What Do You Do with the Survivors?

The Case for Providing Career Building Training and Coaching While People are Still There

by Michael Rosenberg

Has anybody ever thought of the stupidity of training people to run their careers AFTER they have lost their job?  Wouldn't the time to have done that while they were working for the organization so that they would become more engaged and have a an opportunity to become a top performer? 

We had a project at a large financial services institution a few years back. They had read my second book Flexible Thinker Guide to Extreme Career Performance and decided to bring us in to do a series of half-day workshops to help their employees manage their own careers. The organization had gone through some major changes and the organization, quite wisely in my opinion, had decided that they many of their staff were dependent on the organization to manage their career. “They were in a loyalty mindset,” commented the Vice President of Human Resources “where their security was dependent on longevity. We wanted to shift them to a commitment mindset where their security rested on their accomplishments.” Support was also set up internally through the web and mentoring/coaching. The results were startling. People knew how to measure their accomplishments and became focused on becoming performers, knowing that that was they would be rewarded and their security lied.

The reason that I am telling this story is because Sandra Boyd (my co-author) on the book and I tried to really push the success we had and the idea of internal career management in organizations. The common response was, “Why would we want to teach people to control their own careers. They might leave.” Even with our client we had to drop the ‘career’ part and call the piece ‘Extreme Performance’ (which it the most fitting name anyway ) and had to do away with the reference of your job being C.E.O. of a company called ‘Me Inc.’ because the organization was concerned that we may be undermining loyalty a little too much. After talking to many organizations and telling them that this is really what they need because nobody can predict the future, I realized how brave that organization was for doing what they did.

The reason that I am sharing this story is that obviously we are in difficult times. The organizational development and learning part my own practice has been very hard hit as organizations cut out all ‘non-essential spending’. We have refocused our energy as well in the career transition program that was the basis of the book to offer outplacement services. I cannot, however, help but think about the illogic of outplacement. After all, you are spending significant sums of money after people leave. You are not engendering ‘good feelings’ of the organization, the organization is not benefiting through increased performance and engagement and it really is not benefiting people to help them when it they are already out the door. It is tough to focus at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (self-actualization) and process new information when you are at the bottom of the hierarchy (basic), which is just finding a job. At this point too, there are no opportunities to create, measure and record the accomplishments that make up the basis of behavioral interviewing.

What to do with the survivors? Moving beyond career transition

How many of you are doing programs for the survivors? You have downsized the organization and now you have the people left whom you really want to keep. In fact, you HAVE to keep them in order to say in business. The problem is they are stressed out, not knowing if the ax is going to fall on them and then having to do more with less. What are you doing for them? How are you going to keep them engaged? Guess what, if they are so important to your organization they are probably just as valuable to other organizations. You may also be facing a retention issue as people get frustrated that a lot of the support that allowed them to become high performers is gone and they are not really sure where they stand as well. You may think that they should just be happy to keep their jobs (and they may) but once again it is a short-term solution. What I always laugh at is when I talk to organizations and they tell me they are going to give them more project management or sales training because those are the ‘core of our business’. No they are not the cores of your business. The people who work for you are the cores of your business.

Now is the time that your organization should be investing in internal career management. We have a change management course that is very good, but right now I will be the first to tell you even that is not even enough. You are asking people to do more with less. You want to keep them engaged so that you can still provide the service or product that people are depending on you for. You still need to retain good people and keep them engaged, especially if you are asking them to do more with less. What you need to do is to help your people think differently – about your organization, their careers and their performance (Does Human Resources have an Impact).

Bad times, like good times, come and go. Only those who have a culture of commitment where people’s security lies in their performance and not in the organization will be able to survive and grow.