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Media and Crisis Management

Preparing For Job (In)Security

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Potpourri: Preparing For Job (In)SecuritySelf-help

Is your job not as secure as it seems? Or is it the industry in which you work? And… what are you to do about it? Let’s use the broadcasting business as a jumping off point for this discussion since I spent two decades in it.

Two TV News anchors in my area lost their positions. Friends – knowing that I used to be in television – asked me, “Why did the station fire them? Why would two personalities who seemed to be doing well be told to leave?”

“It’s just money!” I answered although I had no personal knowledge of the specific situation.

“Here’s the drill,” I said. “You log years at a station, and once your salary reaches a high level for the market, they force you to leave. They may show you audience research or focus group results that prove you are neither a star nor worth the pay. They may compel last-ditch ratings-grabbing gimmicks to ‘turn things around’ for you. Inevitably you fail, you feel stupid, and you go. Soon someone earning about 50-60% of your salary replaces you. Importantly, regardless of the large volume of viewer complaints that inevitably follow your departure, sufficient people continue to watch, and that means station profits remain good.

“Meantime,” I continued, “Another station in the same area with similar salaries, does exactly the opposite. Anchors who are not necessarily ‘stars’ but who are good enough for the market are encouraged to remain. They build viewer loyalty. They create a following. A few stay and retire. Here too, station profits remain good.”

Other cases:

  •  I worked at a number 1 station for 8 years. As classy as we were, we endured six changes in news management and one change in ownership during that period. Station profits remained good.
  •  In another city I worked alongside an inspiring manager and terrific staff who elevated a TV news operation from last place to first in just three years. However, once we became number one, top management did not like the cost of success, and through benign neglect forced the winning team – one by one – to leave. Ratings retreated, but station profits remained good.
  •  Conversely, several former colleagues continue to do well in this region or have moved into top markets where they have been successful for almost 20 years. While only one is a bonafide star, most of them remain at their original stations and have been encouraged to stay. Their stations’ profits are almost certainly good.

I conclude from this wide variety of experiences that any management strategy that protects profits is valid – whether you agree with it or not.

Broadcasting may seem convoluted, but as a consultant working with many companies, I see unpredictability in corporate America too. Management upheavals uproot lives of friends in ways every bit as ugly as TV.

To me, only a minority of people seem truly secure in their positions, and most of them are either self-employed or in government.

Since it is difficult to insulate yourself from the vagaries of the working world, how can you improve your security? Some ideas.

  1.  Try to make yourself indispensable – God knows this will not make you invulnerable, but if you help your employer be successful then managers will think twice before cutting you loose.
  2.  Align yourself with companies that treat people well. Learn whether managers value people. Since the job market is tight, hiring and retaining good people is usually a priority for most businesses. Unfortunately, that is not always true, and may be even less so now that the recent economic boom appears to have ended.
  3.  Analyze the future of the company. Financial downturns seem to be compelling formerly sound businesses to tear up their employee ranks. Mergers and acquisitions are also putting employees into pressure-cookers of uncertainty. Check it out.
  4.  Analyze the future of the industry. Given the recent dotcom failures and the long term shrinking of old line manufacturers, be wary of the field you enter.
  5.  Consider creating your own business. It is the ultimate job security if you can handle the hard work, high stress, and initial financial insecurity.
  6.  Embrace change. With employer/employee loyalty waning, welcome disruption as a doorway to a new future. Good people really do land on their feet.
  7.  Follow your heart. Since you cannot know the future, choose a path close to your dreams. Should change upend you, at least you will be pursuing a life that matters to you. Why be jerked around by the unpredictable, unknowable, and arbitrary while chasing an existence of little joy? It’s easier to get up after a stumble when you care about the mountain you are climbing.

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