Posted by Brian McCullough
The Lifeboat Technique
So you’ve put your finger to the wind and checked for the reliable signs that downsizing is coming. Hopefully your vigilance has bought you enough time to position yourself in a way that will keep you protected. How to do this?
For this strategy, I’m assuming you’d prefer to stay at your current company and, if possible, keep your existing position. I’m also assuming your company is not going to go completely belly up. I’ll address Armageddon scenarios later in the week. For now, we’re assuming that there’s just some belt tightening ahead, but it’s probably not long-term, and you’re just looking to weather the storm.
It’s time to take an objective look at your company and play the odds.
Flee the Low Ground
Remember, when a company needs to tighten it’s belt, it does so by trimming the frivolous things first. The greater the downturn in business, the tighter the belt will be pulled. But there are always certain things — businesses use terms like “mission critical,” “core assets,” “core competencies” and “back to basics”— that will never be culled. Or, at least, they’ll be the very last to go.
If Coca-Cola hits a serious downturn, they’ll likely shed every tangential operation, every division, every subsidiary they own before they stop making carbonated soda.
So, first things first. Look around and identify speculative or marginal projects. Are there things the company is doing that haven’t quite taken off or aren’t making any money yet? Maybe these are projects that looked like potential growth initiatives during the flush times, but now just look like a drag on assets. Perhaps these are perfectly excellent projects that are still in the early stages. It’s easier to cut your losses on a project you haven’t invested much in yet.
If you are involved in these areas or are on these teams, it might be a good idea to move laterally. Get yourself reassigned to areas of the company dealing with the company’s core mission or core product. If you can join the team least likely to be cut, it’s just a common sense move. Play the odds and play for time. If you can say to yourself, “They’ll make cutbacks to a, b and c before they ever consider cutting here,” then you’re in the right place. Hopefully by the time “c” is cut, the turnaround will be underway.
Run Toward the Likely Survivors
We all know who the favorites are, don’t we? Usually we’re jealous of them and talk behind their backs. But when layoffs are coming, a lot of the office chatter becomes, “Look at Christine. She’s so lucky. They’ll never can her. Her record is too good.”
If you hear chatter like that, it behooves you to hitch your wagon to Christine doesn’t it? See if you can join her team or tie your reputation to her success in some way.
Especially in large corporate environments, our offices operate like fiefdoms. Some bosses are more powerful than others. Some people see their stars on the ascent; others are long past their prime. Do a critical evaluation of your office political scene. If you can identify someone who will likely be tapped to lead the company through this time of trouble, then that is someone you should choose as your new feudal liege. Contrarily, let’s say your boss is a notorious pain-in-the-ass and management has been dreaming for years of an excuse to retire him early. Do you want to stay in his shadow? When the ax falls on him, it will likely fall just as heavily on his fiefdom.
Again, when times are tough, a company wants to cut costs. But they don’t want to cut so deep into the bone that they fatally threaten the company’s ability to return to success. Thus, the most valuable projects, products and initiatives are relatively sheltered. In the same way, an organization is loath to let their most valuable people go.
Make sure you’re on the “valuable” team.