Five crucial steps to save your job

July 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The five crucial steps to take if you want to keep your job. Ariane De Bonvoisin, author of "The First 30 Days," has expert advice on how not to get laid off in this shrinking job market.

How not to get ;aid off: 10 skills you need to survive the next cut
By Ariane de Bonvoisin and John Kilcullen

What's triggering fears and sleepless nights for many of us about the unemployment abyss is not the job-loss stats themselves, but the depth of the cuts-and the qualifications of some of the people getting jettisoned. The questions we keep hearing are: Why do highly skilled, seemingly essential people get cut while others don't? Are there patterns? A formula, even? How can I make myself indispensable?

Short answer: This is no time to keep plugging along head-down, half expecting every meeting invite you open to be your exit interview. You must take action to embody the qualities of those employees who always get promoted and always avoid the next round of layoffs.

Insight on how to do that was not easy to pull out of the employers we talked to, and some of their answers were even harder to articulate. Many are not skills so much as qualities, capacities, habits-the right stuff for post-implosion corporate America, no matter what you do or how many awards you've got on your wall.

When your company is downsizing, de-layering or restructuring, here are ten things you can do to protect your standing at work.

1) It's not about you right now!
Force yourself to focus with laser accuracy on your company's success, not your own. In challenging times, the last thing your employer wants is to cater to you, your fears, your questions. Instead, they want you to be a seamless, selfless and highly collaborative team player who meets and exceeds your commitments. Your presence cannot be an energy drain or, worse, create any more work. Set a course to help your company weather this perfect storm.

2) Become a black belt at change!
The most important skill to develop right now is finesse at navigating change. This is different from positivity; this is about flexibility and open-mindedness. Accept whatever management throws your way. If they change direction (again), shuffle the product mix, add new goals or refine strategy on the fly, say yes to all of it. Resisting change only makes life more difficult for management and for everyone.

This also applies to those little things you took for granted. Accept that your expense budget and staff have been cut. Accept that you now have more work on your plate with the same (or less) resources that you had a year ago.

3) Yes, it is your job
Demonstrate your commitment to the overall success of your team and your company by staying open to taking on tasks that fall outside your job responsibilities. Pitch in on packing up the trade show booth. Manage your own schedule/address book/travel plans etc. Offer to take notes and follow up after every meeting.

In short, make sure nothing is below you. And remain humble when your extra efforts get recognized. It's the little things you do above and beyond your job description that will serve you well when it's performance appraisal and/or downsizing time. Forget your fancy title, your impressive resume and your ego. When you become indispensable beyond (and between the lines of) your job description, you will be the first call for that new assignment and not the first head to roll.

4) Walk away from the water cooler
When straights are dire and headlines scary, the last thing your company needs is negative, gossipy employees who polarize colleagues into an us-versus-them dynamic. Now more than ever, employers value passionate overachievers whose uplifting attitude contributes to a more energizing team culture. Whatever it takes, keep the negative mindset out of the office. This is your mantra: No complaining, no blaming! Dwell on what can be versus what can't. It's very easy to spot the happy employees in any company.

5) Unwritten rules are now engraved in stone
They're not spelled out in the employee manual, but you know them: Show up early, stay late. Everyone notices people who leave on the dot of 5 (or before) or take very long lunches or excessive coffee/smoking breaks. In addition, those who take forever to respond to an email, voicemail or a simple question. Don't do it. Vigilantly follow up on all assigned action items, too. Excuses move your name up the RIF (reduction in force) list. Management is increasingly scrutinizing your every move.

6) Step up-and wear very big shoes
Now's no time to be a shrinking violet. Don't wait for someone else to come off the mountain with tablets of wisdom to solve your problems. Now more than ever your manager needs to hear how the organization can trim costs, manage the supply chain better, find a new client, improve processes, motivate the workforce and deliver TNBT (the next big thing). Observe what your competitors are trying and testing; read everything relentlessly and ask people how you can improve what you do. You never know where the next transformational idea is going to come from -go find it!

