Tag Archives: loyalty

Loyalty and Daring

On November 7, 2013, user “Stromm sarnac” replied to Loyalty and Layoffs with a pretty strong comment about keeping my head down and my mouth shut. I started to reply, but it got so long that I’ve decided to post this as an open letter. Because I’m doing this, and because Stromm’s stance is pretty strong, I want to emphasize that I am grateful for his comment and I am not posting this as a reply troll, but rather I am replying with total transparency and sincerity. More importantly, since my message is that “no, I absolutely should not keep my mouth shut, and neither should you or anyone else”, I’m publishing it here for general consumption. Part of daring to open your mouth is owning the consequences, and sometimes that means owning “getting yelled at”. While we are certainly within our rights to retaliate if the scolding is harsh–and this is a very human thing to do–we may also have a brief window of engagement if the person doing the yelling is also coming from a place of sincerity.

I feel like I’m setting you up for a scathing swearfest here, but to be honest, Stromm’s reply isn’t really that harsh. If it had been, I’d just have deleted it and moved on. No need to engage when there’s no chance of connection. I found his reply pointed, but at the end of it I found myself realizing that he is exactly the kind of audience I am trying to reach right now. I’m adding all this preamble so that nobody reads this open letter and thinks I’m trying use my forum to publicly shame this user.

Stromm, if you’re still out there, this one’s for you.

“It didn’t really hit me for about a week that I’d just been screwed out of the best job I’d ever”

You weren’t screwed out of a job. You had no right to that job or any other, same as the rest of us.

You were let to because the numbers didn’t work. Same as almost all of us who have been let go like that.

Instead of burning bridges and showing future employers that they shouldn’t trust you either, you should have kept your mouth (fingers really) shut.

Thank you for this comment. I mean that sincerely. I found your post challenging at first–as I’m sure you intended–but then I found it interesting, so sure, I’ll take a moment to reply. First, let me say that this post was absolutely intended for you. You were–you are–my target audience. Secondly, yes, I wrote that post in anger, and though I don’t regret it I do recognize that I made a key error: I failed to clarify the difference between loyalty and trust, and this has led to a lot of reactions similar to yours. If I haven’t permanently lost you as a reader I hope you’ll take a moment to read Loyalty and Trust, but if you’re done with me and my last communication to you will be the email notification of this reply, let me say that I agree with you completely, and that we should show loyalty to our employers, but we should not trust them with our careers, because–as you say–nobody has a right to a job or any other.

I appreciate that you want to look out for me and my career, but you’ve missed some key points along the way. What you have taken away from my post tells me that you are conflating loyalty and trust, which is my fault. But your fear of burning bridges also tells me that you, sir, are not curating your own career properly. You think I should be afraid of something I have faced and whipped so many times that I almost don’t remember it even exists. And the reason you have this fear, and I don’t, all comes down to owning your own career.

But you wanted to make this about me. Maybe you’re a jerk–nothing personal; the internet’s full of them and I’m just saying it’s a possibility. But then again, maybe you deflected the issue back to me because it feels safer for you, and I’m fine with that–and again, I mean that. I’m not challenging you, and I’m not trolling you. I am trying to meet you with openness and sincerity here. We feel angry when somebody breaks a rule that we think should be in place, and many of our rules come from decisions we make about our fears. You missed the point I was trying to make, and that’s okay. The fact that you felt engaged by it enough to comment means maybe I still have a chance. You are rejecting your interpretation of my message, and I want you to hear my true message, or at least understand it enough to agree that it’s not for you. I’d rather you reject my actual point rather than your misunderstanding of it. So let’s talk about your reply for a minute.

Let me start by saying that you are right about every single thing you said, right up until the last sentence, where you tried to slip in a whole lot of implicit assumptions under the radar in order to arrive at the exact opposite conclusion that my logic–based on different assumptions–should have dictated. Let’s start with where you’re right.

Did anyone owe me a job? Certainly not. I agree with you. Life doesn’t owe me anything. Life is totally unfair. It has to be; otherwise winning wouldn’t be any fun.

You’re also right that I lost my job because the numbers didn’t work. You’re not wrong, but I want to point out a subtle nuance that you may have overlooked: the numbers didn’t work because somebody else was incompetent. I did everything right–better than right, really. And somebody else screwed up, and kept their job, and I lost mine. Is that fair? No! Did I have a right to that job? No! Do I have the right to feel betrayed about it? N–well, actually yes! My feelings are my own and I have the right to feel whatever the hell I want. You not only don’t have the right to vote on my feelings, you don’t even have the right to have an opinion out loud about them. Well, actually you do, because free country and stuff, but the point is I don’t have to listen or care. But since I also opened my blog for comments, I did give you a place to sound off about my feelings, so I’m not scolding you. Right now I choose to be transparent about my feeling process, but I wanted to point out that this is my whim, and not your right. Anyway, the process is this: I have a rule in my head that says my actions affect other people, and another rule that says I am responsible for my actions. Now I don’t have a rule that says I am responsible for other people, but I definitely do feel that I have a responsibility to other people. As it happened, some people very high up in that organization were consistently making bad choices, choices not based on reality or understanding of the market, but choices based on ego and shame and fear of looking bad to the board of investors. Rather than choose to examine their profits and losses and invest where costs were low and potential was high, they chose to sink vast sums of money into projects whose glory days had faded in the hopes of making the world somehow go back in time. In order to pay for that folly, staggering amounts of intellectual property was abandoned and projects with genuine promise were first bled dry and then discarded. In order to make the numbers work on those doomed projects, those men and women, who had responsibility for the company, and to me–because their actions had an effect on me–made choices that caused the numbers to not work where I was concerned.

