10 May When Times Get Tough, Become a Corporate Citizen
Remember Woody Allen’s remark that 80% of success is showing up? That is especially useful advice in a downturn. Start going to all those voluntary and informal meetings you used to skip. Be visible. Get out of your office and walk the floor to see how folks are doing. Take part in company outings; if the firm is gathering for the annual golf tournament and you can’t tell wood from iron, then go along just for fun. In tough times, leaders look for employees who are enthusiastic participants. It’s not the score that counts.
Corporate citizens are quick to get on board. Consider Linda, a VP in operations, who worked in a large company that needed to cut costs. Management came up with the idea of shared service centers to avoid duplication of effort in staff functions in areas such as compensation, management training, and strategic planning. The decision was universally unpopular. Service center jobs had none of the cachets of working in small business units, where customized solutions could be developed. Headquarters staff objected to losing the elite status they’d enjoyed as corporate experts. When service center jobs were posted, many high-profile people refused to put their names forward, misjudging their own importance and hoping management would relent. But Linda saw the opportunity and applied for a service center job. The new position gave her immense visibility and was an immediate promotion. Meanwhile, many of the resisters found themselves standing without a chair when the music stopped. In contrast, Linda kept her career on track; six years later she reported directly to the president of the company. Many who resisted change found themselves without a chair when the music stopped.
Of course, changing your behavior or personality to survive may rub against your need for authenticity, and you may decide that it’s time to move on. In that case, you can be both true to yourself and the ultimate corporate citizen by volunteering to leave the organization. Despite what the policy may be, companies will cut deals. Deals are even welcomed. It’s much less painful for managers if they can help someone out the door who wants to leave rather than give bad news to someone who depends on the job. If you’re a couple of years away from retirement eligibility and want to go, ask the company if it would be willing to bridge the time. Float a few balloons, but don’t get greedy. Keep in mind that even if you choose to go, you may need to get another job and you’ll want good references and referrals. If you’ve exited gracefully, odds are, your boss and others will do whatever they can to help you land on your feet.
If you ever find yourself in a recession or in a situation as bizarre as we’vee saw with COVID-19, many forces are beyond your control, but if you direct your energy toward developing a strategy, you’ll have a better chance of riding out the storm. You have to be extremely competent to make it through, but your attitude, your willingness to help the boss get the job done, and your contribution as a corporate citizen have a big impact on whether you are asked to stick around. The economy will bounce back; your job is to make sure that you do, too.