched places and became the client, and my former colleagues suddenly found themselves working on my behalf. It was a bewildering transition and took some getting used to.
About 18 months into the job at Nissan, senior management wanted to reduce costs and directed us to consolidate our three outside PR accounts into one agency. I was asked to lead this effort, and we put out an RFP to the three firms.
The decision to consolidate was difficult and controversial, and there were numerous political factions with skin in the game. There was also a lot of money at stake. Each of the agencies prepared elaborate, carefully crafted presentations and flew in their top brass from across the country. Each pulled out all the stops and made it clear that this was an important piece of business.
Because I was the head of communications, I had enormous sway over the final decision.
I'd like to say that I ran a completely objective analysis of each of the presentations and created a blind numerical scale that focused strictly on the merits of each agency. But I didn't.
I couldn't keep anxiety and insecurity from seeping into the decision-making process.
On one hand, I wanted to pick my former agency because I believed in the people and felt protective of them. On the other, I was worried that if I picked my former firm I would be accused of favoritism.
To further complicate matters, there was political pressure on me within Nissan to choose whom I'll call agency number two - an automotive specialty firm that had been servicing the account for more than 20 years.
At the time, I was a wreck. In the end I did not choose the agency I had worked for. And while my rationale for the final choice was sound, I knew in my heart that the decision was impacted because of political expediency - I made what I thought was the safest choice.
The fallout from the consolidation was good for me professionally but difficult for me personally. The agency we chose did a great job. My bosses and team were happy with the outcome. But the friends and colleagues at my former firm were deeply hurt. They felt confused and betrayed and several of them stopped talking to me.
This incident took place more than two decades ago, but I was troubled by it for years. I felt as if I let down people who had nurtured, mentored, and supported me early in my career. I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to decide if I could have handled it better.
Looking back, I probably should have recused myself from the final decision entirely, because I was too close to the people involved. At the very least, I should have been more transparent about my conflicted feelings, and anointed members of my team to make the recommendation to management.
Throughout the years I was able to repair most of the relationships that had been damaged by the outcome.
But not all of them, and that is something I truly regret.
Don Spetner has served as CCO for Nissan North America, Sun-America, and Korn/Ferry International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.