It’s inevitable that no matter where we work, eventually we’ll experience a round of layoffs that’ll swoop up our colleagues. The unease, uncertainty, and stress this can cause… sucks—there’s no better word for it. What many people don’t realize, however, is that just because you’re skilled, doesn’t mean you’re safe.
Stuart had worked at the company for 11 years, much longer than the average today of just 4. He prided himself on being involved in so many of the existing systems. If anyone had a question about why something was the way it was, he was the person to go to. The company was moving in a new direction, however, and Stuart felt slightly sidelined. Sure, he was involved in the new architecture, but others were pushing forward with an entirely different approach—something he didn’t completely feel comfortable with.
You might have heard this story once before, or experienced it first hand. The veteran engineer, valued for all of his accomplishments, who suddenly finds himself becoming obsolete. In our industry, if your main accomplishments are contributions you’ve made even just a year ago, you’re at risk of falling behind. More and more, companies are looking at what individuals have done today, to determine if they are high-performing or at-risk employees.
4 steps to survive a wave of layoffs
- Take your performance reviews seriously
- Don’t use your legacy to prop you up
- Be willing to change and adapt
- Fight your battles carefully
Performance reviews with your manager are important, and they are a strong signal of how well you are doing. (duh!) If your manager isn’t providing these, then you need to make sure to request them and follow-up each quarter. Generally speaking, your manager knows what the company is looking for. Don’t expect that just because one year you’ve had a great review that the next year it’ll be the same. Make sure to ask specific questions too, such as “where do I need to improve?” or “what am I doing wrong?” If you don’t care about your performance, then chances are you’re probably already a low-performer and a prime target during the next wave of layoffs.
Don’t be like Stuart, treating your past accomplishments like trophies on the wall. Your legacy will not keep you safe. How many times have we heard about even founders of companies getting the boot? We’re long past the days where you can safely retire at a company by just doing the minimum. Yes, your past successes do matter, but only if they help you to replicate a pattern of growth and innovation. Use your legacy to continue to advance the cause of the organization, not your own sense of self-importance.
Adapting and changing is just part of the times today, especially if you’re in the technology industry. A new programming language pops up all the time. A new process becomes mainstream before we’ve even successfully implemented the last one. The appetite of consumers is continuously evolving day by day. There are so many variables in the market today, so being able to adapt and be comfortable with change is the only way to stay relevant. Sometimes adapting means no longer being the expert. Sometimes you have to learn from a junior member of the team. Be humble. It’s that simple.
The last step can be the trickiest and perhaps the most contentious. For a company veteran, choosing which battles to fight should come second nature, but more often than not, it doesn’t. If, for example, the company is mandating a change that you have no direct influence over, that’s probably not something you want to fight against. It’s not good for your career to be seen as the negative old-timer. I’m not talking here about falling in line, being a “yes man,” and ignoring potential problems, rather I’m saying that you should be strategic about what’s worth using your “political capital” on. The crux of this point is that change, risk, and even failure isn’t bad. Make sure you’re not a blocker but instead someone who enables innovation.
As the months went on, Stuart realized the company’s new direction really left him out. His legacy knowledge gradually became less important, and his old accomplishments were no longer relevant. He was too comfortable with the old way and never thought to propose changes at the height of his influence. It was a bitter pill to shallow, but he knew it was his fault. He felt isolated now and extremely vulnerable. Layoffs were sure to come again too.
Stuart’s reflection reminds me of one bonus tip, and that’s to use your influence to get ahead of the change and innovation. When you’re at your peak, make sure you’re the one trying to lead the charge. It’s easy to get comfortable at that point. The feeling of wanting to finally relax and reap the benefit of all your hard work is tempting. None of us have that luxury today, unfortunately.
So… what happened to Stuart? He was got a nice severance, found a new path forward, and plenty of lessons to help others not go through what happened to him.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik