Your Guide to Avoiding Displacement

Displacements are an ugly fact of life in the world of big business. Sometimes they occur because the company has become more efficient or automated a process and rendered some jobs unnecessary. Sometimes it happens because organizations are realigned and redundancy is identified and eliminated. Sometimes it happens simply because the company needs to spend less money to improve their bottom line.

These situations can be unfortunate. Sometimes very good people are caught up in the backdraft and don’t have a chance to save themselves. In many, if not most, cases the people being displaced would have held down their job for years performing at an average level. These are typically not people who would ever be fired; they aren’t bad enough for that.

As a result, this is a very touchy subject. When someone is displaced they do not want to believe that it’s anything they could have prevented. It feels better to believe that they just got caught up in a numbers game. We disagree with that way of thinking here at Bootstraps. Here we believe in growth, we believe in self-development. It’s a harder road, but it is the road to success and the road to fulfillment. The path down this road starts with a simple decision. It’s the decision to take personal responsibility, to be accountable. That means that we look at the good and the bad in life and try to see what we can learn from it. What could we have done differently? What could we have done better that would have led to a different outcome?

The truth is that you have a significant amount of control over whether or not you are displaced. Keep reading and you’ll find 3 things that you can do immediately to increase your chances to staying employed. Before we get there, you may wonder why I believe that we have more control than we think.

First, I can tell you about my own experience. I’ve managed a staff that was at risk during a period of frequent displacements. I used to have a short list in my head of people that I would fight for and people I wouldn’t. Before you think I’m crass you have to remember that in most of these situations a manager isn’t given a choice. They are told exactly how many people have to be displaced, usually with recommendations from HR as to who it should be. That being said, if you know a mistake is being made then you can push back and fight it to influence the final decision. You can’t do it for everybody though, and quick frankly, it is extremely rare to see a team where everyone is worth fighting for.

So I had my little list. I hated it but it was there. The best I could do was to work on people’s weaknesses, give them good feedback and try and develop them to a point where they were worth fighting for. In the end, it wasn’t about me. It about the employees choices, the decisions that they made determined whether or not they would be at risk. I had an employee once that I inherited who was in serious risk. This person would have been one of the first out of the door if displacements had taken place during this period. Over time an amazing thing happened. This person accepted their situation and put their heart into the job. They started working their butt off. Slowly but surely their value changed. Their performance and their willingness to work at it made the difference. Eventually they became a person that I would go to the mat for, someone I would fight for.

Most people who get displaced don’t see it coming. They don’t understand that they are at risk. They haven’t assessed their performance and made a decision to do something about it. That’s exactly why I’m writing about this. There are actions that you can take, actions that you should take today that establish your credibility, make you worth fighting for and significantly decrease your chances of ever being displaced.

Improve your Work Ethic

Believe it or not, typically people with a poor work ethic have no idea that it’s true about them or that it’s a problem. It’s a hard thing to define, but people know it when they see it. It can manifest in different ways. Some people have a hard time putting in their allotted time for a week, they always seem to be leaving early or coming in late. Some people miss deadlines or don’t put enough effort into an assignment to produce a good result. Some people won’t help their teammates when they are in trouble. Others are always buried in minutia because they won’t spend the extra hours needed to get organized or dig out of it.

"You better work!"

Many times managers let these behaviors occur as long as the transgression isn’t too egregious. Nobody wants to spend the time necessary to ride somebody with a poor work ethic. As a result, the person thinks that there is no problem at all. That’s why they are surprised when they are displaced or get a poor review. After all, they didn’t get feedback on it did they? Surprised or not, these people are targets for displacement. When a manager has to make hard decisions do you think they are going to keep the person who puts in extra hours, makes sure their work looks good and helps their teammates or the person who doesn’t do any of those things? Pretty simple choice isn’t it?

I think RuPaul may have said it best – “You better work”.

Become a Self-Starter

This is an extremely valuable skill-set and it is becoming rarer and rarer. I want every person on my team to be a self-starter. I’ve seen people who are the opposite of a self-starter. They do exactly what you tell them, no more and no less. I’m being literal here. If you think this is “ok” then I’m here to give you a reality check. No manager wants a person like this on their team.  This type of person creates tons of extra work for the manager. They force the manager to take their focus off of key objectives and spend their time figuring out how to keep the person busy. If they don’t then the employee fills in the gaps unproductively with things like phone calls, internet usage, breaks and conversations in and around the area. That’s the worst, when they are distracting other people they aren’t just wasting their own time, they are actually slowing down everyone else on the team as well.

