2 critical points to understand your workplace — and protect your career

By Scot Herrick | Job Skills

Sep 02

Despite being in a significantly improved job market, corporate world is still a dangerous place to work. When in a recession, the danger is loss of jobs from lack of demand for the company. At the opposite end of the spectrum, boom times — or reasonably good times as we are in now — companies go on buying sprees — and shed duplicate and unwanted operations. You know, the kind that causes you to lose your job.

Thus, even though we’re in a much better job market, it’s still important to understand what is going on in your workplace. It’s still important to watch what management is doing.

There are two critical points to understand when evaluating your workplace.

You and you alone are the one in charge of where your career is going

The first one is best summed up in Workplace Survival Skills:

If nothing else, please accept this one simple fact; you and you alone are the one in charge of where your career is going. If you do not acknowledge this as a fundamental truth, your career is on a wild ride to be buffeted by the winds of change, whimsy and collective wisdom of those who lead your organization. This is not a good thing because I have been around leaders for a very long time and suffice to say, your career is not top of mind on their list of priorities.

On one hand, company management will tell you that their employees are their most important resource. That’s true, of course — companies achieve their business goals through people. That means you. You’re important as long as you are helping management reach their business goals.

The converse is also true: if management decides what you’re doing, good work or not, is no longer important to reaching business goals, your work is no longer important. You company can be sold. Your division sold. Your department shut down. Your group reorganized into oblivion. And you’re the one “buffeted by the winds of change.” So you need to be in charge of where your career is going.

I’m still amazed at the number of employees who believe the company will take care of their career. Sure, there are programs, there is what management says and communications are provided. This is not to say those are not important.

But they need to be interpreted in relation to what you have for your career. The communications should not be blindly accepted and cast in stone. All should be interpreted.

Yes, I strongly believe there is personal loyalty from managers to their employees. Managers will try and protect employees who help them reach their business goals. But, at the end of the day, if a higher level manager says it’s time for you to go, all the loyalty in the world won’t help you. You (and your department, division, company, whatever) will be gone in a New York minute.

The company is not responsible for your career well-being. You are.

Ignore the writing on the wall at your own peril

Okay, you need to watch. What do you watch? What do you pay attention to in order to see directions of the company?

You parse the communications from your CEO with the same scrutiny as messages from diplomatic communications. You look for changes in direction. You look for where business results are “tough.”

You especially watch when there are changes to C-level executives. Almost all C-level executives have something they do when they come to a company. If your company has never outsourced anything and a C-level executive comes in and that person has a past of outsourcing whatever, you can count on outsourcing starting to happen at your place. So you need to figure out where.

Google is your friend, here. Check out the new executive and see what that person has done in the past. Because that person will do the same now.

Watch who is leaving the company as well. If good people start leaving the company, it’s time to pay attention. If those people are in your department, you should really pay attention; they are seeing something if you are not. One person leaving once in a while is one thing. Multiple people leaving in a short period of time should raise all sorts of flags that change is happening right where you are sitting.

Finally, if you have access to someone who has insight into higher levels of the organization and that person is telling you stuff because you’ve proven yourself to be a trusted advisor, you need to pay attention. You are blessed with having the equivalent of the best inside information you can get long before it is announced.

Ignore that information at your own peril.

If you’ve read this far, understand I’m not trying to scare you. Or make you paranoid. Instead, I’m saying to not be complacent. Watch what is going on in your company. Take a gut check once a quarter on how well you like your job, your work, your team, and your manager. Track that (I have a form I provide when you sign up for my newsletter) so you can see how your perception changes over time.

You’re responsible for your career. And you need to pay attention while you work that the world you live in isn’t shifting away under your cubicle.