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05/10/2013

How to keep yourself from being fired.

A very important meeting is held, and you’re not invited. At this meeting, a senior leader announces that since targets were not reached, 150 managers will be laid off, and the purpose of this meeting is to create a list identifying exactly who those people will be. The key question for you is, “How do you keep your name off that list?” Most of the people who had been laid off share at least two of the following .

1. They were not viewed as strategic. Many had not been working in roles that provided them with opportunities to create new strategies, and as a result colleagues rated them very poorly on their strategic ability in the performance review assessments. The sad fact is that when times are tough, what most organizations need most are leaders who can create a winning strategy that will ensure competitive advantage.

2. They failed to consistently deliver results. These were the people who over that previous two years had had missed deadlines, had committed to projects they hadn’t delivered, or had set the bar too low for others. While they perceived themselves to be working very hard, they looked like they were running out of
energy and losing effectiveness over time. Some had reputations for not working hard; the older ones in this group appeared to their colleagues to have started their retirements early. 

3. Their ethics or integrity had been called into question. This was not a common problem, but whenever it existed people were let go. These ethical lapses covered a wide range, from failure to comply with company policies, to inappropriate comments to or relationships with co-workers, to financial improprieties like moving excess funds from one budget year to another by generating fictitious invoices. These were indications, for the most part not of outright dishonesty but of poor judgment.

4. They had (very) poor interpersonal skills. Many people with weak interpersonal skills had been promoted based on their technical ability and then were not able to improve their social skills enough to succeed in their new roles. Many were viewed as weak leaders who were unable to influence others and foster necessary change. Some were difficult to deal with — or even hostile, volatile, angry, combative, and unable to manage their impulsive behavior. Some were described as creating a psychically toxic work environment. Why had the company waited for a downsizing to get rid of these obvious candidates? Keep in mind that many of these people were also described as brilliant.

5. They were resistant to change, both  personally and organizationally. In general, the worst leaders assume that they’re promoted because of their brilliance and all they need to do is keep on doing what they did in the past. But the best leaders continue to look for feedback and to find ways to improve. So it does not surprise us that many of the managers who are let go are described as resistant to change and inflexible to new approaches in their performance reviews. 

6. They had lost sponsors or support. Over half the managers who were downsized indicated that they had recently lost the support of their sponsor. So in that fateful meeting where was no one to speak up for them. The lesson here is clear. Not only do you need to ask “Who will be your strong advocate?” but it’s important to have more than one.
That last factor is clearly political, and its pervasiveness suggests that everyone should be a little bit paranoid when layoffs are in the offing.

In hindsight, positive reviews, and even promotions, can bring a false sense of security. The disparities between the positive performance reviews and the negative comments on the 360s reinforce longtime findings that it is your strengths that get you promoted – but also suggest that in uncertain times you should take a second look at your flaws, which may leave you vulnerable to being laid off.
If your organization were facing a cutback today, would be you prepared and certain your name wouldn’t appear on “the list”?

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