If I were a CIO who had just gotten canned or was just worried about my job security, I would want to be counseled by someone like John A. Challenger. Challenger is CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the marquee outplacement firm. Mild in tone, armed with statistics that put one’s private misery in a broader context (No-fault job loss is a term to remember; 100,000 job cuts a month for the foreseeable future), he is a tireless giver of practical tips and advice for the jobless, the insecure and the corporate climbers. Two pieces of advice off the bat for keeping your CIO job: Be well-liked and boast.
Challenger was in his hometown of Chicago last week, addressing an audience of risk managers, business continuity and compliance officers at the Gartner Risk Management and Compliance conference there. From a show of hands, it seems this audience enjoys a fair degree of job security, with not a single person admitting to be out of work. (About 70% had a colleague who had lost a job.) After Challenger got through calmly laying out what it takes to secure your chances of keeping a job in a recession economy, I can guarantee that same group must have been feeling a tad more nervous.
1. The boast of indispensability
For starters, you don’t ever want to be considered a routine employee; nor do you want a job that is considered routine because it is only a matter of time before that function is outsourced or folded into somebody else’s job. Most people have a good sense of how important their job is to the success of their companies. The challenge is conveying that message to the executives at the top of the corporate ladder.
“Regardless of where you fall, the first person you have to convince of that indispensability is the person directly ahead of you on the organizational chart. And the way to do that is by offering viable solutions to real-time problems, or, better yet, to problems not yet on the radar,” Challenger said.
2. Fly the company flag even when there’ s bad news.
Risk managers are often bearers of bad news, and so are CIOs. Challenger said he speaks to lots of managers and executives in technology who have lost their jobs who feel scapegoated for being the bearer of bad news: Servers will crash if this is done; our database will be exposed to outside threats if we do this.
“You are often in the position of saying no, and no is not the kind of word that upper management likes to hear,” he said. “You want to be the person waving the company flag.”
Sometimes when layoffs are mandatory, it is not the low performer who gets the ax but the person who creates problems for management. Find the right way to bring up those problems, while “flying the company flag,” Challenger advises, by figuring out how to achieve the same result without the same risk.
3. Solve problems and no one will notice you’re home on the weekends.
“A lot of people mistakenly believe that all it takes to save their jobs in downturns is working long hours and being politically astute, but really what it comes down to is being valued by your boss, and your boss’s boss, in case your boss loses his or her job.” That won’t be accomplished by politically maneuvering but by providing solutions to real-time problems. “And if you can do that between the hours of 9 to 5, then no one will notice you are home on the weekend.”
4. Think of it as back to the guild days (free agency).
Yes, you have to make yourself indispensable at work, but no job is safe. (71% of CEOs recently said they expect hiring to decline; 67% said they expect sales to decline in the next six months; plus, the across-the-board salary cuts being implemented now are “unprecedented,” Challenger said.)
You must think of yourself as a free agent. While companies don’t want to hear this, in a climate like this we are returning to a guild environment where your peers are more important to your career health, to finding you a path into the next job, than your bosses. Network, network, network and help others who have lost their jobs, so when your turn comes they might help you.
Challenger’s closing disclaimer: “You can adopt all the measures and actions I have spoken about and still lose your job.”
Get more tips in “10 ways to keep your IT job in this recession.”