The Silicon Valley Voice

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Stuck!

Far be it for me to argue with Neutron Jack.

Neutron Jack, or Jack Welch, as he is known around the trailer park, was the CEO of General Electric. He won the cute sobriquet due to his embrace of a “rank and yank” personnel policy that eliminated employees, but left buildings standing.

Welch retired from GE in 2001 with a severance payment of $417 million. At the time, it was the largest such payment in history. [I heard he also took a ficus from reception, but that is an unproven rumor. Personally, I don't believe it.] Since then, he has remained in the public eye through a series of best–selling business books, written with his wife, Suzy.

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A recent article in LinkedIn, “How Long Will You Put Up With Your Stalled Career?” is an excerpt from their most recent book, “The Real–Life MBA.” Unfortunately, I must take exception to the excerpt.

Basically, Mr. and Mrs. Welch have the mistaken belief that a stalled career is a bad thing. The truth, as we all know, is that a major career stall is exactly what you are working to achieve. When your career is stalled, you're not going to go any higher, but you're not going to go anywhere lower, either. After all, you're stuck. No one expects you to learn anything new, or do anything new. Or, really, do anything at all.

Of course, if you are one of those strange weirdoes who actually want to see progress in your career, the Welchs have some ideas for you.

Like “put an expiration date on your patience.” Instead of just sitting there, aging in place, tell yourself that “if something doesn't change within a year, I'm putting out feelers, and within two years, I'm out of here.”

Actually, this isn't a terrible idea, but you have to be very careful when choosing the expiration date. Think about it – do you want to be an uncooked pork chop, rotting in the sun, or a fine Brie, aging in a cave? In other words, put an expiration date that suits your prospects, or lack thereof.

“If something doesn't change, I'm out of here,” you insist firmly and without any window for wiggle room. “They've got to 2050 and then I'm gone.”

Not satisfied with explaining how you can get out of a stuck career, the Welchs also tell you how you got stuck in the first place. One sure path to stuckiness, according to the Welchs, is to work for a company that wants you to multifunction. “You need two to three years in each function, plus some time in international,” you may be told. “You need to build a well–rounded portfolio of competencies.”

Unfortunately, not everyone can be a Jack–of–all–trades, or a Suzy–of–all–trades, for that matter. But don't let that discourage you. After all, you already are in a very unique position; you have a well–round portfolio of incompetencies!

Seriously. You're as bad at marketing as you are at operations as you are at sales. No matter where the company might move you, you'll be just as incompetent as you are right now. For me, you've achieved workplace nirvana. Because no one trusts you with anything, everyone leaves you alone.

There is one part to this stuck stuff that the Welchs do have right. They recognize that some workers are stuck because of their attitude. These are people who “ooze disdain and disgust for the organization and its leaders.”

Let's be honest here – you ooze. Big time.

For the Welches, this makes you a “boss–hater.” You believe that the problem is the company, not you. You honestly think that the “people in charge are fools and incompetents.” As for your co–workers, you believe they “are not much better. They all suck–up to the bigs and don't know anything useful.”

Of course, in your case, it's all true, but you really shouldn't be so harsh. For all its flaws, management has let you be remain stuck – gloriously, lazily, profitably stuck. And if they have dropped any neutron employment bombs, you haven't been targeted. As long as you can set your expiration date long into the future, and continue to nurture your key incompetencies, chances are you'll be able to remain stuck in place until it's time to retire.

You probably won't leave with $407 million like Jack Welch, but cheer up; you just may be able to nab yourself a nice ficus from reception.

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 bob@bgplanning.com.

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