I don’t want to worry you, but the minute you stop reading this column, you are going to lose your title, your job and your parking space. Yes, I know everything seems hunky-dory in your work world right now, but just around the corner, without you ever expecting it, a tsunami of bad economics and personal betrayal is going to knock you out of your Aeron chair.
That’s right, friend. You’re about to be blindsided, and you won’t see it coming.
Coincidentally, “I Didn’t See It Coming,” is the title of a new book by Nancy C. Widmann, Elaine J. Eisenman and Amy Dorn Kopelan. “The Only Book You’ll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business,” is the intriguing subtitle, though I am not convinced it is the only book you’ll ever need. In your office, it might be useful to have a copy of “Psychotic Behavior Patterns of the Mid-Level Manager.”
The three authors of this slim volume start with their own experiences of being blindsided out of highly-placed, high-paying jobs. And you rightly may ask — what can I learn from three losers? Still, there are good tips in “I Didn’t See It Coming,” and even if you don’t agree with everything the authors suggest, the book is guaranteed to raise your terror level to new heights. (As we know, if there’s anything that will help you survive in this dangerous business environment, it’s a good, healthy case of paranoia.)
According to the authors, the time to start preparing for your eventual blindsiding is the first day at work. Before you’ve even found your way to the rest room, you need to start ginning up an exit strategy — “a well-thought out, tactical plan that prepares you for making your next career move and gives you control over your career no matter what happens next.”
Executing on that strategy will take time. You will need an “exit fund,” and who knows how many empty bottles you’ll have to fish out of dumpsters to provide you with the necessary capital. You’ll also have to organize a “personal board of directors” — a sympathetic bunch of saps who can give you advice and on whose shoulders you can cry when their advice doesn’t work.
You’ll also want to “leverage your network.” This is a daunting task, considering that your network is occupied with leveraging free drinks at the Kit Kat Klub. Hopefully, you have your exit strategy in hand by your third or fourth year on the job, at which point you’ll need it, since you’ve spent the last three or four years working on your strategy instead of the company’s.
Assuming that you last long enough to finish your exit strategy, you still must be ever vigilant in watching for what the authors describe as “landmines.” In fact, they list ten “red flags,” any one of which can presage an “I didn’t see it coming” moment. Such as No. 5 — “you are not invited to the annual meeting.” The authors say this means “Management has no future plans for you.” It could also mean management remembers you doing the chicken dance at the last annual meeting and would prefer a slightly higher level of decorum.
No. 7 is truly scary — “unfamiliar attorneys are noticed on the executive floor.” The authors say this is a sign “your company is buying or selling.” I disagree. If it’s spring, it could also mean mating season, when attorneys all over the country appear on executive floors, butting briefcases and looking to breed. It’s nothing to take personally, but I would stand back.
While this book has tons of ideas on how to avoid being blindsided, it is a little skimpy on advice for handling the situation when it comes. The authors believe that “you actually hold a great deal of power at this very moment,” but unless you have a termination agreement in place or naked photos of the boss in hand, I’m not so sure you have all the leverage you might want.
They do suggest you “don’t ever give up your chair immediately.” I like that approach. Super Glue yourself to that chair. Board up the entrance to your cube. Start a campfire in your file cabinet, and begin opening those cans of beans you’ve been stockpiling as part of your exit plan.
Oh, yes, don’t forget to call the local TV news to televise the National Guard pulling you out of your cube. No way management saw that coming!
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.