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If you're concerned about getting fired, be aware of these 4 things

When you finally become a middle manager, you’re proud of yourself for having made it past the entry-level pack. You are no longer considered a newbie in your field and you have earned recognition and respect by being promoted - important career goals of a manager. As you eagerly and professionally carry out your role as a middle manager, you begin looking forward to that next promotion. But based on over 35 years of experience helping middle managers navigate their career, the first thing I want to say to you is “beware.” Beware of signs that might not only signal a stagnated career as a middle manager - but worse - the end of one. Here are some red flags middle managers should look out for, as they often mean that a pink slip is in the making - definitely not one of the career goals of a manager.

 

1.    Performance improvement plan

This positive, optimistic noun phrase is actually a euphemism for “we’re not happy with you.” Yes, it’s usually framed within a very constructive conversation about the one or two points that need to be improved in the next quarter, but it’s actually evidence that can and will be used against you when you are let go. If you are faced with a performance improvement plan, of course, you must comply with it. However, recognize it for what it is: the beginning of a goodbye.

 

2.    Impossible targets

All middle managers are requested to work hard - that’s what you’re there for. But if you find yourself being asked to meet superhuman deadlines or mobilizing uncooperative teams, you might be being set up for failure. After all, it would be hard to fire you if your performance was stellar, right? So to make sure your organization has a case, you’ll be asked to meet impossible targets. Remember, as a middle manager, you don’t want to shy away from a challenge, but if the job seems impossible, it probably is.

 

3.    Focusing on your vulnerable points

Do you have a fear of flying and yet you’ve been asked to fly to a customer in Europe? Are you a family person and yet you’ve been given a project that will keep you busy 24/7 for the next quarter? Have you been asked to relocate to in the middle of a school year? In most normal circumstances, asking to pass on these requests would be normal. But if an organization is trying to poke holes in your otherwise excellent record, it may resort to asking you to do things it knows you won’t.

 

4.    Lots of documentation

Have you received a ton of emails lately, documenting every move you’ve made - often in a critical tone? Are you wondering what the big deal is about a report that might have exceeded company-standard length or that a submission was an hour late? These are classic cases of building evidence so as to trash your performance record. Your organization might not have any “real” proof that you’re not up to par, so it’s begun nitpicking its way through your workday...all in the name of building up a case against you.


 

I know that these items seem unbelievable and that you’re probably wondering what kinds of organizations would stoop so low. I don’t have a single answer for this, but organizations that either are in trouble or changing the fundamental way they do business are prime candidates for such behavior. For example, if an organization is in financial dire straits, they need to jettison as much as possible in order to stay alive. Perhaps they’ve been given instructions from the board of directors that 20% of the workforce must be cut. In the other situation, a company has decided to change its strategy and your department or function is no longer the center of activity. In this case, you’re being whittled off, little by little, until you’re not part of the company’s activities.

 

Middle managers, beware. You are often the first layer to be sliced off when organizations decide to downsize, for whatever reason. The best thing you can do is stay alert for signs of impending dismissal and prepare yourself for the day after, making sure that the next organization you work for brings you one step closer to the corner office.


 

And always remember:

 

Great managers are made. Not born.

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