“Are you paying attention?”
Those are the opening words to “The Imitation Game,” the Academy Award winning movie about how the Nazi Germany codes created by the Enigma code machine were broken during World War II.
But the same could be asked of how we pay attention to our own place where we work. Are you paying attention?
The attention needs to be on both what the managers/executives of your firm are saying as well as what they are actually doing. Because, as you know, what they say and what they do can be completely different. It shouldn’t be different — one of my tests of how good the management team is for the company — but you can think of many examples of what management says and what they do are different.
When you don’t pay attention, bad things happen. To you. When you don’t listen and watch what management says, you get what you get, good, bad or indifferent.
The important point here is that even when you do pay attention, you also need to act. If someone you trust has inside information about what is going on in the company — people who sit in the meetings, not gossip around the virtual water cooler — you need to heed what is going on and act.
And I’m guilty of this one — I’ve too often thought I could work through a bad situation, or the company could, and I’ve ridden it right to a layoff. Honestly, I saw it coming but I just think trying to go find a different job at the time was something overwhelming to do in the face of constant getting kicked in the face from the job.
I needed to act, but ignored that. And got burned. Every. Single. Time. Well, lesson — lessons — learned. Not any more.
What amazes me, maybe to the level of astonishment, is how so much clear direction is given by managers that if you were paying cursory attention to what was going on, you’d clearly see what was going to happen next. And what usually happens next — when it is bad — is that people get laid off, divisions are sold, operations are split apart, and life as you knew it in your job is no more.
But people don’t see it. And, honestly, I don’t understand how they don’t see it. Or, even if they do see it, they don’t act on the information.
The frustrating thing is, I don’t know a good way to show how to read what is happening in a company. Sure, there are the corporate speak moments — right sizing comes to mind — but usually there is a lot more going on besides the corporate speak moments that allow you to see what will be happening next. Maybe not the exact direction and maybe not the exact sequence, but enough to know how the story ends.
Plus, the advice for when you do see this blowing up is pretty one note: get out. The sooner the better. Especially if you see people who do excellent jobs with great job skills and performance leave the department or the company. The good ones always leave first because they are the most marketable.
Yes, get out is the answer. And that forces you to face up to a big change in your life. You give up what you know to something that is unknown. You change your personal dynamics with a different commute, different team, different manager, different everything. It’s not an easy change to make.
It’s even more difficult if you are in the rare position of having a pension on the line or lots of time put in and financial goals almost met. If I can only hang on until…and usually it ends up as not hanging on until whatever it is you were hanging on to achieve.
And getting out means needing employment security because there is no job security. Your secure job, with a company or division sale, or no profits quarter after quarter, or that great upstart disrupting your company’s business and products all mean that, all of a sudden, that job security is gone.
What I do advocate, since it is sometimes hard to see incremental changes of a company going from good to bad, is to every quarter ask yourself how long your current job will last. Because every job will end — you’ll get transferred, promoted, laid off, whatever. And when it ends, you need to back up enough before it does end to have enough time to find another gig, whether that gig is in your current company or a different one.
If you see that job ending in six months and it takes three months to find a job, something better change in the next three months or you need to pound the pavement for your next gig so YOU can choose your next step. And not have the company force a choice on you and your family.
You have to watch, you have to understand what is happening in your company, and you have to know when your job will end so you can look for another.
Are you paying attention?