They screwed up, but I had to pay for it. Did I feel wronged? You bet! Was I angry? Yep! Did I stay angry? Nah. It wasn’t really a useful emotion. I had no ability to take any action that would have any effect on them, and besides, I don’t know that I could have run the company any better. Even if I could have forced them to make a different decision, the company was spread too far at that time, and had to contract to stay alive. All I would have done differently is choose to unemploy the engineers on that big, fat, doomed project instead of mine. How is that any better?

But even still, at the end of all that, you are right: in order to arrive at that feeling of betrayal, I had to have some assumptions about my career that were out of whack. No employee should ever feel betrayed by an employer upon being let go. Especially when it’s an impersonal mass-layoff like I went through. You’re absolutely right.

But here’s the thing: I did feel betrayed, and I know countless other people who also have felt this sense of betrayal. I shouldn’t have, but the fact that I did isn’t going to stop being a true thing anytime soon.

Some people, like yourself, have observed this feeling and responded with a sort of self-oriented “tough love”. You tell yourselves “nobody owes you anything, sweetheart” when life gets crappy. That’s okay. I’m fine with that; it’s actually a rather useful attitude.

But there’s two ways to take this attitude: with hope, or with hopelessness.

Hope says “nobody else owes you anything, so if you want something you gotta haul yourself up by the bootstraps and go get it.”

Hopelessness says “nobody owes you anything… and there’s nothing you can do about it. So you’d better keep your head down and keep quiet, because if you complain you might never get anything again, or if you do have something they might hear you and come take it away.”

This is exactly the recipe for learned helplessness. It is a message you can send your brain and, if repeated often enough, will actually change your brain chemistry from healthy resilience to clinical depression. Ask me how I know. No wait, I’ll just tell you: I’ve been there, and I’ve done that. And then I learned a whole lot of stuff about it from some very smart doctors who happened to be experts in that particular field, and I learned to stop doing that, and that’s why I can say been there instead of am still there.

So that’s where you’re right.

I wrote that post because ten years ago, I felt betrayed, and even though it felt absolutely horrible, that turned out to be a useless attitude. So I decided to haul myself up by my bootstraps. I turned the betrayal into anger and the anger into action and the action into a resolution to never let it happen again. I learned that in order to do that, I had to learn to stick my head up. I had to learn to open my mouth. Sure, I’ve spent the last ten years getting smacked on the head and punched in the mouth (figuratively speaking). But I’ve also spent the past ten years watching other people try to get by by keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. And I’ve watched them toil away miserably, choose to stay in bad places because they fear losing their job, and then get laid off with no warning (which is, as you say, a fact of life) and no preparation (which is, as I say, inexcusable).

You and I are, in fact, in violent agreement. I said loyalty in that post, but as I clarified in my followup, what I really meant was trust: Trusting a corporation to take care of you is sick. Why? Because you have no right to your job. Forgoing improving yourself today, in order to help the company succeed today, because you believe the company will reward you for it–or even just be there at all–tomorrow, is foolish.

And the most interesting thing about that foolishness is this: if you forsake that foolishness, and build yourself, suddenly you realize that the job market is absolutely heaving with abundance. At least it is for people who build themselves and invest in themselves and stay at the top of their game. 14% unemployment is only terrifying if you’re at the 15th percentile. If you’re at the 90% percentile, the only way unemployment will catch you is by anonymous actions such as “the numbers didn’t work”. When unemployment is high, employers can afford to pick and choose the very best. And you know what that means? It means if you are on top of your game, you can switch jobs in the middle of a recession just by parking in a different lot.

I’m not trying to brag. I’m not the best developer in the world; some days I wonder if I’m even a good one. My head is full of outdated ideas that have worked in the past and never been reexamined. But I’ve learned how to get things done well enough that I feel confident in my skills, and I’ve learned I can back up my promises–if only because I know what promises I shouldn’t make. I have utterly no fear of unexpected employment. Not because I think it won’t happen to me, but because after I became a freelancer, I had to go through it so many times that I just don’t even think it’s special anymore.

Thank you again for this comment. I really do appreciate it and I hope that, if you don’t think I’m right, you at least think I care enough to reach out to you in good faith.

I’ll close with this thought: there are countless thousands of employers who want–who need–people who dare. People who speak up. People who not only poke their head up, but stick their neck out. Those are my peeps. I seek them out, and they’re everywhere. And they are desperate not just for me, but for hundreds more just like me. There are also countless employers out there who are afraid of people who dare. People who rock the boat. People who upset the balance. Those might be your peeps; I don’t know. There are people who are happy working at organizations like that. I still think they should still be curating their careers, in case someday the “numbers don’t work out”, but I certainly recognize that people can choose to be happy in those places.

I am not one of them.

Between me and that type of employer lies a vast chasm, spanned by a rickety wooden bridge, tinder dry, covered in pitch. Burning it will cut me off from many opportunities, it is true. But when that bridge goes up, it will send up a flare to all the other employers: startups, small companies, innovators–the ones looking for good people who understand and accept the risks and dangers and are willing to take a stand, even if it means cutting themselves off from some people.

I’m not burning a bridge. I’m advertising a self-selection process.

Tell me honestly: If you were me, would you really not light the match?

Loyalty and Trust

This post is part two of a three-part followup to Loyalty and Layoffs. Part one, Loyalty And Your Professional Network was posted Monday. I’ll post Part Three on Friday.

