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Looking from the outside in: your job is communicating change. So how do you handle it when change has put you out of a job?

The buzzword in business today is change. Organizations are merging, shifting direction, restructuring, splitting, moving and shutting down.

As a result, staff are being laid off and positions are being eliminated. It's a critical time for any organization, one that demands a communication plan to allay the fears of employees, investors, customers, vendors and communities.

Dave Orman, retired manager of employee communications for ARCO, recalls that his boss--an avid boater--understood the value of solid communication in rough times: "When your ship is in trouble, the last thing you want to get rid of is your radio," the CEO used to say.

Yet many organizations let go of the one staff member most valuable during times of change: the communicator.

This was the situation facing U.S. West Coast-based Bob Dixon, who served as director of marketing communication for a Fortune 200 company division when it devolved into a dot-com startup via a merger with another firm.

"I was involved in planning and preparing all of the communication for the merger, from drafting the press materials to executive letters explaining the deal to employees and customers, along with internal and external web content, revamped sales collateral and a trade show presence where we introduced the deal," he says. "'This is a win-win situation for all parties,' the CEO said in a press release I wrote. 'No jobs will be eliminated as a result of this merger, in fact, we're hiring.'"

Four months later, Dixon was informed that he, his boss--the senior vice president of marketing--the COO and about half of the sales staff were being let go. "Our office was to be closed in one week," he says. "On Sunday, I flew from L.A. to New York to set up a booth at an industry trade show as part of an event I orchestrated for a new product launch. I worked the three-day show with my soon-to-be former coworkers, hosted press briefings between reporters and the CEO who had just eliminated my job, and even made sure all the elements of his presentation (which I had created) were set up and running smoothly. Through it all, he didn't say one word to me about the firings. On Thursday, I flew back to L.A. and cleaned out my office. On Friday, I papered my home office wall with worthless stock options and updated my resume."

Although some communicators are left jobless by a company they've served for years, others are brought on board to help communicate organizational changes, only to be downsized out of a job soon thereafter.

In the early 1990s, Connie Eckard, ABC, was hired by LTV Corp. to help communicate the new corporate culture to employees as the Dallas-based organization emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "The problem was that we kept losing appeals all the way to the Supreme Court," he says. "The Fort Worth IABC chapter invited me to speak on 'Surviving in Tough Economic Times.' That luncheon presentation was April 1. The next day, one-third of LTV's corporate staff received walking papers, including the manager of employee communication. That's right, yesterday's speaker was today's former employee."

SURVIVAL SKILLS

Because of their skills, communicators who suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in are able to develop a strategy for finding a new job quickly.

Eckard took immediate action to make his availability known. The day he was laid off was the same day as the annual Dallas IABC chapter workshop. "You had better believe that I was there, even though I was in a state of shock. I made full and complete use of my IABC network. I looked first in the Dallas area and then broadened my search throughout the state, the Southwest, the nation and beyond."

PR practitioner Rica Guarnieri advises taking some time off before jumping back into the labor pool. "Take a week off. Purge your system. Being laid off is an opportunity to change your life," she says.

Don't hold on to anger, or worse, burn bridges.

"No matter how tempted you are, don't call back the reporter you spent all that time working with getting a great story about how well your company is doing to tell him he got the story wrong after all," Guarnieri says. "But do tell all your vendors, designers, printers and media contacts you are no longer at that job and you're looking for a new opportunity. They can be so important, because they're the shortest distance between two points. It's like dating. You want your friends to know you want to meet somebody."

OVERRIDING EMOTIONS

Larry Light, creator of eJobCoach (www.ejobcoach.com), a web site for job seekers requiring remote coaching, says emotions often can get in the way of a productive job search. "Most people who have been laid off are in a state of shock at first. Sometimes this is coupled with denial, and often it includes resentment. Not a great combination for 'getting back on track,' especially when many of them don't or won't acknowledge they have these feelings," he says.

According to Light, networking is the best way to get going again. "By this I do not, emphasize do not, mean going around asking all your friends, relatives and associates if they know of any jobs for you. That is the fastest way to 'burn up' a network that I know, and the best way to ensure that they avoid returning your phone calls." (See sidebar, "Why Networking Works.")

Camilla Stroud, a communication consultant in Falls Church, Va., has been downsized out of a job three times. "Above all, recognize that this is a very emotional time, no matter what management says about it 'not being personal.' It's personal for you, and denying it won't make it any better," she says.

It's hard to accept the fact that the organization can get along without you, even if you know a restructuring is coming. You may be tempted to look at your remaining coworkers and ask, "Why me? Why not one of them?" Unless you get a straight answer from your manager, this is unproductive and often destructive thinking. Stroud says to try to avoid the self-doubt that this mindset engenders. "As was once said to me, 'You know that hole that is left when you pull your hand out of a bucket of water? That's the kind of hole that is left by the departure of any employee from any organization.'"

