How to Keep Your Job – Rule 1 Edition

February 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Money and Behavior

If what I am reading or hearing is any indication, just about anyone who is receiving a paycheck in this economy is worried about how long that paycheck delivery will last.  More to the point, they are concerned that the next knock on the door will be a grim reaper-style visit from their boss.  “Joe – I have some bad news.”  You can guess the rest.

This means that now we have hundreds of employment experts, career coaches, and human resource brainiacs being interviewed by thousands of media types, asking for advice and tips on what people should do to keep from being visited by the job whacker.  The stuff that is being written on this topic is actually longer than the 2009 stimulus bill.  That’s saying something.

Mr. ToughMoneyLove is going to make it easy for you.  You don’t need to read all of that other stuff.  I know the secret for increasing your odds of keeping your job.  There is one simple rule:  Make your boss look good.  (Well, there is that other rule about not messing with your boss’ love interest, but you knew that one.)

Following Rule 1 is not so easy.  I say “not so easy” because so many employees can’t seem to follow it.  How do I know that?  Because I’m one of the bosses in our business and we’ve had a number of employees who specialized in not making me look good.  Most of them applied their “don’t make the boss look good” skills to the other bosses as well.  That’s how they became former employees.

Right away some of you are thinking “I can’t follow that rule.  My boss is so bad no one can make him/her look good.”  That is negative thinking – the kind that will get you fired.  Remember, even if your boss is incompetent in his actual job skills, he may be excellent at following Rule 1 himself.  If he makes his boss look good, his job is probably safe.  If it sounds unfair, it probably is.  But that’s the way things work in the world of bosses and the people they can fire.

How you follow Rule 1 depends on what kind of job you have.  In my business, I need to look good in front of clients and Judges.  Therefore, the younger lawyers who work with me on projects need to focus on that at all times.  Over the years, I have given this little speech several times to young lawyers: “First,” I tell them, “you must protect the client’s interest.  Second, you must make me look good in front of clients and judges.  If  you do these two things, you will have a successful career here.”  

So how do you violate Rule 1?  There are lots of ways.  Too many employees seem to discover them.  One is to go out of your way to take credit for good results when, in fact, you should be giving credit to others, like your boss.  This is where ambition gets in the way of job preservation.

Another path to Rule 1 violation is not to take responsibility for bad results, even if you think your boss is the one who messed up.  In other words, taking one for the team can be a pure act of job preservation.

The fastest path to a Rule 1 violation is to make a mistake that becomes apparent to a client or customer.  Even if you step up and take responsibility, your boss still looks bad.  So, if you are going to screw up, make sure you do it in a non-public way.

So that’s my lecture on how to keep your job.  Give it a try.  What’s the worst that can happen – you stay employed for another week?

I wanted to mention of a couple of things I read this week that may interest you as well.

No Credit Needed wrote about his use of zero-based budgeting which I also believe in.  If our government could only get on this program as well, we all would be better off.

Single Guy Money told us of how he didn’t get the investment property he was after.  I liked this because it demonstrated financial discipline in not getting emotionally invested in the transaction which can cause you to overpay and get in trouble.

The old can’t vs. won’t argument was the focus of No Debt Plan.  How many times have we heard broke people whine that they “can’t” cut something out of their budget when the truth is that they “won’t.”

My writing appeared in these personal finance carnivals this week.  There is lots of other excellent writing to be found in these carnivals so take a look:

Money Hacks Carnival #51

Festival of Frugality #164

Carnival of Personal Finance #191

Enjoy Valentines Day.  Be sure to love the one you’re with.

Feed Mr. ToughMoneyLove

FREE UPDATES: If you enjoyed this, please subscribe to receive the newest hard truth from Mr. ToughMoneyLove automatically by RSS feed (what is RSS?) or by spam-free Email.

  • Banner


14 Responses to “How to Keep Your Job – Rule 1 Edition”
  1. Mr. TML Don’t break you arm patting yourself on the back. I’m sure you do a good job ‘bossing’ people around, but seriously, an entire article on how your employees should make you look good.