Your goal here is to make sure there'd be a gaping hole if you were no longer around. Make the choice every day to do work that really matters to the success of the team and the company. Put yourself in a position that is crucial to the success of a new initiative, or dig in to solve a vexing long-neglected problem. Maintain a bias for action in every meeting. And be especially active in stuffing the suggestion box to demonstrate that you care about the future growth and development of the company.

7) Transparency is your new trump card
Companies want to know what's going on at all levels of the company. You must be totally transparent as to what you're working on and how aligned it is with management objectives (and subjective cultural expectations). There can be no hiding, no lying and no withholding information. If you don't have enough on your plate, say it. Ask to take on more-or better yet, suggest projects you can spearhead that have killer ROI.

The more honest your superiors believe you are, the more likely they are to trust you and keep you close. Being authentic builds relationships, even more than just hard work. Stop hoping no one finds out who you are or what you really do all day. Let people in ? or they'll be showing you the door. Employers tend to get rid of employees they don't know very well.

8) Make friends in new places
Don't assume you don't have to respect someone who's in a certain division or just less senior than you. You never know their real influence on the boss. And stay close to human resources and finance. These departments yield significant influence as to how you're perceived in the company. Respect them, socialize with them, ask for their advice, and make sure you carefully do a little self-promotion. When cuts need to be made, make sure your contributions are widely known in both camps. Respect yourself and your work-and in parallel, notice what everyone else is contributing.

9) Start tweeting or start packing
Look at the millenials and see how they work, how they make decisions and what technology and tools they use. No time for "I don't do Twitter or Facebook." Acquaint yourself with social networks, mobile applications and commerce platforms to remain relevant. Let them intimidate you and you give your boss reasons to replace you with someone younger and more in the game. Ask a family member to help, take a course, read a book ? and get in there.

10) The fit shall inherit the jobs
Healthy people are just easier to be around. They have better outlooks on facing challenges head-on. They take better care of themselves, which in turn earns them the respect of others. Fit people often set high standards for themselves both at work and at play. And they just have more energy-so they tend not to get tired when on deadline, and they don't call in sick as much. They have incredible endurance when others are reaching for that tenth Coke or waiting for the next trip to Starbucks. They are also calmer and more productive. So get your sleep, eat well, exercise, stay hydrated and stay off the excessive caffeine and alcohol. This is an investment that will pay dividends for you and your employer. And yes, your employer does notice.

Bottom Line: Rate yourself on these ten principles--which ones can you honestly say you are currently doing or need to apply right away? The truth hurts, doesn't it. Whether you acquire some of the softer skills that make us left-brain people uncomfortable, or do all of these things religiously, you'll have a much better chance of your career rolling than your head.

Ariane de Bonvoisin is the author of The First 30 Days, now in paperback.

Book Signings this Week

East West Bookstore Book Signing
July 23, Thursday
7:30 pm
324 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA
800-909-6161 x314

Book Passage Book Signing
July 25, Saturday
7:00 pm
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, 94925
(415) 927-0960

Buy the book on Amazon

About "The First 30 Days":
The First 30 Days reveals how the beginning of any change is a pivotal time that can either leave us stressed and stuck or lead us forward in our lives with clarity and hope. Change coach Ariane de Bonvoisin provides the tools to make each change a new beginning, whether it is a change you want to make or one brought on by a situation out of your control. Ariane introduces nine principles that will help you develop an optimistic mind-set toward change, an attitude that encourages you to see that life is on your side and that good can come from even the most difficult circumstance. With real-life stories, practical exercises, and inspiring action points, The First 30 Days teaches the skills you need to face any change -- skills that will help you today and for the rest of your life.

About Ariane de Bonvoisin
Ariane de Bonvoisin is the founder/CEO of First30Days (www.first30days.com), a site that helps people through all types of changes, personal and professional, including being laid off and finding a new job. She is also the author of The First 30 Days; Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier. She has also worked at Boston Cosulting Group, Bertelsmann, AOL Time Warner and Sony in addition to experiencing change working around the world.


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