By Robert Knowling, Chairman, Eagles Landing Partners
Economic cycles come and go, and when times are good and companies are hiring, life is good for people in the company. The same cannot be said for the tough recessionary times we are in today. Expense reduction and downsizing is all too familiar in businesses across the globe. The last three to four years have been especially challenging as markets eroded and serious economic turmoil hit the financial services industry, which had a trickle effect on other industries. Fear and uncertainty among employees consumes the workplace, as even the best employees wonder if they will have a job going forward.
I have never personally been downsized, but I have been in the corner suite when those tough decisions have been made, and these are some of the most difficult days in a company. So what advice would I give someone on how to deal with the uncertainty and to survive? I don’t like paint-by-number advice and like I mentioned, I have never been downsized, so I cannot speak from experience. What I can offer is what I have stressed to my children regardless of whether a company is hiring or going through some right sizing. “Make your performance speak so loudly that they have no choice but to talk about you.” What the heck does that mean?
Having a job is not a birthright unless your family owns the business, so what I am about to share applies to 99 percent of us out there. How you perform in your job is truly a personal option for all of us. You can follow orders and comply with the expectations set for you; or you can approach your job believing that the expectations are merely table stakes; that they are a basic requirement and, therefore, have a belief that the job entails and demands much more.
I’ve been in meetings where my executive team and I are discussing talent, and exceptional performance is always discussed. Always. This term, “exceptional performer,” spooks some people, but I believe there are some simple things you can do to position yourself to excel as an employee.
Now, these are not ironclad rules; rather, this is simple advice I have instilled in my children.
At the end of the day, the reality is that everyone is replaceable. What you are trying to do is make it such that when your leaders sit around a table going through the tough process of determining whom in their organization they can do without, your name is the one they put on the list as the kind of talent they have to find more of.
Robert Knowling is the chairman of Eagles Landing Partners, a consulting firm, and the former CEO of Telwares, SimDesk Technologies, and COVAD Communications. Earlier he had a long career in telecommunications, starting at Indiana Bell and including senior executive positions with Ameritech and US West. He was the first CEO of the NYC Leadership Academy, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to improving the leadership skills of public school principals. He is the author of “You Can Get There from Here: My Journey from Struggle to Success” (by arrangement with Portfolio/Penguin, 2011).