You Are Indispensable – Until the Rules Change

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How many people do you know who believe they are indispensable to their company? If they go, the company goes.

Surprisingly, to me at least, a great many believe the company would go under if they left. Or at least their department.

This attitude persists even in companies that are laying people off and losing money.

The Truth

Here is the truth: no one is indispensable in a company that employs more than three.

People are correct in believing in their work for the company. The “indispensable” part comes from the good work that they are doing. The problem with indispensable comes from the false belief that conditions will stay the same. The rules will stay the same. The people and their attitudes will stay the same.

Intellectually, we understand that nothing stays the same. But, emotionally, we have a hard time taking an outside view of the investment we have made in the company through our work. With investment and commitment to the work comes a world view of permanence. We are too close to the work to decide the work is not important any more.

Yesterday, Washington Mutual laid off another 1,200 people. In 2005, when the housing crisis hit, WaMu employed more than 60,000 people. After the latest layoff, the number will be closer to 44,000. You lost your indispensable job because the rules changed; management made a large bet in subprime and other exotic mortgages and got burned by the decision. Yet, even in this wicked environment, people believe they are still indispensable.

The Challenge

While the rules changing in the mortgage industry seem obvious now, the challenge for a Cubicle Warrior is understanding how the rules are changing in their work environment. They need to understand how work is changing early in the cycle. They need to know how long a position should last. They need to have sources of information outside the company about the company to know how others view the company.

How to Learn When Rules Change

Learn about Corporate Speak. At one of my former employers, if a Senior Manager left on good terms, there was a paragraph about the contributions made by this person. If a Senior Manager was fired, the announcement – especially in a series of changes – was the last announcement of the group and said the person “left to pursue other business interests.” Any time corporate communications comes out with “strategic” or “new direction” language, including messages like this from your manager, the rules change. Corporate Speak is code for rules changes in the company.

Research new managers in your area of work and senior managers when added. Google is your friend. If your new senior manager comes in with a history (read: Personal Brand) of outsourcing work and your company has not, it is a virtual certainty that it now will outsource work. The rules change.

Watch what the stock market says about your publicly traded company. Companies will communicate to Wall Street about bad performance – because they have to by law. Remarkably, they don’t have to release any of this internally to employees or, if they do, provide only the company spin on the news. Wall Street will tell you if the spin is accurate or not. The rules change.

Actively view your work as if you were interviewing for it the first time. Would you want this job? Think this job has a future? Think the company will use this work for the foreseeable future? If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, the rules changed.

The work you do for your employer is indispensable. Until the rules change.

How have the rules changed in your work environment compared to a year ago?

  • I have found your statement about people thinking they are indispensable, often even after they have been let go, to be true everywhere I’ve worked.
    Having experienced 3 “downsizings” I believe I have any job that moment. And your alert about being aware of “new” strategies as signals that the job cuts are cutting is accurate.
    As a senior technical writer I often get wind of things early because people approach me to write their resume. Everyone should keep their resume current and their contacts up-to-date because job security is a thing of past and not even a reality for union members who get it through negotiations…look at Detroit.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      There is an other good sign — people start talking about resumes and updating them.

      The other that showed up today that I forgot — when upper management starts to leave the company. Reportedly, some Yahoo! senior managers are leaving after the failure of the Microsoft purchase and the Google agreement. While most suggest that it is simply their view of wanting the Microsoft deal, I also think it portends to bad times ahead for the company. The failure of the Microsoft deal and the agreement with Google is a rules change.

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