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Prevent Layoffs: Use Lean Skills to Protect Your Job

The current economy reminds me of a story about two guys walking in the woods. They come upon a grizzly bear up ahead on the trail. The bear sees them, and starts licking his chops as he starts down the path towards them.

One of the hikers sits down and immediately starts lacing up his running shoes. The other hiker says, “What are you doing. You can’t outrun that bear.”

The response: “I don’t have to outrun the bear…”

In this poor economy, people have two basic choices if they want to prevent layoffs. Sit back and hope they don’t lose their jobs, or lace up their sneakers. The bear is the bad economy. Your company may have to let some people go to escape it. 

You can’t prevent layoffs for the whole company—that part of the equation is outside of your direct influence. What you can control is where you stand in the pecking order. You can do things to prevent your own layoff.

In some cases, bargaining agreements or contracts tie your manager’s hands. In many cases, though, she will have to make the extremely difficult decision about who to let go.

Do you know how your boss views you? Do you know where you stand? What can you do to raise your stock in her eyes?

Continuous improvement skills, whether Lean, Six Sigma, or just being really good at problem solving, all help you prevent being chosen in a layoff. Why?

Because those talents also benefit your company.

In the best case scenario, a company will make it through the tough economic conditions and won’t have to let anybody go. (The extra skills you gained while trying to prevent your own layoff might even have contributed to helping your company avoid a crisis.)

If your company manages to prevent layoffs, you hit the double jackpot. Instead of just protecting your job, your new-found talents can help you compete for promotions, bigger raises, or better assignments.

Worst case, though, if your company can’t prevent layoffs, you add just a little bit of extra insulation between you and the possibility of a pink slip. It sounds harsh, but the reality is that when times are tough, we have to compete extra hard to keep our jobs.

Some suggestions to get through this economic downturn:

  1. Read. What to read, you ask? Look at your job description to see what you should know, and get better at those things.
  2. Take classes. Computer classes are nearly always helpful. Learn Microsoft Excel, Word, and Powerpoint.
  3. Get on a project. Ask your boss to help you find an appropriate one. The added bonus is that by volunteering for projects, you are showing yourself to be a team player—another plus for you.
  4. Get a mentor. Many bosses like taking people under their wings–especially those that show an interest in learning and in using their new skills. Just make sure that you are serious. Bosses don’t like having their time wasted.

Obviously, there are no guarantees in a recession. You might become a Lean wizard, and still get laid off. But shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to not only survive, but also to thrive when the economy is bad?

Good luck in preventing a layoff in these tough times!


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