The Best Defense is a Good Offense

I originally published this post with Procurious.

“The best defense is a good offense.” No doubt you’ve heard this phrase. It’s been attributed to many different leaders, Michael Jordan, Knute Rockne, George Washington. But it’s an adage that’s just as old as war. This idea is also shared in business. Get out ahead of the problems. Anticipate. This is a great idea, especially if it’s starting to look like you might get fired or laid off.

First off, I think it’s fair to share that employers don’t always do an excellent job of firing people; they wait too long, do a really bad job at documenting reasons that would lead to firing people, look at emotional rather than rational reasons for letting someone go. HR is usually the fall guy – giving the manager an excuse for doing something they’ve likely wanted to do. Supervisory or management training doesn’t always include how to make good hiring decisions or how to provide constructive feedback in a way that encourages a good employee to improve or help them make a graceful exit if the position isn’t a good match for the employee’s skills.

Yet, even knowing all of that, it doesn’t make it any better to feel like your job is on the line. Even if you really don’t like your job. 

What choice have I got?

Most people I’ve talked to about this had a bit of a fatalistic attitude about it – much of the advice was preparing for what’s next: get your things together, fix up your resume and start looking for another opportunity. And honestly, take it at face value: this may be the chance you didn’t realize you were waiting for!

Which, let’s be honest, this may be what your organization is hoping you’ll do (if they are planning to fire you). Firing someone is hard. It’s uncomfortable. People are upset. Most leaders don’t like doing it and will do almost anything to avoid it. It’s not much different if you are going to be laid off.

But what if your job isn’t that far gone yet? Let’s talk about things you can do NOW to protect your job. Go on the offense so you aren’t looking for that “hail Mary pass” in the final seconds of the game. For those not familiar with American football, this is a long-shot pass, with very little chance of success. But it doesn’t stop teams from trying it, or fans from rooting for it.

(photo tribute to Star Tribune)

Be indispensable

First, let’s review my last post on how to make yourself indispensable. Do something better than others in your organization: be reliable, share information, be curious about your role and your organization. By making yourself indispensable, it will be harder for them to find a reason to either fire you or lay you off.

Share your successes

Keep track of your successes. Share your successes with your manager. Don’t assume they already know. Learn how to tell your story, and tell it often. Help your supervisor be able to tell your story to those higher up. Your success stories will confirm to others that you belong with this organization.

Explore all avenues

Maybe you are seeing the signs of a layoff. The economy, especially in America, is in a recession and lots of people are losing their jobs. If your job is at risk due to a layoff, you can still use being indispensable and successful to help you keep your job. But if it’s bigger, maybe your entire department is about to go! What else is available in your organization? Talk to your boss about opportunities to use your skills in a different area of the organization. Most skills have a level of transferability and if you are at a large organization, there may be a chance to try out something new. The healthcare organization I work at offered staff the opportunity to reskill into an area of direct patient care. Think about what else you can do.

Losing your job sucks. And I’ve been there – fired, laid off and on both sides of the coin! But the work you do now can help you keep your job, assuming that’s the end goal. Or, the work you do now, can help prepare you for that next, awesome opportunity. Good luck!

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