How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
How to Lose Your Job without Being Fired
Guest articles > How to Lose Your Job without Being Fired
by: Richard Skaare
I never expected an epiphany from an Englishman over pancakes in a central Pennsylvania diner.
My friend and I were meeting, as we did periodically, at our favorite restaurant — appropriately named Brothers — to laugh, gossip, and counsel each another. It was his turn to disentangle my life.
He said, “Your blessing and bane, Richard, is that you comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Whoa! He signaled the waitress for more coffee.
Being affirmed for comforting the afflicted was humbling. But the second comment about afflicting the comfortable got my brain cylinders firing. I realized that’s really what I do as a professional communicator and change instigator:
I craftily tell clients what I heard them tell me so they understand what will happen when they try to tell others.
The echo frees them, sometimes stuns them, occasionally saddens them, and either immediately or later drives them to fight or flight, usually the latter – though sometimes flight eventually turns to fight in subtle ways. Change is uncomfortable. I create discomfort to create change.
Are you also an afflicter? If yes, you’re probably not a whiner or a crusader; you’re just unsettled and unsettling. Fortunately, you are what entrenched organizations need, especially in tough times. Unfortunately, there are bosses and colleagues out there who don’t know what to do with you.
3 strange disrupters that could get you into trouble
This seems like an odd disrupter. Don’t we get rewarded for performance? You would think so. But some departments, even whole organizations, seem prone to generating more heat than light – that is, creating the appearance of progress without being accountable for tangible results.
Four hours of work gets inflated to eight hours, grumbling surfaces whenever a new assignment comes in, and problems consume more time than possibilities.
In such an environment, good performers disrupt mediocrity.
If you inadvertently upstage members of the team by producing an outstanding piece of work, they will be impressed, envious, and won’t forget.
If you diplomatically suggest at a staff meeting an idea you have about reprioritizing or restructuring for greater impact, your boss will appreciate your idea and feel slightly upstaged.
And, silly as it sounds, even if you regularly meet deadlines, your boss may not have thought through the sequel to the assignments he gave you and now doesn’t know what to do with the results. He procrastinates, you wait, and when you ask for an update more than once, he gets testy because you’re … well, pushy.
You will get a merit increase for outstanding performance. However, you may have been moved one ring out from the center for the pain you imparted.
What baffles you is that the ideas and changes you propose seem so obvious, so simple, and so doable and yet never gain any traction in the organization.
Take, for instance, your cost-saving, streamlining idea to move a particular administrative process online. Sounds reasonable. However, support staff worry about what they will now do, yet they don’t speak up. And your boss? She’s uneasy that the fat weekly report won’t show up in her in-box, regardless if she was reading it or not. But she can’t admit that. So, your suggestion goes to committee.
Then, one of your work buddies pulls you aside at lunch and suggests that, though folks admire you, you might want to stop trying to change everything and just focus on the work at hand. Don’t be getting people worried unnecessarily, he says.
Move back one more ring.
Sometime during the first year of your new job, you realize that the currency of your education and expertise, which landed you the position and, you thought, credibility and authority, didn’t end up buying you much.
As the communication director, maybe you turned the organization’s publications into a portal in a culture where publications are still sacred.
As the new lawyer, you closed loopholes to protect the organization only to hear that some in management considered you unrealistic and inflexible.
As a freshly-minted MBA in operations, you recommended a systems change to decrease inventory costs, and then saw the suspicious looks of veteran production managers.
Sure, you get nods for smarts, but you also get demerits for always taking the side road. You’re not considered a team player. You are now on the outside.
What often happens to most nice disrupters (a.k.a change agents) is that they get marginalized. No one can find – or admit — fault, yet no one completely warms up to you. The boss likes your affability but not your subtle intimidation. He can’t fire you for cause and, besides, he doesn’t want to look like he made a mistake hiring you. He hopes you might consider leaving, though he can’t suggest that.
Sometimes this malaise lasts for years until, finally, some fortuitous opening occurs: you get squeezed by an inflated ethical issue; you get blamed for some executive gaffe, or a budget crunch hits. Then, you are likely to be reassigned or offered an attractive severance. In other words, you don’t get fired, you just lose your job.
I know this all sounds bleak, but it’s too real for too many talented individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time in their careers. If you’re caught in this vise, be encouraged.
Richard Skaare is a strategist, writer, visual thinker, advisor, and implementer of a wide range of organizational, communication, and change issues. His user-first, creative, and pragmatic approach has involved him in diverse challenges including ,in recent years, creating a learning website/portal for a global Saudi Arabian-based company, reorganizing a telecommunications company, building interactive exhibits for a major railroad's museum, coaching medical directors, and recasting marketing for an exhibits company. Skaare writes on organizational and communication issues at www.skaareworks.com.
Contributor: Richard Skaare
Published here on: 10-May-09
Classification: Career, Development
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