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Careers aren’t always straightforward. Here’s how I tackled my crisis of confidence

Careers don’t always follow a straight and narrow path. To mark his inclusion in this year's Future 50 as one of the best new marketers in the world, BT brand strategy and planning insight manager Adam Mills tells us how he navigated a moment of crisis to get where he is today.

A few years ago I suffered a total crisis of confidence after I had a pretty horrendous experience with a boss who just didn’t like me – and didn’t exactly hide his feelings. I didn’t notice it at the time, but he spent 12 months picking me apart and made sure I knew that he didn’t value me, my work, my output or anything I brought to the team.

When I left that role and moved to BT, I was bereft of all confidence in my work and in myself. I had an unbelievable amount of imposter syndrome, was always readying myself for the worst and didn’t really know how to dig myself out of that hole. But that was the point in which my boss and my team rallied round and offered some ways to take stock of what had happened, rebuild what had been broken and set me on the path to succeed. I’m forever grateful for their help and guidance.

I’ve always believed in the mentoring and coaching programs offered and always seen value – and that was the first place I turned. Finding coaches and mentors (both internally and externally) that could help me pick apart what had happened and to pinpoint specific areas in which I needed to rebuild was a core part to all of this.

I saw councilors to help me find coping mechanisms for what had gone before, too – so much of internal confidence stems from healthy wellbeing and I was able to make the most of that experience. I also made sure I set myself goals throughout the year rather than just ‘annual goals’ – simple things like receiving positive feedback from stakeholders or being invited to workshops or events in which I’m the subject matter expert. All these little green ticks helped to build me back up.

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand why it all happened or if I’ll ever fully recover from that crisis. But after four or five years, I can safely say I’m the most confident I’ve ever been. I’ve been helped and aided to open my eyes to what I know I can achieve, rather than what I was told I could achieve.

However, it did teach me that you should never doubt yourself or your ability. To ask to be challenged and to request regular, honest feedback. To find ‘safe’ occasions to push yourself out of your comfort zone to help you grow. To be as honest as you possibly can with your boss and your colleagues – being a closed book won’t allow people to help or offer advice. But most of all, to be authentically you – as cheesy as it sounds, it’s the best piece of advice someone gave me right at the start of this journey. You can only be the best version of you if you bring your true self to work.

We have all faced enormous challenges this year and it has required some incredibly fast-paced changes. At BT, our purpose of ’we connect for good’ has been our guiding light throughout and we’ve tried to go above and beyond for our customers and our colleagues as the need for connectivity became an absolute must.

I can only speak on a personal level here, but I’ve been incredibly proud of we’ve adjusted and pivoted this year to keep the country connected. Reading customer feedback and hearing stories as to how our networks have enabled them to stay in touch with friends and family across the globe has been incredibly moving.

At BT, we’ve been working remotely since the start of the first lockdown and, to be frank, it was a total leveler – all of a sudden we were all in the same boat and having to deal with it as best we all could. No matter how senior you were or how many years of experience you had, we were all thrust into the ‘you’re on mute’, ‘someone’s at the door’, ‘turn the radio down’, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t speak then as I’m home-schooling’, ‘Joe Wicks saved my morning’ world – and I think that whole experience has to be seen as a positive.

I personally feel that I know my team and my colleagues better than I ever knew them – we’ve spent hour upon hour speaking with each other, supporting each other and looking after each other. That focus on people and wellbeing is one thing I desperately hope we keep as we begin to unlock and return to some form of normality.

We’ve been tremendously lucky that we’ve been able to continue with the vast majority of our workstacks – we’ve moved all our research and focus groups online, we’ve been able to use collaboration tools to work together as a team or a function, and we’ve delivered some incredible work to huge audiences because there’s no requirement to book the biggest meeting room in the building.

Don’t get me wrong, Zoom fatigue is absolutely a thing and some days are utterly exhausting from having to be ‘always on’, but at least you’re not having to sweat in the office, feeling rubbish, painting on a smile just because you need to be seen to be at your desk. It’s a tremendous shift that’ll be felt all over the world.

Hybrid working is here to stay and I’m absolutely going to make sure we keep the best parts of the past 12 months. However, new business needs equals new business requirements. I mean, who would have thought that a new Teams layout would cause so much commotion or that Slack gifs would make every meeting a little bit more lively?

Digital platforms are going to have to keep up, just as they have over the past 12 months. I can see the landscape altering as we move more into a hybrid working pattern, especially as meeting rooms become a ‘thing’ again. We’re in danger of building a two-tier system within our workplaces if we’re not careful – those that head into offices and are able to have small conversations between meetings and those that are happier to spend all day looking into their webcam, safe in the knowledge that they’re at home. The technology is going to have to keep up to service both those needs and to bridge the gap between the two.

I think there’s a greater focus on purpose now than ever. There’s definitely been a shift towards wanting to see your favorite brand have a positive impact on society, or to look after their people in the best possible way, or to ensure they’re offering customers the fairest possible product or service.

Part of that is certainly the empathy we’ve all shown each other during the pandemic, and wanting our brands to do the same. There’s definitely more calls for actions from brands and we’re all holding them to account much more, too.

But that’s not just the pandemic – it may have been the catalyst, but the pandemic itself hasn’t created that shift alone. Other significant movements across the globe, such as Black Lives Matter, have shone a considerable light as to how brands act with fairness and integrity within society.

For me, brand purpose is a combination of things: values, honesty, fairness, trust, transparency and societal impact. It’s about being a brand with strong integrity – ensuring it fulfils its duties to its customers, its colleagues and its stakeholders in all of these spaces. It’s arguably the most important thing a brand should be doing.

I try and carry brand purpose with me in everything I do – at BT, our purpose is ’we connect for good’, and I absolutely interpret that as something I can help deliver and can have a direct influence on. Throughout my career, I’ve wanted to work for brands that I can add value, but also brands that give back – BT absolutely fits that bill for me.

Discover who has been named the best emerging marketers in the industry in The Drum’s Future 50.

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