Betrayal is a recurring theme of my loyalty posts. I’ve talked about work like it’s a sinking ship, a burning theater, or a hike through tiger-infested grass. It’s pretty depressing stuff, isn’t it? Don’t you wish you could just do fulfilling work and not have to worry about all this treachery? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just be happy at your job without being paranoid? How would it feel to like your company and not have all this mistrust floating around?

Would it surprise you to find out that I am happy at my job, that I do fulfilling work, and actually like my employer? And that I am not, in point of fact, certifiably insane?

I said I was going to wait to talk about “good loyalty” versus “bad loyalty” until after I finished this series, but I realize now that I can’t put it off any longer. All this treachery and mistrust business is coming from getting our terms mixed up. We need to talk about what loyalty actually means. And then we need to see how it fits into a larger cycle of vulnerability and trust.

Loyalty

Let’s start with loyalty:

Loyal
Giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution.

I want to make this clear: Yes, you should be this kind of loyal to your company. I’m not happy with everything every employer or client of mine has done, but I don’t badmouth them during or after my engagements with them. Once I’m hired, I am hired. If I’m cashing a client’s paycheck, then I am very focused on helping them succeed. I don’t care about office drama. I want to get the product built and shipped and into the customer’s hands. I’ve worked W-2 jobs and 1099 jobs over the years, and my definition of loyalty doesn’t have to change. Firm and constant support.

I try to give that to the company, and I also try to give it to my coworkers. But when I do that, something very different happens.

Vulnerability and Trust

When two humans share loyalty, an interesting cycle begins.

  1. I open up a little bit and share a little bit of vulnerability with you.
  2. You respect that vulnerability by showing support and respect–loyalty.
  3. I feel I can trust you more, and open up a little bit more.

While I’m doing this, you are doing the same in return. It is in our shared moments of vulnerability and compassion that we find our truest happiness. This is part of being human. We need this. I show you vulnerability, loyalty and trust; you show me the same in return. All three emotions go in both directions.

Of course, sometimes we share too much, before trust has been earned, or the other person doesn’t honor the vulnerability that we’ve entrusted them with. When that happens, we feel shame and betrayal. I’m not telling you anything new here… at least not yet. But now try this: run that sequence backwards. If you’re feeling betrayed, it is because you were not given loyalty after you showed vulnerability. Make sense? Hold on to that thought, we’re going to come back to it.

This full cycle of vulnerability, loyaty and trust is what I’m talking about when I say that loyalty to a corporation doesn’t make sense. Allegiance and support is fine, but vulnerability and trust? We can’t have the cycle of vulnerability, loyalty, and trust with a corporation, because the corporation is incapable of reciprocating. But sometimes we want to feel that trust so much that we pretend that the company is participating. We cross a boundary we shouldn’t, and we pretend that the company is honoring it… and that’s where it all goes wrong.

Have you ever been laid off and felt a mild sense of professional annoyance, but mostly you were just sad to no longer be working with great teammates on a worthy project? That means you’ve got a good sense of boundaries.

But the Loyalty and Layoffs post is full of comments from people who have been laid off and feel betrayed. When Evans & Sutherland let me go out of the blue, even with all that severance, betrayed is exactly how I felt.

Huh. Feeling betrayed… how does that happen, again?

Loyalty Only Goes In One Direction

One of the things my friend Rodney taught me is that, in a corporation, loyalty only goes one way: up. You show your allegiance and support to your manager, she shows her allegiance and support to her boss, and so on, up the chain to the CEO.

Now, most of us have worked with great managers and leaders. People who go to the mat for us. These are fantastic people, and I highly recommend seeking them out and working for them whenever possible. But do they prove that loyalty also goes down? Think about this: what happens when their boss tells them they have to fire you?

They do their job.

To be sure, they absolutely hate their job that day. But they do it. Why? Because they’re loyal. And that loyalty, ultimately, only goes in one direction.

Trust Only Goes Goes In One Direction

When we show loyalty, we earn trust. So the corollary to loyalty only going up is simple: trust only goes down. Your CEO trusts your manager to be loyal, your manager trusts you to be loyal, and you… you trust the plant on your desk to keep on doing that photosynthesis thing.

Trust
Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust anyone with anything. That’s a little bit crazy, and a whole lot of no fun. I’m just talking about the trust that loyalty earns. You can trust a good company to pay you, because it’s against the law if they don’t. You can trust a good manager to keep office politics away from you. But if you know loyalty does not come down, and that a company will act in its best interest even if it’s at your expense, then that trust, the specific “firm belief in the reliability” of your company, should not go up.

Vulnerability Doesn’t Go In Any Direction

In theory, vulnerability could go down. You show loyalty, the company shows trust; in theory your CEO could share vulnerability with your manager, and your manager could share vulnerability with you.

But they don’t, do they?

I’m not talking about friendships, here. I’ve shared plenty of vulnerability, trust and loyalty with managers as friends. But I can’t think of the last time a manager told me he was worried about getting laid off, or thinking about leaving to work for a competitor, or afraid the company might not make payroll next month.

I think they actually teach in MBA school that “complaints go up, never down.” No, wait, that’s a quote from Saving Private Ryan. But my point is, vulnerability could go down the chain… but it never ever does.

So what about up the chain?

Because the company does not show you loyalty, it cannot earn your trust. So the big question is: in spite of this, are you sharing vulnerability up the chain?

Vulnerable
Susceptible to emotional or physical attack or harm.

