My 20 years doing career coaching has shown me that you can lose your job for many reasons. Some are out of your control: Your employer is losing money. The department is eliminated. There’s a corporate merger and you’ve suddenly become redundant. But some layoff triggers are ones that are within your control – you’re not meeting your performance expectations, for example, or the chemistry between you and your boss is not optimal.
So although you can’t make yourself invulnerable to a layoff, you can take steps that help you keep your job in 2012 and beyond. Here’s how:
Understand the priorities
Unfortunately, in the current Darwinian corporate environment, you can’t just meet your own performance expectations. The way to win the employment game is to understand your company’s strategies and objectives and your boss’s priorities, and then align your work performance with them.
Be flexible, resilient, and adaptable. One Human Resources Vice President I know managed to keep her job because she dramatically changed they way she worked, implementing cost-cutting efforts that reduced HR expenditures significantly. Although she had spent more than three years dealing primarily with outside partners, the VP quickly responded to a new corporate mandate to bring all training and coaching in-house.
Learn how to manage your boss
Make an effort to thoroughly understand your boss’s management style and needs, and then cater to them. Learn to convey information and ask questions strategically, and in a way that mirrors your boss’s communication habits. Find ways to make your boss’s job easier. Ask: “Do you really need to handle that? Can I take care of it for you?” One client who was a firm’s new Senior VP of Compliance kept his job by taking over some of his boss’s day-to-day responsibilities. He ended up with a higher profile at the company and helped his boss appear as less of a micromanager.
Brand yourself continuously and effectively
Promoting yourself modestly is a key part of protecting your job. Express opinions at meetings, when it's appropriate. Pass along a piece of research you’ve done to someone at the company who might find it useful. Volunteer for a committee that a senior officer of the company is on, or for the board of a senior officer’s favorite charity. Send your colleagues articles from the business press that they might find interesting and useful.
Understand the culture
Behaving in a way that is antithetical to your company’s culture is the quickest way to lose your job. Don’t disagree publicly in a meeting where consensus is emphasized. One of my clients who was a senior attorney did just that in his first month on the job. He’s no longer working at the firm.
Make sure that you go to corporate events, parties, and lunches at companies that stress corporate camaraderie, even if you’re introverted. Although you might rather read during your lunch hour, it might be better to play that game of foosball with your colleagues.
Learn to play office politics
Many people hate office politics and some choose to refuse to play the game. But if you’re politically tone-deaf, you could wind up making mistakes at work that could cost you your job, no matter how good you are at it.
Savvy political players usually have mentors or shepherds who can help shield them during corporate downsizings. How do you acquire a corporate protector? If your company has a formal mentorship program, participate in it. Also, make sure your projects create win-wins for others. One of my clients who was developing an employee-relations wiki kept her job during the company’s third downsizing by bringing in the Chief Technology Officer and the head of product development as part of her team. These two executives quickly became her guardians.
Improve yourself continuously
Always be on the lookout for ways to make yourself a better employee. If you’re not reading journals or attending at least two conferences a year for business, you’re headed for trouble. Additionally, take at least one self-improvement course per year (perhaps in leadership training or building interpersonal skills) that can be translated into doing your work better. If you think you’re a Luddite when it comes to social networking, get a reverse mentor
– a younger person at the office who can show you the ropes.
Know that the small things count
Many of the things you were taught in kindergarten still apply: Be neat. Be on time. Always say “thank you.” Never start fights. Share. Congratulate others on their successes. Welcome newbies to the staff.
No matter what, be prepared for the worst
Even if you've taken all the previous steps, you might still become a victim of downsizing or restructuring. So make sure you're always quietly on the prowl for your next job, either inside or outside your company. Try to go to at least one networking event per quarter, where you’ll get out of your comfort zone and meet at least five new people. Then, remember to stay in touch with them. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated so prospective employers know what you've been doing. Every time you change the profile, your LinkedIn contacts automatically know about it. The more you do to stay visible, the easier it'll be for you to land that next job.
By Paul Bernard
is the founder and principal of Paul Bernard & Associates, an executive coaching and career management consulting firm based in New York City.
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