Boom or Bust: How to Know When You are Expendable
How often do you hear of a professional athlete that was in the spotlight last year, but no longer even mentioned in conversation today? It happens all the time. Take a major league pitcher for example. Sometimes it takes years to make it to the majors, but when they do, they had better perform, or very quickly they are demoted back to the minors in one short phone call.
Today it seems everything is measured and scored. A baseball player’s performance may be measured by how many hits, RBI’s, or homeruns they hit. A teacher may be rated by how many students in their class achieved an A this semester. And, a salesman may be rated by what his/her percent increase in sales or margins were over the prior year.
Do you know what your performance rating is? Is there really a score or rating kept at work as well? Absolutely there is! In your current job, you are probably rated at every review you receive. If you are seeking a career, you have received a rating by the hiring manager. Unfortunately, there are normally no points given for second place. You either win the job or you don’t.
Whether we like it or not, we are all measured against some performance standard. You may earn commissions or a bonus based on hitting certain performance goals or metrics. Certainly, sales people are measured on performance constantly. Those in production management are measured by how many products are produced or the quality of products produced. Even professors are often rated based on how many articles they have published, commonly known as “publish or perish”. The scary part of all of this, like it or not, is that when times get tough or the bottom line is being watched carefully within a business, employees are often rated as: must keep, key, trainable, and expendable. Note: the definition in Webster’s dictionary of “expendable” is: more easily or economically replaced than rescued, salvaged, or protected.
Here are some key questions that you could ask of yourself:
- Does my job require a specific college education and/or specialized training or skills that are relatively uncommon?
- Is my job an essential function for generating profit for the business?
- If I quit today, would they hire someone new to replace me?
- Am I a top performer?
So, what is your value proposition? The more value you add to your employer, the safer you are when times get tough. Also, as your value increases, so does your potential opportunity for advancement and your potential for increased earnings. Have you ever looked at your work contribution that way?
So, let’s dig into this. How do you know if you are truly adding value? In nearly every job, a supervisor has a target of what is expected for their employees. The problem arises when this target is either not communicated or is vague and unclear. Do you have a personal business plan? Whether your employer has worked out your personal/position business plan with you or not, they do most likely have objectives, a.k.a metrics that they’d like you to accomplish. If you don’t know what those are, as a matter of self-defense alone, you should ask for what those metrics are. Most employers will have the framework of metrics built into your job description.
The key to determining your value contribution is to make sure that your job objectives are spelled out “quantifiably”. By putting some number targets to each of the key areas that your job performance may be measured by, you can now set your individual goal within your position business plan. Any employer is looking for at least these 3 key characteristics in an employee:
A. The ability to get things done
B. The ability to solve problems
C. The ability to work with other people
Establishing quantifiable targets may require some serious conversation with supervisors. Your end result should be clarity about what your employer expects, particularly within the scope of the 3 ability categories listed above. Your plan should include numerical metrics to be achieved within a standard time period, most usually in a year’s time. It should also spell out general steps outlining how you expect to get there and finally the key tools and resources necessary to accomplish those targets.
Sales will be all about making or exceeding the numbers goals. For Marketing, this may be more difficult, so this will be especially important to ask your supervisor about what is expected to be accomplished. In Operational settings, the goals within the plan could take the form of targets for improved efficiencies, reducing safety violations, or improving headcount productivity efficiencies. Here are some example goal statements that could be found in a position business plan:
- (Sales)2013 target – Improve organic sales within territory by 20% or more from $10 million to $12 million during the first fiscal year
- (Operations)2013 target – Improve tonnage throughput per employee from 200 tpe (ton per employee) to 220 tpe by fiscal year end
- (Marketing)2013 target – Increase advertising response rate on banner advertising by 25% from .20 to .25 clicks per image displayed.
Your value proposition can now be made with your employer once you’ve had time to perform under your own position business plan. Ask yourself this. Are you outperforming others on your team, or are you under performing? Do you remember the story about the 2 guys that met a bear in the woods? One sits down to put on his running shoes while the other asks what he is doing. The reply, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to out run you!” While humorous, this scenario can be more real in the job world than most realize.
While many employees even leave jobs when their goals are not clear, protecting your job can take the form of being much more pro-active about learning the clarity of expectations. At a minimum, most employers will keep a scoreboard on each employee and, you don’t want to be the one that is under performing. Rather, your career goal should be to target how you can outperform the objectives that are set. If accomplished, the goal statements listed above could also take virtually that same form on a resume as well. Your best goal is one where you are finding ways to not only “reach the playoffs, but perhaps even reach the World Series”. If you are a “most valuable player”, you not only are going to be labeled a “key” employee, but during downturns, you may also be one that will be circled on the list as a “must keep”.