If you’re afraid of losing your job because you have no idea where you’ll go or what you’ll do… maybe you’re letting yourself be “susceptible to harm”. There are two things you can do about it. The first is to continue to offer this vulnerability to your company, and pretend the company has reciprocated with loyalty, and feel the warm glow of trust that all will be well. You’ve crossed a boundary inappropriately, and the company probably doesn’t care. The only cost of this is that if the company lays you off, you will feel betrayed… and it’s not the company that will be paying that cost.

The other thing you can do is own your own career. You take back that vulnerability. Interestingly, when you do you, you suddenly realize that the company could fire you if it was in the company’s best interest. I mean, it always could, but once you take vulnerability off the table, it stops being a disaster and becomes just another thing that could maybe happen.

Take Vulnerability Off The Table

Once you accept the truth that your company can, and will, and should act in its own best interest, it’s easy to take vulnerability off the table. And then an interesting thing happens: you don’t have to take trust off the table. It evaporates on its own. You sort of realize that it was never there to begin with.

Loyalty goes up. Trust goes down. Vulnerability is something you save for those coworkers and friends who are willing to reciprocate.

Finding Happiness

You can not only be happy at a job with this arrangement, but happier than you would be otherwise. Owning your career means you have alternatives, and that means you have a choice. Suddenly there is more fulfilment in your work, because it’s work you choose. You get to feel the joy of personal growth. You have the confidence of knowing that, if you really had to, you could quit instead of putting up with an abusive boss.

And you have the peace of mind that, should you arrive at work to find a pink slip waiting for you, you’re going to feel a lot of things, but not betrayal. Not again, not ever.

Loyalty and Your Professional Network

I still want to talk about what “good” loyalty looks like, but we need to get the medicine part out of the way first. This post is the first in a three-part series about that medicine.

Emergency Action To Take Immediately If You Are Comfortable At Your Job

Perhaps complacent might be a better word here. I’m not going to talk about jobhunting or boundaries or even loyalty today–well, that’s not true. I’m going to touch on all of them a bit. And all of this will be advice to invest loyalty in your own self first, and to be honest, I think this will make you more valuable to your employer.

So let’s start by talking about you quitting your job.

Know Where The Emergency Exits Are

How on earth does talking about quitting make you more valuable to your employer?

There are two kinds of people who don’t worry about burning to death inside a movie theater: People who don’t believe theaters can burn, and people who know where the emergency exits are.

If you know where the emergency exit is for your current employment, you no longer have to worry about losing your job. You can focus on the task at hand and be productive, even if the company is facing tough times. Managers don’t like me much when they try to “sell the dream” because I don’t buy it. But on the day when the main investor pulls out or the biggest customer switches to a competitor and all the employees are milling about in a blind panic, managers love me. Why? Because I don’t buy the nightmare, either. I can smell smoke in a theater and remain calm, because I know where the exits are.

Important loyalty note: This is not the same thing as watching the exits. I’m not saying you should try to always have an alternate job offer waiting. I’m just saying you should know what you’re going to do if you lose your job.

And let me be a bit more specific: the thing you are going to do if you lose your job is this: draw on your professional network.

And yeah, that means you’re going to need to have one first.

Build Your Professional Network

I think this might be the single most important piece of career advice I can ever give anyone: Have a professional network. When Evans & Sutherland laid me off, I didn’t even know what a professional network was. But once I started building mine, my fear of ever being unemployed vanished. Why? Well, because being unemployed vanished. I think I spent about six weeks jobhunting once in 2005, but not counting that fluke, the longest I’ve ever been unemployed since 2001 is ten days. The shortest? Four hours. And that’s only counting the gigs I’ve left cold, without anything else already lined up. I mean I walked into work, found out I was unemployed, and by lunchtime I had a job offer to start the next day.

As a result, one of the weird things that loyalty means to me is that I never jobhunt when I’m working for a client, even when I know my contract is almost up. It’s just not worth the headache to me, and I have absolutely no fear of walking out of work with no idea where my next paycheck will come from. Because I know it is coming.

I credit this attitude entirely to my professional network.

What Exactly IS A Professional Network?

A professional network is simply this: a list of people who know you that you can call when your chips are down. To build it, you make friends with people outside your company. You help people. You tweet funny things. You join organizations. You take old coworkers to lunch. You contribute time and effort to your professional community. Then, when you need a safety net, you let those people know you’re available. Since they know who you are, and what jobs you’d be a good fit for, you suddenly have 50 or 100 or 1000 pairs of eyes looking for your next job for you. All you have to do is get the word out.

A professional network is NOT a linkedin profile. That can certainly be part of it, mind you; linkedin is pretty popular right now and I recommend keeping your profile current. Just make sure that whenever you’re using the site, that you’re not thinking about “your profile”, but instead about the people in it. They are your safety net. LinkedIn is just a tool to reach them.

Build It BEFORE You Need It (This Means RIGHT NOW)

You cannot tie a net and fish with it at the same time. Your network is a group of people who know you well enough that you can ask small favors of them. You earn the right to those favors by investing time in those people–by sharing time with them as mentioned above. If you meet a stranger and ask them if they know who’s hiring, you’re just a stranger who needs something. But if you’ve met them before or had lunch or contributed code to their project, you’re not a stranger anymore. You’re a member of their “loose acquantances” tribe. And people love helping each other out in that tribe.

I cannot stress this enough: If you are employed, you need to be investing time outside of work in other people.

The time to build your professional network is before you need it. There is only “right now” and “too late”.

