New Manager

How not to get singed during lay-offs

C Mahalingam | Updated on January 23, 2018


Employees with expertise are retained. Mastery, rather than dabbling at the periphery of what you do, is the key

It has been reported that every family in the US has had at least one family member laid off in the last five years. Soon enough, this may become true of India as well, if the trend is any indication. The only difference is that employers in US do not shy away from announcing it and doing it. In India, most large organisations that are laying off in significant numbers do not muster the courage to acknowledge it. When the cat escapes the bag (or as they say in some parts of the word, when stuff hits the ceiling), our leaders are in denial mode and declare they are only letting non-performers go. Saying that hurts those laid-off even more. But that is their problem, not the company’s or their leaders’.

This article focuses on how employees can guard against being laid-off, or in other words, how to stay fire-proof. There is no guarantee, however, that one can avert it for ever. The ultimate approach is to continuously sharpen the skills and become career-resilient. However, some of the suggestions that follow here may be helpful to a large number of those in ‘fire-prone’ jobs and industries.

Build deep expertise: In a hyper-competitive world, developing deep expertise in what one does can hardly be over-emphasised. Organisations find it hard to let go of people that form the critical core. Smart leaders ensure that employees with expertise are preserved.. Mastery, over dabbling at the periphery of what you do, is key.

Building transferable skills: Transferable skills are not those that are completely distinct from where you build your mastery in. On the other hand, both the mind-set and skill-set to be able to do vertical movement- jobs and lateral movement jobs should help big time in keeping one’s job relatively safe. Those employees who resist change find no chairs when the music stops.

Being a contributor to larger organisational goals: Building a silo mentality and not reaching out to participate and contribute to broader organisational goals makes one an easy target for firing.

During good times, organisations present ample opportunities for such contribution. You could be a very passionate internal trainer or a willing contributor to prepare marketing collaterals, actively participate in an innovation initiative.

Doing so makes you more valuable for the simple reason that not many do so. And it provides the much-needed visibility to the senior management who often exercise the discretion on who to keep and let go during tough times.

Becoming valuable to the customers: Many techies are very focused on doing an exemplary job of cracking a code or writing it, engineering a product and doing it world class. However, making the best of every opportunity to interact with the customers even when these are few in a year and getting a decent mind-share helps a lot in keeping one’s job. When the customer loves you or even likes you, your organisation will have serious thoughts before letting you go. Interactions, reviews, celebrations, demos, trouble-shooting, and so on provide great opportunities to gain this mind-share from customers and leverage it when times are hard.

Becoming a brand ambassador over time: Being a brand ambassador with leadership and professional bodies, membership organisations and even management and engineering campuses are some of these opportunities to build a brand as ambassadors. Organisations value this and need such people all the time. It even provides visibility to other organisations with employment potential, if required.

Have a strong mentoring relationship with someone senior: Tough times provide protection to those who build a strong mentoring relationship with someone hierarchically senior. Far from seeking paternalistic protection, what is being suggested here is that such a mentor knows how good you are, and how the organisation can leverage your talent. They will argue the case for your retention. It is never too late to find a good mentor and build great chemistry with them.

Build your reputation as a congenial colleague: The more you become a helpful colleague, someone who creates happy moments for co-workers and support managers with ideas, solutions and stretch work, the better are your chances of being valued and retained.

This is not about becoming a court jester or even an easy pick for errands, but as someone genuinely around to help when colleagues look for help and share credit with. There is no substitute really to remaining career-resilient. It is not even fair to expect that organisations will be able to guarantee jobs for even the best performers at all times. However, what employees can do is to enhance their being fire-proof.

The writer is Executive Coach and HR advisor to corporates

Published on April 14, 2015

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