How to get fired – work hard at the wrong things.


employee terminationWork hard and smart, be nice to others, be the first person in the office and the last person to unplug the coffee pot… pitch in and help out with urgent projects, especially when it’s “not your job.” Look good, smell good and update your wardrobe. Maintain eye contact, listen twice as much as you talk and genuinely care about others. Call them by name. Don’t gossip or shop online. Get plenty of rest, limit your carbs and consider kale.

I didn’t break ONE of these rules… and I still got fired!

As a career coach, I have heard the same story time and time again. Why and how did I do so many things right, followed the advice of mentors and published experts yet I still got fired?  I asked myself WHY – about 1,000 times. I did some good things but missed the best things.

Some of my biggest mistakes:

I failed to insist on feedback.

My boss was a busy guy and a man of few words. He told me he’d let me know if I was doing anything wrong, but for now, “no news is good news.” Okay then. I may have been able to avoid getting fired had I addressed my boss or others in authority with a request and a promise: “if you help me calibrate my efforts and priorities up front, I promise I will need less time and direction in the future.” Here’s a simple feedback tool that could have helped.

I should have said, "Please give me your input in each of these three areas. Your direction is very valuable.

Continue: What have you seen me do well that I should KEEP DOING
Start: What am I NOT DOING that I should be?
Stop: What am i doing that bothers you, is unproductive or should be done differently?

I believed my work “would speak for itself.”

Much to my surprise, I found out that work has no voice. Nobody’s work does. After an upbringing of valuing hard work and scorning political glad handing, I made sure I wasn’t kissing up to the boss by trumpeting the great things I was doing on the job. I ate this humble pie so effectively that no one knew that I was adding considerable value to my employer. Keeping my nose to the grindstone did get me two bonuses: a bloody nose and a pink slip.

Learn the best way to communicate. Do it proactively. Be brief and clear. If your boss is a data hound...deliver data. If she likes a sit down status update, set one up on a regular basis. Some bosses are more visual --they like to see your progress. Others like a hands free chat on the way into work. Pay attention to technology choices. If the boss puts everything in a spreadsheet, take note! Summarize how you are adding value by describing successful progress or outcomes.

What I've learned about a common phrase.

It never occurred to me that a “jack of all trades” may be perceived as a “master of none.” Common phrases can cause damage when they de-value your work. It's important to think about phrases you want to use before using them. You never know when they can negatively impact you in the workplace.

I’m terrible at accepting compliments.

Thank you is a better response than, “Oh, I really didn’t do all that much… it was nothing… no big deal.” The failure to accept the sincere acknowledgment for a job well done isn’t just being humble. It’s also being naive (and rude, too). Retrain yourself to say thank you. Eliminate the “no problem” response when “you’re welcome” or “thank you” is a better choice. Scratch the Australian derivative, “no worries”, unless you are in the Outback.

Prioritizing is not one of my strengths.

Human nature draws us to the things we like to do. Like the hot dogs and donuts fitness plan, the easy road can lead to the unemployment line. Learning specifically what matters is critical. Doing what matters most is a discipline for career success.

I didn't realize that the smartest guy in the room often has a coach.

One problem with blind spots: you just can’t see them. While career derailers may be obvious to an experienced coach, they are often overlooked by the person they hurt the most.

Contact Dise & Company to discuss executive coaching for a key employee in your organization. We will shine a light on some blind spots. Moreover, we will help that executive, manager or strong individual contributor with coaching for sustained value to your organization.

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Tagged With: Corporate Outplacement

Mark Gonska

Mark Gonska is Executive Vice President and leads the Outplacement Practice for Dise & Company. He helps employers avoid the second most costly mistake they can ever make: retaining employees they should release. Also known as America’s Career Coach, Mark has assisted over 8,000 people moving forward in their careers.