An Email From The Boss


I work for an amazing woman who I consider one of my best managers.  The fact she is only the second to be added to that list shows I don’t give this honor to anyone.

Not only is she an amazing technologist, she knows business.  She knows how to listen, not just talk.  And, she is pretty straightforward in her thinking.  She also brings an approach to IT that I have not seen before.  A good person to learn from.

Before our weekly staff meeting, she sent out an email message to the team with the subject line: Ten Keys to Avoid Layoffs.  There was an attachment and a note saying “We should paste some of these in big font in several  areas of the company”.

Our company has been going through troubled times.  Layoffs continue to occur.  While the list itself was not surprising, to get a list of ten things from your boss, it can be a bit unnerving. Except if you are in our department.

Our staff meeting started with us giving her grief over the list.  You could tell she did it as a joke (and maybe a subtle message to a couple of people).  People responded by apologizing for not responding to email timely (#5), offered to take on new responsibilities (#3), offered to work closer with HR and Finance (#8), and offered to show her how twitter worked (#9).  The meeting degenerated from there.

I do agree with her though – some people in our company do need to become intimately familiar with this list. Definitely make our lives a hell of a lot easier these days.

Onto the list (my comments are in italics)…

1. Remember: It’s not about you right now
Force yourself to focus with laser accuracy on your company’s success, not your own. In challenging times, the last thing your employer wants is to cater to you and your fears. They want you to be a selfless, highly collaborative team player who meets and exceeds your commitments. Your presence can’t be an energy drain or create work. (This is one that drives me crazy at work.  Selfishness has landed people on the layoff list in the most recent ones.  Making everything about you versus how it benefits the company is not a good idea.)

2. Become a black belt at change
The most important skill to develop right now is finesse at navigating change. That means flexibility and open-mindedness. Accept whatever management throws your way. If they change direction (again), shuffle the product mix, add new goals, or refine strategy on the fly, say yes to all of it. Resisting change only makes life more difficult for management and for everyone.

This also applies to those things you took for granted. Accept that your expense budget and staff have been cut. Accept that you now have more work on your plate with the same (or fewer) resources than you had a year ago. (A local staffing agency told me they were tasked with basically replacing an entire team of people at a company.  The existing team was fighting change, the company knew it would go out of business if the change didn’t occur, so they hired a staff in parallel.  The new team was taught the new way of business, and the old team was fired.  Guess the old team is wishing they had made different choices.)

3. Everything is your job
Demonstrate your commitment to the overall success of your team and your company by taking on tasks that fall outside your job responsibilities. Pitch in on packing up the trade-show booth. Manage your own schedule/address book/travel plans. Offer to take notes and follow up after every meeting.

Nothing is beneath you. The little things you do above and beyond your job description will serve you well when it’s performance appraisal and/or downsizing time. Forget your fancy title, your impressive résumé — and your ego. (As a company shrinks, you have to take on more responsibility.  I haven’t lugged around equipment in 6 years, but guess what I’m doing now.  Everyone is busy – your time is not more important than others.  Get in that mentality, and you are start violating rule #2.) 

4. Walk away from the water cooler
When straits are dire and headlines scary, the last thing your company needs is negative, gossipy employees who polarize colleagues into an us-vs.-them dynamic. Employers value passionate overachievers whose uplifting attitude contributes to a more energizing team culture. Whatever it takes, keep the negative mindset out of the office. This is your mantra: No complaining, no blaming! Dwell on what can be rather than what can’t. (A-fucking-men!)

5. “Unwritten Rules” are now engraved in stone
Show up early, stay late. Everyone notices people who leave on the dot of 5 (or before) or take very long lunches or excessive coffee/smoking breaks. Don’t get a reputation for being one of those people who takes forever to respond to an e-mail, voicemail, or a simple question. Vigilantly follow up on all assigned action items. Management is increasingly scrutinizing your every move. (While I am a huge believer of doing your job in the time it takes, then go home – you have to make sure you are staying on top of things and producing results.  If you aren’t, people will start paying attention to when you arrive and leave, how long your lunches are, etc.  It’s all about perception during tough times.)

6. Step up — and wear very big shoes
Don’t wait for someone else to solve your problems. Your manager needs to hear how the organization can trim costs, manage the supply chain better, find a new client, improve processes, motivate the workforce, and deliver the next big thing. Observe what your competitors are trying and testing, read everything relentlessly, and ask people how you can improve what you do.

