Microsoft, Lebron James, Greatness and Career Security

Office Space, that satirical yet sadly true representation of many a worker’s life in the “knowledge economy”, contains this exchange between two unhappy (but employed) software engineers:

“What if we’re still doing this when we’re fifty?”

“It would be nice to have that kind of job security.”

Clearly, when you have a family to take care of and bills to pay, a job (and a well-paying one in the case of software engineering) you’re not 100% happy with but provides you with a paycheck is better than no job at all.

Taking that a step further, having the knowledge that your services will be needed far into the future, and you knowing that your job security is assured, would do a lot to alleviate any worries you have about taking care of your financial obligations.

Who has that kind of job security nowadays?

Even the oil & gas industry is not immune to layoffs, even in relatively “good” times like those we are going through now, and indeed the “Great Crew Change” the industry now faces is a result of an oil market crash in the early 1980’s.

I mention all of this because in just the past 10 days or so, two completely opposite yet totally related sequences of events took place which perfectly illustrate how you should carry yourself and think about your professional career if you wish to maximize your job security.

First there were the Microsoft layoffs.

For years, Microsoft had been losing ground in the mobile market under its previous CEO, Steve Ballmer.  Recently, the company decided to change course and elevate a new CEO, Satya Nadella.  Mr. Nadella, not only looking to make his mark as many new CEOs do, but also looking to reverse Mr. Ballmer’s previous course, announced plans to lay off 18,000 employees.

That is a gigantic number of people:  keep in mind that in a time when companies in the tech industry are poaching talent from one another because supposedly there is a shortage of it to go around, Microsoft is letting go what amounts to several large companies’ worth of software and hardware engineers.

I’m sure the vast majority of the people let go were highly competent, and as this excellent take on the matter puts it:

“Microsoft’s survival is not at stake, only its profits… It’s one thing to fire an employee for being lazy or incompetent. It’s quite another to FIRE an employee because management and investors want to make even more money.”

Realize this, and remember it every day:  in any company, any industry – even oil & gas – in the US at least, there is no such thing as loyalty between an employee and an employer where and when money is involved.

Remember this too:  there is ALWAYS money involved.

Company needs to make cuts to meet the stock price targets?

You’re gone.

New CEO decides to get a “quick win” and “reach the low-hanging fruit” by re-organizing the company and you don’t have a chair to sit in when the music stops?

You’re gone.

The company finds a way of outsourcing your job to a lower cost-center?

You’re gone.

Neither the weekends you worked nor the long hours you put in will shield you when you come between investors and their dividend expectations.

Now, I really like where I work, I feel respected by my colleagues and have been rewarded fairly for the results I have generated, so hopefully I’m not coming across as bitter here.  Rather, I’m pragmatic and simply accept that this is the current state of things, and while it can be overwhelming if you choose to let that culture – “always watch your back at the same time as keeping two steps ahead” – get to you, it can also be extremely empowering if you choose to embrace the current paradigm.

In the grand scheme of things – of my company, of the industry as a whole – I really don’t matter that much.

I would like to though, and you should too.

This leads me to the second sequence of events I referred to:  Lebron James and his “Decision 2.0″ to go back to Cleveland to play for the Cavaliers.

Here is someone who many view as the best in the game of basketball currently, and eventually a candidate for the greatest player ever.

Lebron James decided that he was going to make a change, and quit his last employer, the Miami Heat.

Does anyone think his decision came with the usual angst and trepidation that many of us would experience when facing the same situation of changing jobs?

Hardly.

In fact, other potential teams (employers) were falling over themselves to get Lebron James on their rosters.  There was not one single variable of his job search that James did not have control over.

That comes from him not just being good at what he does, but great.  This piece from Esquire on the matter put it very well:

“Speak up.  Be where you want to be.  Money will get you power.  Greatness will get you autonomy”.

How inspiring is that?

You’re unhappy with the opportunities you’ve been granted at work?

You’re gone – BECAUSE YOU CHOOSE TO BE.

Your boss makes your life miserable?

You’re gone – BECAUSE YOU CHOOSE TO BE.

Your company keeps thinning staff and you’re left to shoulder the load?

You’re gone – BECAUSE YOU CHOOSE TO BE.

To achieve that level of confidence, to be the one doing the firing (of your employer), you must be GREAT.

To ensure that you can make money well into the future, not just by holding onto just any job but rather a job you actually like doing , you must be GREAT.

Yes, there is a ton of work involved in being great, but how much satisfaction would you get knowing that you are in complete control of your future, and no one has you under their thumb because you’re just grateful for a paycheck?

So do your best at the job you have currently, make time to network, make the effort to acquire as many pertinent credentials as you can, be good to your colleagues and mentors, and always keep your long-term goals in mind.

Don’t just show up every day.

Be great.