    How about the boss makes himself look good. It’s the bosses job to motivate employees to do better, if his employees do well, he does well. There are bosses who make their employees look bad, so he can take the credit. I’m not sure your situation is indicative of an entire population of ‘bosses’ and ‘workers’


  2. TMN says:

    In some cases, sure, that tactic may save your ass. But talking to a lot of friends at Microsoft during the recent layoffs, it became clear that the decisions about who stayed and who went happened 4 or 5 levels up. The 1400 people cut last month were just faceless numbers on a balance sheet being judged by someone who may have never even met them in person. The other 3500 still to come at that company will probably happen the same way. Nepotism is great, but there are some situations where it just doesn’t do any good at all.

  3. richgirl says:

    What TMN said. Plus, I don’t know why it’s so difficult for some people to admit that in some cases, there is NOTHING you can do to avoid a layoff. Company reorgs can make your position completely disappear. That’s what happened in my department, anyway. The people making the decisions didn’t know us as people. We were just numbers on a list in one of the hundreds of worldwide locations of the company. It’s a good way to realize that you can’t control everything in your career.

  4. kitty says:

    I agree with richgirl as well as the preceding post by TMN. In my experience, nepotism matters little in large corporations. Good evaluation helps somewhat but not to the degree one would expect.

    I work for a Fortune 500 tech company – larger than Microsoft – that actually had pretty good earnings and guidance, but we still had a round of layoffs; slightly under 10% in the US, about 17% in my building. I imagine it’s both because the company needs to cut costs to meet earning estimates in 2009 and because there are software engineers in BRIC countries that can do our job for a fraction of the cost.

    I survived, but I have no clue why and neither does anybody who is left.

    I cannot discern any particular pattern as to why some people were “selected”, and it is pretty disconcerting. I talked with several co-workers including the manager, and I got different opinions (evaluation, type of project, skills, value to the company). As far as I know everyone with “needs improvement” evaluation is gone (and in my company it could mean simply that your project didn’t end up having any “impact” no matter how hard you worked on it), but so is a number of people with good evaluations. A couple of departments were cut entirely together with the manager. A couple of people had good evaluations and were busy working on important projects. As to “value to the company” – while I am flattered of being considered to have more value than some of those cut, actually believing this would be deluding myself.

    I think, there are a couple of things one can do where I work to slightly reduce one’s chances to be “selected” – work on high profile important projects, look for another group if you don’t have a project, don’t wait for your manager to find one for you; avoid being in bottom 10% evaluation the best you can. But ultimately, there is really not much one can do.

  5. kitty says:

    @TML: about your employees making you look good. Last year or so ago I took a Leadership Skills class at work. the first thing said in class was the definition of a great leader: it is not someone who gets others to follow him because he has “position power”, but the one who makes others want to follow him. If you are a good boss, you should be able to ensure the people who work for you want to do their best to make you look good because this is their desire too. Fear is an important factor, but it doesn’t make one go above and beyond one’s immediate responsibilities to “make you look good”.

  6. First, there is no doubt that some people are selected for termination because of what they do, not how they do it, as in an entire department being eliminated, including the boss.

    Second, my post said nothing about nepotism, which I do not believe in, so I’m not sure how that concept entered the discussion.

    Third, some people are fired without ever knowing the reason why. I’m trying to tell you one of those reasons, based on actual experience.

    Fourth, being a great leader is fine but when people have to be let go, human factors enter the equation. In this economy, being a survivor is an important skill, don’t you think?

    Finally, trying to make your boss look good is not inconsistent with doing good work to help the organization or client succeed. On the other hand, acting in support of your personal ambition can interfere with both of those goals.

    Thanks for all of your excellent comments. I gather that none of you would want me for a boss but that’s OK. I am not easy to work for.

  7. TMN says:

    The theory that your boss will keep you around if you go out of your way to make him look good sounds a lot like nepotism to me.

    And while I can certainly believe that there’s always a reason someone is fired from a smaller company whether they know that reason or not, my experience indicates that the same is not true at a large corporation. Like I said, friends at Microsoft have been telling me very odd things since the layoff. The decisions are happening at the GM level, 3 or 4 levels above the first rung of people managers. I know a guy who is absolutely hated by his manager (and vice versa) who was kept while a third of their team was let go. His manager was angry that this guy wasn’t one of them, but obviously didn’t have any input into the process.

