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Monday, August 13, 2012

Always be prepared for the sigma walk

The topic does not relate to the YouTube version of the sigma walk but one coined by a company previously called Sigma.  The corporate sigma walk is one of the most difficult and depressing situations, you may ever face.  On the other hand, the sigma walk may be an exhilarating event that makes you want to do the dance seen in the YouTube video.   The corporate walk can come with parting gifts or with lots of grief.  You just never know, but you can always have some preparedness by thinking ahead.

So what is the corporate sigma walk?  The following is based on a true story, but the names are changed.

About 15 years ago, a friend (Bob) was the president of a company (Sigma) doing a great business.  Sigma was a well-run company with more than 500 employees. 

One day Bob came in to work and was to meet a Board member in the conference room.  As Bob entered, a police officer greeted him and then proceeded to escort Bob out of the building and off the grounds.   The message delivered to Bob was not return and his belongings would be sent to him. Yes, Bob, the president was terminated without cause!

Bob did not have a termination agreement.  All his personal effects and information for his network contacts were in his office.  It took several months for the materials to arrive to Bob.  Bob had no salary or termination provisions.  He had been a valued employee for more than 20 years. He was treated poorly and unfairly, but that happens to lots of people.

This story is sad but factual.  I can change a few parameters and it would fit the stories of a number of friends, employees, and company founders I have known over a long period.  In the environment of today, people are terminated for no reason when the company is trying to conserve on cash flow.  Sometimes, the terminated individual receives outplacement assistance and severance.  Others are escorted to the door and must fend for themselves.  In rare cases, the individuals feel like a great weight has been lifted because they wanted out anyway.

There are things you can do to be prepared for this terrible day.  I hope that it will never come to you, but nearly all Senior Executives will experience it eventually.  As companies change requirements as they develop, new skills are needed.  Losses in revenues can cause termination of employment status. 

Just look around.  I bet you already know people that have lost their jobs.  Here are just a few things you might consider:

Develop and maintain your network:  Networking is one of the best ways to find a new job.  Newly created jobs are often filled before being advertised.  Knowing someone that hears of a need can help you get the early intro to the person with the need.  Continue to network after you are unemployed and do not give up.  Your network will be a valuable asset throughout your life!

Maintain two databases of your contacts:  Any computer person will tell you to back up your files in case of a disc drive loss.  Having your computer locked in an office and not getting access for several months is like a drive loss!  Keep a copy of your database in a location outside of the office.  You will be able to contact your friends sooner and not have to reconstruct the contact listings.

Maintain your resume:  Review and update your resume on a regular basis.  Maybe you will decide to seek a new job while you are employed.  Having a current resume will provide you with a quicker start to searching for a new opportunity.

Negotiate hard for termination provisions:  Having a termination provision in your employment letter or contract is possible.  You may have to negotiate to get it.  It is easier to have it in the original agreement than find out you need something once in the job.  Try to have the agreement cover vesting and duration of your options in addition to some time for salary.  Try to get COBRA coverage if you can.

Maintain separate phone lines at home:  If you can afford it, having a business line at home has value.  You can make and receive all business calls on that line and leave the home phone for personal calls.  The business number is something you can add to a business card along with an email address.  This allows you to have more of a business approach to new employers or in starting a new company.

The road does not have to be so lonely!