The Straight Dope: Crucial First Steps to Survive “Right-Sizing”

The Straight Dope: Crucial First Steps to Survive “Right-Sizing”

First, the bad news: what follows is an increasingly familiar story, and one that it’s crucial you prepare to survive.

Then, the good news: you can do it, and I’ve got tips to help you.

First, the story.

Unemployed and 50: The Career Attack

Jack was a “young 50” and he ran a division of a large company that was making money.  In fact, Jack’s division was making a lot money – during a recession, with the corporate overhead tied like a noose around his neck, Jack was still the guy making money.  (Feel free to substitute Jill, if you are a female.)

Jack was a pretty structured guy.  Three times a week he worked out at the gym (you wouldn’t call him “buff,” but you would say, “fit.”  He was rarely sick in the 19 years he rose up in the company. He was a company man.  He had done his share of overnight preparation for acquisitions, board presentations; he had done his share of re-organizing and knew that nothing was certain in this world.

Then, for about a month, Jack began to notice that his boss was avoiding him.  Nineteen years, Jack had lived through a bunch of bosses – some good – some awful – some introverted – and couple, just plain incompetent.  So, Jack wasn’t worried about his boss who was a pretty decent kind of woman. Sure there were lay offs, but the company he worked for was hiring.


The boss and the Human Resources person came into his office for an unannounced chat.  They spoke for about 30 minutes, but the only thing he heard was… we have reorganized and we don’t need your position.  (Remember George Clooney in Up In The Air).

Oh, the talking went on for a long time more ending with the HR person inviting him to come and see the wonderful way the company had prepared him for unemployment.  What a future he would have as an unemployed 50 year old!


This book is designed for the executive who is in Jack’s shoes.   What do you do first?  Who do you talk to?  What do you say?  And when do you permit yourself to lie in your closet in fetal position because what happened was not fair


Who knows what the unemployment rate in this country is for 50 year olds.  And who cares?

When your position (it is NEVER “YOU.” It is “the POSITION”) is “right-sized”  (and, by the way, why don’t they fire the person who “wrong-sized” your company?), no matter what they say, it is PERSONAL.

This is what I refer to as a Career Attack.

The biggest risk you face RIGHT NOW is not the blow to your financial worth, but the blow to your self worth.  Now is the time to fight.  Don’t fight the Company – fight hold of who you are and all that is dear to you.

All you ask your Company for right now is time.  Forty-eight hours.  Sign nothing.  Do nothing for 48 hours.

Find a way to get out of the company grounds without attracting attention and go someplace quiet.

First:  list all the curse words you will allow yourself to use to describe the situation.

Then:  list all the things, the values, the funny habits, the unusual skills, the care that you have in how you handle people – list all that describes who you are.


Throw away the first list…

And let the second list guide you – go on autopilot for a bit – just keep tethered to who you are — a good 50 year old person with kids, debt, a working wife and a caring heart. (That you want to keep in good shape)


Call your wife and ask for help.  Not financial help.  Just the “little bit of slack” kind of helps and tells her you will need her to talk through the rest of your lives.

Call your best friend(s) next and ask for the same help.

With their help (and maybe your financial manager), develop your own secret plan.  Tell NO ONE your secret plan.  Partially, I give this advice because the secret plans change!  You probably will NOT have to move out of your house tomorrow.  You probably will have to change some of your spending habits.

Have your talk with your key people.  Kick around some of the thoughts you have been having.


Then, and only then,

Go back to the company and plan (with your boss/hr person) for at least the following items:


1. Get an agreed upon timeframe for the announcement of your position’s (!) departure.

2.  Get agreement on how the “announcement will be made?” Who will make it?

How you/others will communicate to your subordinates?

One person I coached sent a funny, warm letter to his direct reports talking about their time together.   It worked for him.  Another introvert avoided the “going away party” route and individually said goodbye to the people for whom he cared.

3.  Get agreement on how you will get your office emptied?  Make sure you keep all the things that are YOURS (your personal contacts– and at 19 years most contacts are personal AND professional), your books, your pictures, and your personal files.  When I got right sized, my boss wanted to look into my locked box of personal items (Who knows what I could keep in there that might be precious to the company?).  Tampons.  He let me keep them.

It is so easy to say something nasty, or evil at this point (or it was for me).   This is where you remember your list of “who YOU are.”  NEVER violate that list.


It is probably a violation of the “list” to speak ill of your company, boss, the company strategy, etc.  Do not violate yourself.  Others have already violated you.

5.  Get your own “tools” because the Company will take the ones you are using.  Get a computer, a phone, a car…


Congratulations… You have probably gotten through the First Week of the Career Attack.

Next week – next blog…

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