  8. TMN – Nepotism is favoritism based on kinship – completely different.

    Regarding Microsoft, it sounds like the boss in question did not have hiring/firing power which makes it tough to protect yourself. We only have one layer of management in our business so your ability to survive and thrive is highly dependent on making your boss look good.

  9. kitty says:

    Agreed – nepotism isn’t the right word.

    I think an immediate manager doesn’t have firing or hiring power in most large corporations.

    To get hired in my corporation, you need to be interviewed by a number of people – some managers some not and everyone evaluates you based on your skills, knowledge, creativity, abilities, etc (a bunch of other things I don’t remember). Then everything goes into a system and someone else (HR? Director? – I don’t even know who) makes a final decision. Normally, there has to be no negatives and most of those who interview have to be strongly for.

    As to firing, an immediate manager can influence what kind of evaluation one gets but not a complete control over it: we are graded on a curve with everyone compared to everyone else in an organization (up to the 4th level) based on one’s accomplishments during the year. The manager can help with some aspects: – help with writing a short summary of accomplishments, getting right projects for his or her group, offering suggestions during the year; the manager also has an input during the meetings where the managers get together to create one sorted list of everyone. Up to some level; at some level it’s higher level managers who do the merging. A couple of months later, the grade comes back. Two times of “needs improvement” evaluation (bottom 5%) in a row means “show immediate improvement” or you are fired. But, of course, there is always bottom 5% no matter how great everyone is. I work in research, a world class research center, actually, and we don’t have stupid people or lazy people – these were fired 5 years ago.

    During layoffs, those in bottom 5% are usually at greatest risk, but simply having good evaluation doesn’t guarantee safety. At least as the last round of layoffs showed. This was actually the scariest part – in addition to those in bottom 5% (some of whom are very good just had a not-so-great year) and complete groups being cut, there was a number of firings which were just bizarre.

    As to if I’d want you as my manager. Where I work, success of a project is what makes a manager look good as well as accomplishments of the employees themselves, so I have no problems with that. But, I am not sure you have the skills necessary to be a good manager in my organization. Besides, unless you have a PhD in CS, you have very little chance of getting the job, at least in my division of the company. We do have a legal department that mostly deals with intellectual property, and as far as I know they lost people too. Not sure of the criteria used in legal.

  10. constantlearning says:

    While this article might not be as applicable in a corporation, it certainly is a relevant part of a small office. I work in a small law firm (but not for Mr. ToughMoneyLove) and have seen many employees come and go.

    Frequently, employees who have been fired have no idea that they were so focused on doing what they wanted that their actions hurt clients and co-workers and ultimately made the boss look bad. This is not a question of blindly following the boss; it is actually the action of looking at the whole situation, watching for what the boss might not have seen and keeping him or her from being blindsided by problems that you can resolve or alert the boss to. Teamwork involves being less focused on making yourself look good and more focused on keeping the organization productive.

    “Making the boss look good” is a reminder that making yourself look good is not always best for your company. If you focus on making yourself look good at the expense of the boss, co-workers, or clients, you are ultimately placing yourself in a position to be fired.

  11. ConstantLearning: Thanks for your comment. You actually said it better than I did.

  12. I wrote a series on being a better employee, and one of my rules was also to make your boss look good.

    Luckily for me, making my boss look good is a pleasure because I like my boss and get along. I know that if I create value for him when he reports to his bosses, then why on earth would he want to get rid of me? Why would you want to get rid of someone that’s creating value for you?

    If your boss sucks it’s a lot more complicated and it may be tough to do things that you may not get “credit for.” But that’s the rub.

    The other option is to do nothing and see if you keep your job. Good luck with that.

  13. MasterPo says:

    Your concept of makingthe boss look good only can work IF your boss knows that it is YOU who has making (or at least significantly helping to make) them look good.

    If your boss really is dillusional and thinks they are doing all the work themselves then you’re SOL.

    Either way the key is your boss having to recognize and reward you for making them look good. If they don’t recognize your effort then it’s all for naught.

Speak Your Mind

Please leave a comment and tell us your version of the hard truth...

You must be logged in to post a comment.