Take advantage of all the termination support the organization offers, she says. Use the outplacemenr firm's services. This will prevent isolation and may help you take a more focused approach to your search. If office space and support are offered at your organization in lieu of outplacement, take advantage of that. Your job is now job-hunting, and getting up to go to work" is very stabilizing.

In today's business climate, there is no stigma to being laid off. Don't be embarrassed, Stroud says. "If it hadn't happened to you before this, it was only because your number wasn't up."

RELATED ARTICLE: WHY NETWORKING WORKS

Larry Light, creator of eJobCoach (www.ejobcoach.com), a web site for job seekers requiring remote coaching, says networking is the most basic and best strategy for getting employed once you've been laid off. Networking

* provides you with a great deal of information about what's going on in your field--a good step in getting back on track and making decisions

* gets you out into the world and helps rebuild your confidence

* gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning

* provides great practice for later lob interviews

* points you in new directions for work and job-hunting that you never even thought of

* orients you gradually toward changing your objectives

* helps you look at your skill sets in new and different ways--a step toward repackaging yourself

* assists with the inevitable decision to freelance, go into consulting or start a business

* improves your morale

* finds jobs in the "hidden" market before they're announced to the world, thus reducing the competitive rush of resumes and the inevitable comparisons with hordes of others.

Networking is not a cure-all if you've been laid off, but it certainly beats watching daytime TV or wondering what you're going to do today.

Larry Light publishes a free monthly newsletter for job seekers containing tips, techniques and general information about job-hunting. Subscribe by sending an e-mail to larryl@ejobcoach.com.

JOB NETWORK GROWS BY 'WORD OF MOUSE'

When Edward "Ned" Lundquist, APR, found himself out of a job, he knew he needed to network. But first he had to create one.

The "Job of the Week" online network began with 34 professional communicators like himself. Today, Lundquist has more than 2,100 subscribers.

"I was laid off from my dot-com," he says. "It had been my first job after retiring from a 24-year career in the U.S. Navy. Unexpectedly, I found myself in a job search. How could I let my fellow communicators know I was looking for work?"

In January 2001, Lundquist launched JOTW, a free e-mail networking newsletter for professional communicators. By last November, he had signed up his 1,000th subscriber and this spring topped 2,000, growing mostly by "word of mouse."

What is JOTW exactly? It's a listing of job opportunities that Lundquist culls from newspapers and web sites, or that are forwarded by subscribers. But it has also become a freewheeling conversation about the communication profession, where you can get the best BBQ, how to find the job you really want, brass monkeys, maritime piracy and more. "It's a job search newsletter with plenty of personality, if not multiple personalities," Lundquist says. JOTW has taken off, wrote the Ragan Report, a newsletter for communication executives that featured JOTW last June, "thanks to its practical purpose and perfectly peachy value proposition."

Steve Wilcox, a communicator from Chicago, says, "JOTW is an important cog in my personal job-search engine, It offers new ideas and new contacts in every issue."

The newsletter comes out at least twice a week, sometimes more frequently. Unlike the first issues, which featured two or three jobs, current issues contain a dozen or more employment opportunities, most of which are full-time, although some are consulting gigs. Most listings are for jobs in the U.S., and range from internships and entry-level jobs to six-figure senior executive positions.

A sampling of recent jobs includes Marketing-Communications Manager, Oshkosh Truck Corp. in Wisconsin; Visual Information Specialist, U.S. Mint, Washington, D.C.; Integrated Communications Strategist, National Kidney Foundation, Singapore; Chief, Press and Communications, World Tourism Organization, Madrid, Spain; Public Relations Manager, Novell, San Jose, Calif.; as well as "alternative selections" such as bartender on a cruise ship or snowboard trainer in Maine.

Why does Lundquist do it?

"Something good will come out of this. Some people have gotten jobs from the JOTW like I did, so that is enormously gratifying," says Lundquist, who is now the communication director for the Center for Security Strategies and Operations for Anteon Corp. in Arlington, Va. "But something unexpected and something wonderful will come from this. We'll just all have to keep reading and see what it's going to be."

To subscribe, send an e-mail to JOTW-subscribe@topica.com. Lundquist can be reached at lundquist989@cs.com.

Edward Lundquist, ABC, is communication director for the Center for Security Strategies and Operations with the Anteon Corp. in Arlington, Va.; ABC U.S. District 3 director; and publisher of the Job of the Week free e-mail networking newsletter for communication professionals. You can subscribe to the e-newsletter by sending a blank e-mail to JOTW-subscribe@topica.com.
COPYRIGHT 2002 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Lundquist, Edward
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:1937
Previous Article:IABC: Consolidated Statements.
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