I’ve seen unfortunate teams with no self-starters before. The manager never gets anything important done. All they do is cycle up and down with their employees to get the mundane tasks of the day completed. It’s very sad and it’s a waste of money. This typically happens to the managers who don’t have the managerial courage to address the situation, provide feedback and eliminate it. But the talk about managers is for a different day. It doesn’t matter what kind of manager you are working for. If you aren’t a self-starter then you are inherently at risk.

If you want to protect yourself against displacement then you need to turn yourself into a self-starter. . Self-starters are people that identify gaps and needs and make a useful contribution even when they aren’t asked to. They look at their assignments and find ways to tweak them, to improve them without being asked. They create new work for themselves and help the boss generate global ideas as well. In a nutshell, this type of person finds ways to add value to any team they are on.

I think it’s important to note that this advice isn’t only for entry level staff or analysts. If you want to be a good leader then this needs to be you. A good leader cannot sit and wait to be told what to do and how to do it. They need to know how to add value to the organization. If you stand out as someone who adds value then you’ll be the one growing in position and influence while others are struggling.

Build Your Network

I feel like I’ve placed these three things in order or simplicity. Having a good work ethic comes straight from the obvious file in my opinion. It’s really part of the agreement when you sign up to work for anyone. Being a self-starter is a little bit more advanced. It reflects the point in your thinking and ability where you realize that doing exactly what you’re told to do is not good enough. Even though building your networks is one of the most well-known pieces of advice in business today, it’s still a little more difficult than being a self-starter. The reason is that being a self-starter is primarily internal while building networks is primarily external. In addition, you already need to be an accomplished self-starter if you want your networks to pay off.

There are plenty of stereotypes about networking. We’ve all heard things about people getting jobs only because of who they know rather than what they can do. We’ve been exposed to the stereotypical view of this in movies and television for the last 60 years. I’m not naïve (at least, not about this). This kind of thing does happen, but I can tell you that it doesn’t always happen the way you might think. In fact, there is a very positive variation of it alive and well in big business corporate America today; A variation that we can all take advantage of if we’re willing to put in the necessary effort.

Work to become connected.

As you are climbing the ladder of success at any large company you will find that your reputation gets around much further and faster than you are able to physically. If your reputation is strong then this is very helpful, if it’s poor then you are as good as having one foot out the door already. The reason this happens is that people talk to each other. We all have our networks, some are big and some are small. When my manager is pleased with me then she will mention my name to people in her network. When those people find someone else in their own network that needs something that I’m good at then I can expect a call from my boss asking me to work on it. My success on that effort will spark my reputation 3 layers removed from my own network and will continue to work its way down the chain. These transactions happen multiple times a day. This is why your reputation almost always precedes you.

The information I just shared with you is as good as gold in the context of protecting yourself against displacements (and multiple other workplace problems). The key to unlocking the door is this – you have the ability to expand your network wherever your reputation has already gone. In the example above it was my boss who gave me an assignment to help someone from her friend’s network. That doesn’t mean that I can only work with my boss. When I finish the work it is up to me to make it a point to reach out to this person, finalize the transaction and find out if there’s anything else they need help with.  Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but now this person knows my name and has a great feeling about me. It’s like a supercharger for your reputation when you grow your network with it. Because now this person isn’t 3 times removed from me, they are a part of my own personal network and they represent a chance to connect with people two and three times removed from them!

This is the model for career growth and lasting success in big business today. You don’t get picked for a job because of who you know. You get picked because of the work that you’ve put in and the efforts you’ve made to get to know others. People always prefer hiring someone who has a strong reputation or someone that they know has gotten the job done in the past. If you’ve helped them with work or they find strong recommendations for you in their network then they are much more likely to hire you. In addition, if you’re ever in the unfortunate place where you have been displaced through no fault of your own, this network will serve as your lifeline. You will have a much greater chance of finding a new spot with the company through your network than the other people who are in the same boat.

I used to work for someone who is a real life example of this. Her entire department was displaced; there was nothing she could have done to avoid it. However, she was back at the company the very next Monday in a new role. Why? Because she had built her reputation and her network. She called the people in her network and let them know what happened and they set out to make sure that she would have a job. Does that appeal to you, the idea that someone else will look out for you and help you when you need it the most? If it does, then it’s time to start building your networks.


There are other things that you can do; I could probably put together a list of 10 if I had to. But in the end I feel like it really does boil down to these things. You need to work hard, you need to make sure you’re finding ways to contribute and you need to actively work to build your relationships in the place that you work. If you do these things, then the odds are it will be that slacker in the cube next to you that is being escorted out the door instead of you.

Until next time, be blessed,


Posted on August 20, 2011, in Career Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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