10 worst keys to keep you off the layoff list

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Jun 04

I hate poor job advice. Career advice that doesn’t match up with reality. Job advice that puts people in unwinnable situations. Given the economy, there is a lot more poor advice out there.

But the article in Management 101 on MSNBC titled Ten keys to keeping yourself off the layoff list takes the cake for the worst advice I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s go through all ten and give you some perspective:

1. Remember: 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 and your fears. They want you to be a selfless, highly collaborative team player who meets and exceeds your commitments. Your presence can’t be an energy drain or create work.

So management wants you to be 100% selfless and collaborative without being an energy drain or create work. That’s great — to do that starts with management providing clear and concise instructions on the work done. And no one is “catering” to you and your fears; the fact that companies are laying off hundreds of thousands every month means you have no self-interest in your future so you have no fear. Good luck with that.

And I’m not so sure “it’s not about you right now” is just right now. Show me a large corporation that ever thinks “it’s about you.”

2. Become a black belt at change

The most important skill to develop right now is finesse at navigating change. That means 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.

Sure, we need to deal with change. That’s a Cubicle Warrior trait. But “accept whatever management throws your way” and “say yes to all of it?” I’m sorry, Cubicle Warriors have brains and can actually contribute to helping with the change. Blindly accepting anything management says eliminates a huge pool of resources that can help implement the change. Management want us to be robots? I hope not.

3. Everything is your job

Demonstrate your commitment to the overall success of your team and your company by 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. Offer to take notes and follow up after every meeting.

Nothing is beneath you. The little things you do above and beyond your job description will serve you well when it’s performance appraisal and/or downsizing time. Forget your fancy title, your impressive resume – and your ego.

This is pure crap. If everything is everyone’s job, there is no accountability and nothing gets done. Taking on tasks that are outside of your job responsibilities diminishes your ability to do your job responsibilities. And if you don’t do your job responsibilities because you are so busy doing everyone elses, you’ll be out the door for not performing. Show me anyone saved from a layoff because they consistently took notes at meetings. Please.

4. Walk away from the water cooler

When straits are dire and headlines scary, the last thing your company needs is negative, gossipy employees who polarize colleagues into an us-vs.-them dynamic. 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 rather than what can’t.

Yup, no one likes negative mindsets. But what’s a negative mindset, anyway? People can’t speak up and tell their manager they think an approach is incorrect and needs to be changed? People can’t criticize an action taken that didn’t work out by figuring out why it went south? And if you don’t want polarization, you can start by getting rid of all the Corporate Speak that comes out of management and have plain talk. It’s a concept.

You-will-agree-with-everything-management-says. Or else it’s negative. I don’t think so.

5. “Unwritten Rules” are now engraved in stone

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. Don’t get a reputation for being one of those people who takes forever to respond to an e-mail, voicemail, or a simple question. Vigilantly follow up on all assigned action items. Management is increasingly scrutinizing your every move.

This one is most offensive. You see, your results don’t matter, just how long your butt sits in a cubicle. So, to get ahead, I really need to keep my butt in the chair longer and longer and longer. Fourteen hour days and seven days a week means I’m indispensable. Oh, I have to produce something too?

And I don’t think management is scrutinizing your every move — they don’t have time. They need to produce work as well with fewer managers and more to do. So good managers are looking to NOT scrutinize every move but, instead, work with people who produce results with little supervision. If a manager is taking time to scrutinize every employee’s every move, they’ll be out the door.

6. Step up – and wear very big shoes

Don’t wait for someone else to solve your problems. 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 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.

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.

It’s contradictory to say we are supposed to “take everything management throws at us” and “say yes to all of it” and then suddenly develop a brain and use it to improve the business. Either management wants people who can help the business or they want robots going along with whatever is said. You either need to engage the workforce and deal or don’t engage the workforce and direct the teams. I personally think you get better results when you engage your employees (oh, results are not important, only time in the cubicle. I forgot.)