But What If I Need It Now? (I’m Asking For A Friend…)

Okay, so… let’s say you didn’t take this advice or, like me in 2002, didn’t hear the advice until it was too late. First, you need to embrace the bad news: You cannot tie a net and fish with it at the same time. This will not stop being a thing that is true, no matter how bad you want it to. You have to embrace it. You’re going to have to fish without a net, which means jobhunting the old ways you’ve used before, without a professional network. But more importantly, it also means you have to spend time tying your nets while you’re starving.

Do lunches with people. Contribute to projects. Attend professional meetups. Make friends. Here are three rules of thumb I use, but they all boil down to the same thing: when you’re meeting people, decide whether you are fishing or tying nets, and do only that and not the other.

  • In a professional social setting, I tie nets. I focus on contributing rather than jobhunting. It’s actually relaxing and more fun to stop worrying about the jobhunt for a little while, which in turn makes me more fun to be around. So if I’m in a user group, I’ll speak up if I can help someone. Sometimes I know a clever answer, but people appreciate it even more when I offer to pitch in on their project and help. In a 1-on-1 lunch, I ask about the other person and what they’re working on. Even if I don’t have great insights into their situation, just listening to another human being is a great way to connect with them–and letting them talk it out often provides them with their own answer. If someone has come to lunch with me, and they’re worried about a tricky problem at work, and I blather on about myself and how I need a job for an hour, at best I may give them a distraction but at worst I will annoy them with my problems when they have their own. If I want to tie nets, I have to tie nets. I cannot try to fish.
  • The exception: when you’re tying nets with someone, you should mention that you know how to fish! I DO tell people whenever I’m looking for work, but I try to be casual about it. In a big meetup I’ll introduce myself to the group and mention that I’m available, and that’s it. In a first-time 1-on-1 lunch, I don’t worry about it, because one of the first questions we’re going to ask each other is “So, where do you work?” No need to bring it up special. When I tell them I’m between clients, they’ll often ask followup questions about what I’m good at, and I’m happy to talk about that, but I try not to let it turn into an interview. Even if they say “Oh? We’re hiring, you should apply!” I will respond with “Really? Cool! What’s your company like? What are you working on? What do you like about it?” and turn the conversation back to finding ways to be helpful to them. I have to remind myself: “I am not fishing, I am tying nets”. Oh, don’t worry–I won’t let them leave without asking them who I should talk to at their company for more information! But I always try to remember that my goal for the lunch is not to get a job. My goal is to have this person want to have lunch with me again sometime. I am not fishing. I am tying nets.
  • Lastly, if you are fishing, fish! Don’t do this instead of jobhunting. Building your network will pay off huge in the long run, but there’s no guarantee of any payoff in the short term. When you’re unemployed, your full-time job is to get a job. And just like you should continue to build your network by doing things outside of work when you’re working, you should build your network by doing things outside of jobhunting when you’re unemployed. Time spent building your professional network doesn’t count towards the time you need to spend jobhunting.

I have spent a decade building and maintaining a professional network that I feel very comfortable with, so now my jobhunting looks a LOT like networking. But it’s fishing, not tying nets. I call people and say “Hey, my contract just ran out, wanna grab lunch?” They know I’m gonna chat and be friendly and ask about their kids, but they also know I’m gonna hit them with fishing questions, asking them about who’s managing who and what teams are working on what. But they’re okay with that, because we’re friends, and they want to see me get back on my feet.

How To Use Your Network

A lot of people talk about building a professional network, but I very rarely hear people talk about how to USE that network when you need it. Probably because it’s rare to find a jobhunter that HAS a network to begin with, but I think it’s also true that once you know a bunch of people, you stop thinking of them as “your network” like it’s some foreign thing. Once you figure that out, you realize that you don’t “use” them. You don’t need an instruction manual to know how to talk to your acquaintances.

Actually, wait. There is a mistake I made early on that made it harder on myself than it needed to be. I would call or email people and ask them if their company was hiring. The tech recession was hitting Utah in the early 00’s, so the answer was always no, and that was the end of the conversation. I had to learn the hard way to stop asking yes-or-no questions. But then I made another mistake: I would ask them who was hiring, and they would always say they didn’t know anyone.

I had to learn to ask questions that would get people talking.

Here’s my secret weapon: I just ask people who they know that’s working with a technology that interests me. “Who do you know that’s working with HIPPA?” “Who do you know that’s doing credit card payments?” “Who do you know that programs in ruby?”

That may seem silly and a bit stupid, but I kid you not: I literally turned an exit interview into a job referral with that last question. I was subcontracting for a software-for-hire shop, and the client I was assigned to pulled the plug unexpectedly. It was a tight economy, and the shop didn’t have anything else for me to work on, so they had to cut me loose. My manager was a good man, and he felt bad that he had to let me go with no advance warning. At the end of the conversation, he glumly said, “I know there’s probably nothing I can do to make this easier, but I have to ask, is there anything I can do to help?”

“Actually, yes,” I said immediately. “Who do you know in town that’s programming in ruby?”

He thought for a moment, and then started listing names of companies. I already had a pen in hand, and I started writing. After each one I’d ask “what do they do?” and “who do you know there?” I never asked if they were hiring. I would occasionally ask “do you think I could talk with that person about who else in town is working in ruby?” He listed maybe a dozen companies. But even better, halfway through the list he said “You know, I’m friends with the CTO at that company. I’ll introduce you.”

The introduction included a heartfelt recommendation, which got me a lunch meeting with the CTO, which got me an interview with the team, which got me a place to report for work the following Monday. Even though they weren’t hiring.

The trick to drawing on your network is don’t haul on it. You’ve made friends with these people. Just be human, and get them talking. (And it doesn’t hurt to work for good managers who try to look out for their people.)

