Over the course of my 18-year career, I have spent a great deal of time on both sides of some messy employment situations. In addition to terminations, corporate reorganizations, company mergers and hostile acquisitions, I have been part of several multi-round company-wide layoffs . . . one of which resulted in me exiting the building with my personal belongings in a cardboard box.
Although these experiences have all been stressful in their own way, I learned a great deal during each—not only about myself, but about the numerous (and often obvious) signs that present themselves when termination is about to occur. If you suspect your small company job might be in jeopardy, take a moment to review the following 15 signs of a pending termination—and please feel free to add your own to the list!
Scenario A: Signs Your Company is In Financial Trouble (or possibly for sale)
For those who work in industries where market instability is the norm versus the exception (technology, for example) you need to be aware of something: your small company is never more than one bad month away from being in trouble, and it’s ALWAYS for sale. And because financial problems and changes in ownership often come with sweeping changes in employment, be sure to watch for these five termination warning signs.
1. Your CFO or Head Accountant is Replaced – When it comes to turning around a company in trouble, Step 1 always involves putting a financial wizard in place—someone with previous experience doing the exact same thing somewhere else. Why? Because this process takes a skill, an experience level, and a sheer ruthlessness that your regular CFO doesn’t have.
2. The End-of-Year Revenue Push is More Intense than Usual – If you ask a financial expert what attributes make a successful small company, you’ll no doubt be forced to endure an extended conversation full of math, analytics, and financial acronyms. But the simple fact is, successful companies are identified by one thing: year-over-year increases in revenue. If your Marketing and Sales people are suddenly putting in 70-hour weeks, start paying attention.
3. Key Executive Positions Are Filled with Internal Candidates – When small companies are in financial trouble, their focus (after increasing corporate revenues) is on lowering expenses. One way to save money is by replacing high-paid executives with less-qualified middle managers. Not only does this lower overhead, but it manufactures instant loyalty among those being promoted—loyalty that will be critical when it comes time to make some REALLY tough decisions down the road.
4. Your Board of Directors Suddenly Includes Ex Competitors – In addition to a good product and a great business model, the key to turning around a small company is . . . insider information. No one has a better perspective on what your company needs to improve than the former Execs who spent decades trying to steal your customers. If the longtime CEO of an arch competitor shows up at the next all-company meeting, don’t fool yourself. Something is happening.
5. Salary Increases Are Frozen – Earlier this decade, I managed a Marketing Department at a small company that grew from $18 million to $40 million in three years’ time. In lieu of an annual raise, I was offered stock options and one additional week of vacation. Within 10 months, my company was owned by a member of the Fortune 100, and I was working somewhere else. The lesson? When a company is struggling, salary freezes are common. But when companies are growing, they can be a death sentence.
Scenario B: Signs Your Small Company Will Begin to Lay People Off
Unlike corporate mergers and acquisitions which can sometimes play out in your favor, company layoffs are never good for anybody. For those of you who are worried your job might be on the line, be sure to watch for these five warning signs.
6. Management Stops Caring About Your Role – If you suddenly find your status reports are going unread, and your manager would rather text message his teenage daughter than listen to you speak, there may be trouble ahead. As a general rule, Management indifference is rarely a good thing.
7. People Around You Disappear Without Warning – Is turnover common at companies of all sizes? Sure. But people never quit their jobs without telling at least one co-worker first. A sudden and unexpected office disappearance is usually a clear sign of more doom to come.
8. Owners and Execs at Your Company Become Extra Encouraging – Unless your company is going completely out of business, a significant number of people will be retained . . . so they can be ridden like rented mules until the economy turns around. Owners and Execs know this, and will do their best to put on a smiling face for the people who are left to clean up the mess.
9. You Receive at Least One Copy of a Book on Organizational Change – A true story: between 1999 and 2004 I receive not one, but two (2) copies of the book Who Moved My Cheese?. Three weeks after receiving my first copy, I was laid off. Less than four months after receiving my second, the company I worked for was sold. I believe no further elaboration is required.
10. Everyone Talks About Layoffs – No matter how cunning your HR Department might be, when it comes to layoffs NO ONE can keep a secret at a small company. At a small company there are too many leaks, political relationships and information back-channels to keep something like layoffs under wraps. This, by the way, is a great reason to eat in the company lunch room once in awhile.
Scenario C: Signs Your Small Company is Planning on Terminating YOU Specifically
Even if your small company isn’t in financial trouble and has no plans to pursue a round of layoffs, your job could still be in jeopardy. Going for a third Martini at the company party was risky, and the two-hour lunch you take to run errands every Thursday doesn’t always go unnoticed. If you fear you might be walking around with a target on your back, be sure to watch for these unsettling signs.
11. You are asked to document pieces of your job “‘In case you get hit by a bus.”
12. The due date for every project you are working on becomes “Yesterday.”
13. You are asked to transition pieces of your job to other people and receive no additional work in exchange, to the point where you run out of things to do.
14. Your boss starts avoiding one-on-one contact with you, and/or insists on having all communication in writing.
15. Other managers begin to treat you differently as well (because they know what’s going on).
Do you know of a sure-fire sign you might be losing your job, small company or otherwise? Please reply to this post! Otherwise a Retweet, Facebook Share, LinkedIn Share or other type of social share (handy buttons provided) would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!