Going From Zero To Hero

A story of how organizational culture changed my life.


By Sofia Castelbranco, Talent Manager at Newmanity

I’ll start off this post by telling you a story about this Portuguese girl I know. She was an above average student, part-time worker and unofficially appointed (sick) grandma carer. She was studying music whilst also joining a well reputed university in order to strategically beat unemployment: by understanding more about human beings and their minds.

She was fairly happy with herself and I believe she was a kick-ass kid.

After five years of studies, she entered the job market and things got messy. It all seemed pointless, she had to deal with some pretty negative people, her performance was below average and she felt extremely unhappy.

Her journey began to go straight downhill, with some mental issues in the mix. After 7 years of being kicked out of jobs, feeling miserable and purposeless, she finally decided to leave the country.

And suddenly it all changed.

She moved to the beautiful island of Malta, joined a small and young recruitment company and started thriving.  I’m not going to bore you with the difficulties she faced but there were some, all very worthy though. She got her mojo back. She saw purpose in what she was doing: helping people find jobs. She related to everything she did, became this fearless, happy go lucky Recruiter, then Team Leader, then Manager.

All of a sudden, she was training recruiters, sharing her passion for the job, being super happy about her job and also fairly successful. Eventually, she also sorted her personal life out and started a family.

As you can imagine, this girl was me. I can tell you a lot more about this amazing journey that got me where I am today but right now, I need to go straight to the point.

What was the game changer-- professionally speaking-- that got me from zero to hero?

Well it was a mix of the type of job I had, the people I was lucky enough to come across, and the international environment. But mostly, it was the organizational culture. What was so special about this little company set by the sea that helped unveil the potential within me was simply this:

It allowed me to be myself, think for myself, ask ‘why’ and ‘why not?’, and try new things. It gave me both positive and constructive feedback, pushed me to the limits and challenged me beyond imagination. But it worked!

I was no longer a piece of the engine, I was the engine that pushed me forward. I got excited about getting up and going to work, met wonderful people that taught me not only what I wanted to be but most importantly: what I was not.

I was a confident manager, a responsible, business-driven, fearless, happy human being. It made my day to help my colleagues, clients, and candidates. I had the opportunity to work with a great boss, who eventually became a friend that didn’t hesitate to push me into the deep end of the pool so that I would learn new ways of swimming.

I swam. I swam into Google’s offices for a business development meeting. I swam into amazing companies that were eager to have me as their account manager. I swam into a great reputation within the industry. I was brutally honest whenever things went south on recruitment projects – or any projects for that matter.

I was always truthful to my principles. I continued being myself, which included a fair amount of swearing in the office (yes, I was told off several times). I lived with a contagious passion for what I did, which translated into an equally contagious powerhouse for me and my colleagues. It was pure passion-fueled performance that no other company managed to trigger in me before.

The game changer for me was the relaxed but fast-paced, fun, and meaningful environment.

No time for politics, which I absolutely hate. The focus was on accomplishing targets and goals, quality-driven work, and making people happy. This was the total opposite of what I first encountered in my early career back in Portugal.

As a recruiter, I was lucky enough to peek into diversified company cultures.  I had normally around 15 clients to assist, which meant understanding their culture, values, and vision. They taught me a lot about what makes people thrive. Purpose and autonomy were two common elements: doing meaningful work, avoiding bureaucratic waste and politics, getting the bigger picture, and contributing to it.

With this said, I do believe that we still underestimate the power of organizational culture in Portugal, as seen by all the unhappy faces and unhappy conversations I hear daily when commuting. In Portugal, we still worry way too much about how colleague X was promoted and we weren’t, or how colleague Y is such a good ‘friend’ to the boss. I hear a lot about how hierarchy is built, fed and promoted.

But guess what?

Most companies I was lucky enough to deal with were on their way to becoming flat structures, working on a project basis, with no managers, no performance appraisals, no fear of failure, no useless meetings, no bureaucracy, and no politics.

They were great fun at work and had amazing employee engagement metrics.

Work should be a happy place, where each of us explores our full potential. It should let us be the best version of ourselves, understanding that making the company grow is also making oneself grow. Individuals who explore their full potential help other equally motivated individuals.

In Portugal, we seem too busy sticking to our job descriptions and duties, paying attention to office gossip and politics, watching over our shoulder to keep our precarious jobs safe, blind to purpose and commitment.  

A deep and radical but progressive change is much needed. We need our job to be our happy place, our safe haven, a place of constant positive challenge, where everyone contributes to the wellbeing of both individuals, the company, and to a great work environment.

Why should we spend one third of our lives (the average time spent at work) being miserable and unhappy?  

“Be the change you want to see in the world”, Ghandi said. Well, maybe it's time for us to "be the change" in Portugal?