That’s It, Really

No, seriously. I’ve got two more posts to talk about “the medicine”, but if you only read one, this is it.

Go tie some nets. 🙂

Loyalty and the Headsman

When I wrote Loyalty and Layoffs, I knew it was mostly a post about what loyalty shouldn’t be, and I wanted to follow it with a post about what loyalty should be at a company. But then Lucy over at silverlining13.com wrote this reply:

“I know certain management that had to tell me were quite sorry it had come to this, but I was one of over 120 others that had to be told that day. I actually felt for the managers who had the unpleasant task of telling everyone and I even said ‘I don’t envy you right now, it must be the worst part of your job’.”

— Lucy at silverlining13.com

And I realized that loyalty, and boundaries, and jobhunting, and all the other things I wanted to follow up with needed to take a back seat for a couple of posts. I ended my last post with the words “Get medicine. Start saving yourself.” My next post is about the medicine; right now I want to talk about the Headsman.

First I want to say that I’ve been in Lucy’s shoes. (They pinch; I’m not cut out for heels.) I have actually told two managers that I felt worse for them than I felt for myself.

I can’t advise Lucy on whether or not saying that was good or bad. I know the first time I said it, I was so invested in the company and the team that I really did feel like I was apologizing to the headsman for making him swing the axe on my own neck. It didn’t occur to me for years that this was not a healthy approach to my own self-interest.

The second time, though, was just a few years ago. I’d been freelancing for years by that time, and I’d accepted a full-time job working with an old friend. While I was there, I worked hard and became good friends with our manager, but I never stopped working on my safety net. I didn’t know where I would go if I got laid off, but I knew I had a hundred doors to knock on, so I was utterly unafraid of that prospect. When the day came that half our team got laid off, and I got included in the list, I gave my manager a sincere hug and said “It’s been a great run. I’m not happy to be going, but don’t worry about me. Today’s going to suck a lot more for you than for me. I’ll have another job before quitting time today. And tomorrow you have to start fishing everybody’s morale out of the gutter.”

So, Lucy, I don’t know if your loyalty was healthy or unhealthy, but the affection you had for your coworkers and managers is beautiful. That’s the right kind of loyalty. We love the people we work with, and losing them triggers real grief. I think that’s healthy and wonderful and utterly human.

I can’t bring myself to call that wrong.

Next week I’ll talk about the medicine.

Loyalty and Layoffs

UPDATE: I’m writing a book about this! Check it out:

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The Job Replacement Guide

Learn how to replace your job with a better one in record time. Whether you’re unemployed, hate your job, or just wonder what you could accomplish at work if you were utterly fearless, this guide will give you the confidence that comes from being “unemployment-proof”.

Coming Soon!
Click here to sign up for the mailing list to get updates, advance content, and a discount on launch day.

I wanna talk to the fulltimers in the audience today. Huddle up close, gang. This is going to be a tough one. To paraphrase my close personal friend Blaise Pascal, “I write you a long letter because I’m too damn angry to write you a short one.”

But first, let’s start with a happy memory.

DATELINE: Summer 2002

I was happy on the DigiStar team at Evans & Sutherland. I was working at one of the premier graphics companies in the world. Does your team have its own movie theater? We had our own frickin’ planetarium. My teammates were brilliant and great to work with. I’d been promised a fat bonus–about a month’s pay–if I could finish the core of the control system UI in under 12 months, and I was a couple months ahead of schedule–in fact I pretty much already had it in the bag if you didn’t count UI polish and the odd bug or two turned up by QA. Plus did I mention we had our own frickin’ planetarium?

I logged into my computer that morning and there was a message from Jim Oyler, President and CEO, telling all of us that though we were losing still more “team members” today, that he knew he could count on “the rest of the family” to be brave and take up the slack. I was bummed to find out that the company had let more people go, but I was really happy at my job and sure, I’d be glad to help Jim Oyler, President and CEO, take up the slack.

“Hey Dave,” came the voice of Neil, my boss’ boss, from the entrance to my cubicle. “Can I talk to you in the conference room?”

“Sure–” I said, as I turned around and spied the huge stack of papers in Neil’s hand, the topmost sheet of which was boldly titled Exit Checklist.

“Aw, crap, Neil! I’m getting laid off?!?” I blurted out.

We were in a cube farm. Neil had the good grace to look around sheepishly, and in a low voice said, “Yeah. I’m sorry, man. Can we go talk in the conference room?”

“Dang it…” I said, more quietly. “This was the best job I’ve ever had. Yeah, let’s go.”

So just like that, out of the blue, the best job I’d ever had was over with no warning. Neil started the exit interview with “This came down from over my head. I can’t tell you how upset I am about this. Terence (Neil’s boss, our VP) specifically named you because your piece is finished.”

I joked about failing “to commit job security in the code”. Neil laughed, and as we went through the checklist it started to hit me how much I was going to miss everyone on the team. I started on the DigiStar team on Monday, September 10th, 2001–and we had all bonded the next morning as we watched the 9/11 attacks play out on the news. I don’t know if these people were “family” but they were close to me.

The blow was softened by my getting a ridiculous severance package–all my vacation days paid out in cash before I walked out the door that day, plus six weeks of severance pay–all after just 18 months at the company! We’d had 2 rounds of layoffs before in my stint there, and I knew the policy was 1 week of severance per year of employment, so I wasn’t about to argue. As I walked back to my desk to clean it out, my team lead stopped by to tell me that I had her to thank for the severance package.

