Thursday, 1 May 2014

Being downsized doesn't mean being capsized!

Have been reading about career curveballs (#careercurveballs) and how they have impacted others. My thoughts wandered back to an event far in the past [the only hint I can give is that my wife was pregnant with our first child]. I walked into work (early in the morning) and was bundled into a meeting room (with a few other colleagues) where we were introduced to our "new" manager. We were advised that our earlier manager had resigned due to differences in "vision" with the board.

Things went fast and they are still a blur for me as I was advised that I had been "let-go" as the organisation needed to "down-size".The meeting lasted fifteen minutes and then our new manager rotated smartly on his heels and left the room. He had spent the same time and energy in the event that someone at a fast-food joint does when asking you whether you would like to "up-size" your meal!

I was confused and disappointed. For some reason I had believed that this happened to "others" and to those who did not put in an effort in their jobs. Some element of naivete existed on my part. I checked with the others to understand what had just transpired. One of my colleagues, looked at me in exasperation - "Brother, wake up and get ready to walk out. You don't have a job. Get your CV (resume) ready." As the rest walked out I remained seated expecting someone to walk back in and shout "April fools day joke" but then it sank in. I was ashamed at that time as there was an inherent cultural bias that made me feel that it was my actions that had led to this outcome. At that time I could not understand the emotions I went through but today can truly empathise when I see the same in the eyes of others as something similar happens to them!

I walked out of the room with a glum expression on my face and met one of the senior executives in the organisation. He took one look at my face and asked me what was on my mind. I opened up and started telling him about what had happened. The martyrdom on my face was visible and the lack of trust towards him was evident (as he was a senior executive of the same organisation that had just "breached my trust"). He listened for a few minutes and then calmly put his hand on my shoulder and leaned forward. His words were exactly what was needed to pierce the the fog in my brain - "Screw them, they made their move and now what are you going to do about it?"

He gave me a few pointers on starting the job search; checked on how long I could survive on the package; what did I want to do etc. He then called three recruiters that he had worked with before and told them that I came highly recommended. To make a long story short, five weeks later I had a job. In fact, I started working for a new employer without a firm offer in my hand as they needed more time to convert their verbal offer in writing but I wanted to get back into the saddle asap. I worked for 48 hours and only then got a written offer. The HR department in that organisation was not impressed with the flexibility shown by the hiring person (who I deeply respect to this day!). People work for people and I sometimes wish I could take this for granted but ever so often I do meet a manager/peer/colleague who still does not get it!

I could not sign-off without giving some pointers to ensure that your downsizing experience does not mean that you capsize your career or your aspirations:

1. Build your reputation beyond your immediate manager. Work high and work wide. Let your value be seen broadly. When the chips are down you will need the support of many others!

2. Act and behave to prove that man is a "social animal" in the work environment. Build relationships and leverage networks. In bad times, those you treat with respect on the way up will treat you with respect on the way down (or out!).

3. Always maintain a level of paranoia in how you approach things. Don't take your success for granted. Keep looking for signs and remain grounded in reality.

4. Keep an eye on your skills and learning. Did you learn or do anything in the last quarter that could be added to your CV? If not, then you are not showing growth or learning. A promotion is not the only proxy for growth, what you learn from that promotion is what needs to be visible or articulated. Learn to describe yourself eloquently.

5. Building on point 4 above. Build a clear understanding of who you are. Can you describe your strengths and weaknesses? Are you actively working on them? Do you have a view for where you are going in your career? This will help you react positively with a set-back as you would have clarity of purpose.

6. Manage upwards. Managing your manager ("boss') is not "politicking" but rather a means to ensure alignment. Done appropriately it can bring sensitivity of you and your strengths, which can help in a down-sizing scenario.

7. Please don't spend too much time feeling "sorry" for yourself. It is not likely to change where you are but will definitely impact where you want to be! Move on. Wake-up. Look forward. Be positive. Worse could happen..right?

Hope this helps you in handling such an event (if it happens) but more importantly it should help those who are lucky enough to not have this happen to them, as I believe that everyone needs to gain an appreciation of what it means for those who do end up on the receiving end.

I sometimes wish that organisations make it mandatory to only promote managers into people management roles that have been down-sized or laid off or retrenched or made redundant or impacted negatively by a "right-sizing". My innermost belief is that empathy, respect, care and compassion are critical ingredients at work that we are not investing enough on!

PS - The son referred to above is now a strapping lad and when I finish writing this I will be walking over to him to talk about his future, which is far better than reminiscing on the past!

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1 comment:

  1. Deepak,
    Glad to hear things worked out for you in the end.
    Do drop over for a visit sometime.