Your goal here is to make sure there’d be a gaping hole if you were no longer around. Make the choice every day to do work that really matters to the success of the team and the company. Put yourself in a position that is crucial to the success of a new initiative, or dig in to solve a vexing, long-neglected problem. Maintain a bias for action in every meeting. (An old boss – the best manager I’ve had, in fact – used to answer employee complaints with “you have the magic wand, how would you fix it?”  Made people come into the conversation with a solution or at least improvement ideas.  And, if you said you would take it on, you showed him you were just a complainer, but engaged. )

7. Transparency is your new trump card
You must be totally transparent as to what you’re working on and how it fits with management objectives. There can be no hiding, and no withholding information. If you don’t have enough on your plate, say it. Ask to take on more—or better yet, suggest projects you can spearhead that have killer ROI.

The more honest your superiors believe you are, the more likely they are to trust you and keep you close. Being authentic builds relationships, even more than just hard work. Stop hoping no one finds out who you are or what you really do all day. Let people in … or they’ll be showing you the door. Employers are likely to keep you around if they see you as a vital associate. (I have a guy who works for me that I want to tattoo this rule onto his forehead.  He is an amazing developer.  He produces good stuff.  He works his ass off.  The problem is you don’t know what he is doing.  He is way too quiet about it.  When you engage him to find out, you are blown away by his list.  You see his results, and it is all good stuff.  But, it’s getting there that is annoying.)

8. Make friends in new places
Human resources and finance are two departments that can have a significant impact on your career whether you realize it or not. They know a lot about you that can influence how you’re perceived. Respect those folks, socialize with them, ask for their advice, and make sure you carefully do a little self-promotion. When cuts need to be made, you won’t be an unknown quantity to them.(I have actually seen people get saved by other departments because their value is felt.  Don’t be the one to continually piss people off.  You will be perceived as difficult, and will find yourself permanently on the short-list for layoffs.)

9. Start Tweeting or start packing
Look at the Millennials and see how they work, how they make decisions, and what technology and tools they use. No time for “I don’t do Twitter or Facebook.” Acquaint yourself with social networks, mobile applications, and commerce platforms to remain relevant. Let them intimidate you and you give your boss reasons to replace you with someone younger and more in the game. Ask a family member to help, take a course, read a book … and dive in. (Kind of a “duh” if you are in IT)

10. Fit club
Healthy people tend to have better outlooks and are easier to be around. They take good care of themselves, which in turn earns them the respect of others. Fit people often set high standards for themselves both at work and at play. And they just have more stamina, so they tend not to get tired when on deadline, and they don’t call in sick as much. They have incredible endurance when others are reaching for that 10th Coke or itching to make that next trip to Starbucks. They are also calmer and more productive. So get your sleep, eat well, exercise, stay hydrated, and avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol. This is an investment that will pay dividends for you and your employer. And yes, your employer does notice. (As I am personally finding, they all notice.  They all like seeing people who are motivated personally.  For me, they have liked seeing someone who can stay active and physically fit even during stressful times.  Don’t undervalue this one.)

6 Comments Add yours

  1. All excellent rules. I would put this in the employee handbook if I could.

  2. Just me... says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I have out-right stolen these rules to post on the ’employee’ bulletin board in our breakrooms.. Loved them.. Pertinant and direct..
    Oh, if everything could be!!
    Thanks!! :):)

  3. Just me... says:

    FYI – Usually I can spell (can’t type tho’)!!
    Pertinent.. :):)

  4. Osbasso says:

    I love #9. I work in such an environment, and am encouraged to spend some time with personal internet usage while at work. Part of my duties are to know the ins and outs of the social networks, eBay, Amazon, music sites, etc… Fortunately, the business is Mac-based, so I have that additional experience over someone younger! 🙂

  5. Great rules! I have some people here that need to read these!

  6. Emmy says:

    ASM: I think that would be great in an employee handbook. But then again, they are also good as coaching tools too.

    Just Me: Glad I could provide them for the bulletin board. May they reach the people that need them. 🙂

    Osbasso: Glad to hear you are keeping your skills current. It’s amazing to me how people let them stagnate. Like your work, I tend to encourage people to play. Best way to learn, IMO.

    HB & GP: Maybe you could slip them onto their desk. 😉

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