“I told them they had to pay you your bonus or I’d quit. Legal said that we can’t give a performance bonus and lay someone off at the same time. I told them that you getting laid off was bullshit in the first place, and they agreed to round up your second year and convert your bonus into a month’s extra severance.”

Janet was an amazing team lead. She was a wicked smart programmer but also had a killer instinct for office politics. (In fact, she told me on my first day to do my best to “stay off Terence’s radar”, because he had a nasty habit of laying off contractors and new people.) She also had my psyche dialed in perfectly, and broke me out of my impostor syndrome in my first (and, it would turn out, only) performance review by saying: “The thing that makes you unique on this team is that more than anybody else here you really love this shit. I mean, I go home and read a book, and I can tell you go home and write more code. You are the only employee I have ever managed that I think could get away with giving me a snow job. You could straight up tell me you spent the last two weeks dewarbling the frobblebats in the compiler and I would believe you.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Seriously. But don’t ever try it or I will fire your ass.”

I loved Janet, but I also feared her. I also respected her and would go to the mat for her in a heartbeat. I didn’t understand for years later that this was because she regularly went to the mat for her teammates, and when she did, she almost always won. I was too young to really understand how much political capital Janet had just laid on the line for me–a soon-to-be ex-employee that she would probably never see again–but even still I was deeply moved by the gesture.

They could have frogmarched me out of the building, given me squat, and told me I had to like it. Instead, they gave me generous severance, outplacement counseling, free admission to a really good jobhunting seminar, and best of all they let me take all day to clean out my desk and say my goodbyes. I took them up on the offer. It was 4:45pm when I finally walked out the door to go pick up my last check from HR. They had to fish it out of the mail drop because everyone else in the layoff had cleared out before noon, so HR had assumed I must not have come in to work that day and probably didn’t know I’d been laid off.

It didn’t really hit me for about a week that I’d just been screwed out of the best job I’d ever had by an accountant who couldn’t keep the company books straight and an executive team who couldn’t steer the company in any straight direction, let alone a viable one. And that I’d sat at my desk and silently eaten up every word of propaganda spewed out of the mouth of Jim Oyler, President and CEO, about being brave, taking up the slack, and most sickening of all, of “being a family”.

Meanwhile, Back in the Present…

Fast forward to today. A former client of mine held an all-hands meeting today to announce that they had lost their primary revenue stream and that the business was no longer a going concern. As a result, for all 400+ employees of the company, today would be their last day. There would be no severance package. They would not be receiving their last paycheck today, but at the regular payroll time when the accounting department–which was also now unemployed–could be bothered to get around to it. The company had a “Paid Time Off” policy instead of a vacation policy, which is legalese for “we don’t have to pay out any vacation time when we let you go.” In short, 400 people got told they were out in the cold with nothing more than a creepy speech about being proud of what they’d accomplished. He even asked them to not say bad things about the company in the days ahead because it would cheapen and demean them all.

I really, really want to go off on a tangent about all the bad things I have to say about that company and its top management in particular. It wouldn’t cheapen the fine folks that worked there and believed in the company one whit. But I’m not going to, because believe it or not, I have something much more important to talk about right now.

Most of the (now ex-)employees of my (now very ex-)client are in a blind, terrified scramble right now because they made a critical career mistake: They put their loyalty in the company. They put so much loyalty into the company, in fact, that they stopped nurturing themselves and growing and building their careers as a separate entity apart from the company. This was not entirely their fault; the company aggressively encouraged this. But let me be perfectly clear: that was straight-up pure evil.

Loyalty to a Corporation is SICK.

Being struck from the rolls at Evans & Sutherland out of the blue permanently broke me of any notion of job security, but more importantly it broke me of the concept of loyalty to a corporation. I’d been freelancing on and off for a decade, but after that day I went hardcore.

As a freelancer I occasionally experience friction with the full-time employees over tribal identity issues. I get called a mercenary. I’m told I’m not loyal. They say I’m not a company man, a patriot, a true believer. My point is that it gets made known to me, in many ways and forms, that I may work there, but I am NOT “part of the family”. Well, let’s get two things straight right now:

  1. You’re goddamn right I’m not
  2. And neither are you, you dumb shit

A corporation is not a living creature. It has no soul. It has no heart. It has no feelings. It can neither experience towards you nor enjoy from you even the concept of loyalty. It is a legal fiction, and it exists for one purpose only: to make profit. If you assist in this goal in the long term, your ongoing association with the organization is facilitated. If you detract from it consistently, you will be cut. Family is “where they have to take you in no matter what you’ve done.” A corporation is… well, it’s sort of the exact opposite of this.

Being loyal to a corporation is sick. It is genuine madness.

But Isn’t Loyalty a Good Thing?

Sure it is! Just be careful where you place it.

We Have an Awesome CEO…

No! Bad peon! No career enlightenment for you! The CEO of your company is a paid sociopath. I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course, but it is literally their actual job description to place the interests of a soulless legal fiction over the needs and desires of living, breathing, human beings with actual feelings. He or she probably isn’t inherently evil. But if they can find a way to make the company 100% more profitable by firing you, they have to do it. That is exactly what their job is. They are the chief stewards of an intangible set of legal rules comprising an attempt to get money.

I’ve worked with some genuinely charismatic CEO’s, and it’s hard to not feel loyal to them. And that’s okay! I am totally fine with you being loyal to another person! But seriously, out of everybody at your company, the CEO is your worst possible choice. If they don’t fire you when they should, they can be held liable for incompetence by the board of directors. And well they should! Because the board of directors are the circle of acolytes gathered around the altar of the soulless legal fiction, and if the soulless legal fiction needs your blood to survive, the circle makes sure the CEO doesn’t flinch from the knife.

