Careers are dead. Not just individually, for those who have lost their positions in the past two years, but collectively, including those who still have a steady paycheck. The long, steady climb up an organizational, industrial or professional hierarchy no longer exists. In this new world, working lives are erratic, filled with ups and downs, and taking perhaps two decades to taper off until retirement.
The global economic crisis that struck in the fall of 2008 may have been the tipping point, but our traditional approach to work has been on the road to extinction for decades.
We all now work in a post-career world, an unpredictable environment in which excellence, expertise and even success can lead to termination, because they go hand in hand with higher salaries and age.
Surviving in this competitive new environment, and preserving your stream of income for as long as possible, may demand a set of practical tactics that are concerned more with effectiveness than ideology. Listen up!
1. Become a hatchet man
How good you are at your job doesn’t matter. Hard-working, effective individuals can be passed over for promotions or let go, while others, far less effective, are promoted or have their positions secured.
The dirty little secret that those survivors understand, and that you need to learn, is that you don’t really work for your company, you work for your immediate supervisor. Your job is really all about making him or her feel and look good. Meet your boss’s personal needs and your job will be as safe as possible. Find out what your boss hates doing, or needs to do but can’t, and do it. If that means becoming the hatchet man, so be it.
Let’s say the new president of your company installs his brother as vice president of sales, your direct superior, a position that in the past had been responsible for the landing, closing, and servicing of national accounts. As national sales manager you’ve long been charged with the administration, training, and management of the company’s sales team. It soon becomes clear that your new boss, while an experienced and apparently effective manager, is a terrible closer.
To secure your own position you need to, subtly if necessary, step in and start closing the sales, even if it means adding to your already heavy workload. By doing for him what he can’t do himself, you become indispensable.
Becoming a hatchet man could be as simple as filling in for your boss at the weekly industry association dinners she loathes, or it could be as difficult as becoming the designated terminator if your superior hates being the bad guy. What matters is that you fill whatever role is needed, regardless of your job description. Do that and your position will be more secure.
2. Turn down the raise
The old mantra used to be “last hired, first fired.” The idea was that the least experienced people contributed the least to the organization’s success and so they were the ones the company could most afford to lose.
Today companies care about cost. The new mantra: “highest paid out the door.” Now it’s the most experienced and most effective who are often the first to be let go because they represent the bigger budget item.
The goal in cutting staff now is to get the most bang for your buck. That means it’s vital that you don’t become the highest paid individual at your particular level, even if that means turning down an opportunity for a raise and asking for a different form of compensation instead. And if you’re already atop the salary heap, sometimes it means finding a relatively painless and diplomatic way to climb down.
For example, perhaps you’re now one of the most senior department heads in your company. Your annual review is coming up and it’s obvious you’ll receive another glowing report as you have for years. A salary increase would be the traditional reward for your continued excellence. And you’ve been given hints from your superior to expect one even in this difficult year, albeit of a modest amount.