And while the second paragraph makes sense, doing those things will not prevent you from being laid off if a site closes down or a department is eliminated. If a site shuts down, you’re gone no matter how wonderful management thinks you are. Doing those actions, however, give you an important career need: accomplishments you can show your next employer.

7. Transparency is your new trump card

You must be totally transparent as to what you’re working on and how it fits with management objectives. There can be no hiding, 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 are likely to keep you around if they see you as a vital associate.

This one is vexing, to say the least. Not all managers want transparency — especially if it is in making suggestions about improvements and the manager didn’t think of the improvement. Yes, “not invented here” is still a big problem.

And from a practical view, what projects can an employee suggest that has a “killer ROI?”

The second paragraph makes some assumptions that are stunning: “the more honest your superiors believe you are…” So it’s OK to be dishonest, just as long as your superiors believe you are honest. Sure.

And “stop hoping no one finds out who you are or what you really do all day” is laughable — unless you aren’t producing anything. If you aren’t producing results, of course you’re going to hope no one finds out what you’re doing. To be fair, it really doesn’t matter if people find out what you do during the day as long as you are producing results to the department.

8. Make friends in new places

Human resources and finance are two departments that can have a significant impact on your career whether you realize it or not. They know a lot about you that can influence how you’re perceived. Respect those folks, socialize with them, ask for their advice, and make sure you carefully do a little self-promotion. When cuts need to be made, you won’t be an unknown quantity to them.

I agree you need to make friends in new places — everyone needs a broad business network to help each other. But new friends in HR and finance? Seriously?

First, in large corporations, HR is there to protect the company from employee lawsuits from unfair treatment in a layoff or performance review. That’s why they are there in all those types of discussions. Sure, HR wants the person to succeed and contribute, but in a layoff situation, they are there to make sure the law is followed and protect the company interests. Not yours.

Second, HR and finance have absolutely no say in a layoff decision about you. Your manager does. That’s it. If your manager decides you are the one to go and your manager has followed all the legal procedures, you are done. If HR came into the department I was managing and told me who to layoff, I’d tell them to take a hike — HR isn’t there to help me achieve my goals, my employees are and I’ll make those management decisions.

9. Start Tweeting or start packing

Look at the Millennials 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 dive in.

Twitter or die? OK, I’m on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, but that has zero effect on my employability or protection in a layoff. And if you spend your entire day on social networks, you are not producing results (so let’s not be transparent…) and you are spending fourteen hours a day in your cubicle to get anything done (oh, wait, that’s a good thing. I forgot.)

The key is this: everyone needs to understand how the technology tools work in the company and their job. If you don’t understand how your application you use on your job works, you won’t be as effective as others. In other words, you have to embrace the technology tools you need for effectiveness in your job.

And if you have all sorts of time to Twitter your time away on the job, it means you don’t have enough to do. Which means you’ll be gone anyway unless you start producing results.

10. Fit club

Healthy people tend to have better outlooks and are easier to be around. They take good care of themselves, which in turn earns them the respect of others (…) So get your sleep, eat well, exercise, stay hydrated, and avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol. This is an investment that will pay dividends for you and your employer. And yes, your employer does notice.

I agree people need to be physically fit. And, yes, there are extensive reasons why a healthy workforce is better than one that’s not. But I don’t work out to help out my employer. I do it to help me out. To be able to handle the stress from work!

But what really cracks me up about this one is that we’re supposed to take everything management throws at us, come in early, stay late, take on more work, do work that is outside our job description, solve all our own problems, have time to take a course on Twitter(!) and then have time to be with our partner and children, engage in our hobby, worship in our religion of choice and then still have time to “sleep, eat well, exercise, stay hydrated, and avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol.”

With all the hours you’d be working (and in Seattle!), avoiding excessive caffeine would be impossible. And you’d be so screwed up from working and not paying attention to your family, alcohol would look like a good alternative.

I don’t know what world this advice comes from, but, trust me, none of it will keep you off a layoff list. Follow it and watch yourself ruin your cherished relationships while you burn yourself out from the job.

I’ll pass.