So before you give your loyalty to a CEO, ask yourself this one critical question: would this person still have my respect and admiration if they fired me?

I’ve only been in that situation once, and I thought about it beforehand, and the answer was yes, and the answer is still yes. I would go back to work for him a heartbeat. Though I’m not sure he’d have me back, come to think of it, because I engineered my own termination at that company… and that wasn’t even in like the top five weirdest things that happened between us.

So, yes. You can be loyal to a CEO. But be loyal to them as a person, not as a position, because the day will come when you have to part ways, and it will break your heart how easy it is for your CEO.

tehviking_theyre_not_gonna_be_at_your_funeral

What About Being Loyal to The Team?

I’m just gonna say it: Nope.

Surprised? Haven’t you been listening?

Your team is just another organization, a concept, an ideogram on an org chart. The Team is just a story you tell yourself about the collection of people that work in the same room as you. It’s just another fiction. Ask yourself this question: if the CEO replaced everyone on The Team with incompetent nephews (important: their incompetent nephews, not yours; I can see how that would complicate the issue), would your loyalty to The Team remain undimmed when the servers go down at 11pm on a Friday night?

The people that work in the same room as you are real. It is totally okay to love them. In fact, I encourage it! Be loyal to them! Go to the mat for them. But for heaven’s sake, don’t be loyal to “The Team”.

For the buzzword bingo players out there: you are “a team player” if you love your teammates and show them love and loyalty. But anybody claiming to have loyalty to “The Team” is engaging in office politics.

What About Loyalty to the Project?

Um. Let me get back to you on this one. I’m on a good rant here and I want to say no but my pants will just outright burst into flames if I do.

I fall in love with projects. My wife says I get married to them. For hundreds upon hundreds of nights she has known the loneliness of an empty bed as I toil the night away on the latest hot young project to catch my eye, so I guess she’s qualified to make that judgment.

You know, I was about to take this all the way to an adultery metaphor but I’m going to stop here instead and just say it’s probably bad for your relationship. I would tell you not to fall in love with a project but I’ve tried six times and I just can’t do it without making dreamy eyes.

But again, that’s love. Not loyalty. I might discount my rates to work on a really amazing project, but would I charge less because I felt I owed it to the project? Not a cent.

Be Loyal to One Person: You.

I guess I should say “be loyal to one person at your work” because it’s totally fine to be loyal to your family, your friends, your neighbors, your favorite sportsball team, your fellow citizens, and a whole host of other people that for one reason or another, you love.

Be loyal to yourself. Or, if you prefer, be loyal to yourself first. Show your strongest allegiance there. I don’t mean conceit, and I don’t mean selfishness, and I don’t mean be a jerk to other people. You cannot know or show true love until you truly love–and by this I mean proactively care for–yourself.

So if the company wants you to work nights and weekends, you need to ask yourself right now if your job is worth it. If the answer is yes, great! Choose to work late. If it’s not, choose to stand up, grab your coat, and clock out. You’ll either still have a job in the morning, or you’ll have stopped putting off that hunt for a better job that you’ve been cheating yourself out of.

And if you’re not sure? If you’re sitting on the bubble, trying to decide? That little L-word is going to pop up. And when it does? You squash it. Loyalty to a corporation is madness, and any CEO worth their salt will try to get you to buy into it for exactly as long as it suits their needs to keep you around.

Own Your Career. Because This WILL Happen To You.

Your career is yours and yours alone, whether you want it to be or not. The sooner you own it, and take responsibility for all of the consequences of said ownership, the sooner you will find yourself creating your own safety from the corporate predators who pillage and destroy in service to the soulless legal fiction they call your master. Not their master, by the way. Yours.

Anybody who wants to relieve you of the hassles and responsibilities of owning your own career wants to shackle you to an oar. They want the exact opposite of what’s good for you. They want you to toil away blissfully for years–which you will do!–until one day the drumbeat stops. You’ll step out into the sun, blinking tears away in the brightness, and realize that the deck crew is gone, they’ve taken all the rations, pirates are attacking, the boat is sinking, and all you have to show for the last three years of rowing is a pair of sackcloth britches and a piece of rope to hold them up. They didn’t even let you take the time off to get your MCOR (Microciscoware Certified Oar Rower) so you don’t even have that to put on your resume. And also the piece of rope is technically company property so you need to leave that on the boat before you throw yourself to the sharks.

In Summary: PLEASE WAKE UP.

I’d like to think that if the soulless legal fiction at the heart of your company suddenly became sentient, it would also immediately grow a conscience and feel terrible about all the things it’s done and not just automatically be utterly evil.

But it’s not sentient, and it’s not even necessarily evil–as long as its business model isn’t predatory, immoral or illegal. It’s just a collection of rules put down on paper. It is a thing. And not even a physical thing. A real thing, yes, but not a tangible one. Just a logical construct, fit only for one purpose: acquiring profit.

Being loyal to that is mere insanity. But being loyal to that over yourself is sickness.

Please, choose right now: Get medicine. Own your self, and your career.

Start saving yourself.

jrg_cover_small

The Job Replacement Guide

Learn how to replace your job with a better one in record time. Whether you’re unemployed, hate your job, or just wonder what you could accomplish at work if you were utterly fearless, this guide will give you the confidence that comes from being “unemployment-proof”.

Coming Soon!
Click here to sign up for the mailing list to get updates, advance content, and a discount on launch day.