Your head spins on your way to the meeting. You had glanced down to your ringing cell phone just moments before and saw your boss’s name on the screen. “Can you meet me in the Human Resources Conference Room?” is his question. “Sure, when?” “Immediately.”
Your pulse races and your palms begin to sweat as you walk through the maze of hallways that lead to H.R. You enter the room and accept the invitation to be seated at the table. Across the table from you sits your boss and the H.R. manager. Their contrite, uncomfortable expressions fuel the fire of your fears. You know what’s coming.
“There’s no easy way to put this,” your boss says. “Your performance has led us to decide to move in another direction. Today will be your last day.” You hear nothing more as the two of them finish their canned speech and you are excused from the room to clean out your office.
So think back to your first day on the job. Remember the healthy mix of enthusiasm, eagerness and anxiety wrapping around you. You likely had a list—mental or written—of how you could do it better than your predecessor. How you could improve efficiency, improve relationships with your employees, be more responsive to management and deliver better performance.
In time, though, that day-one vigor waned a bit, didn’t it? Grandiose plans for huge improvement were crowded out by daily distractions. Equipment that wasn’t up to par failed or required emergency repair; employee absences and vacations that needed to be covered; unexpected supplier visits, timecard approvals, employee reviews and company meetings; a false start with the first improvement program that led you to doubt in your own leadership skills.
Eventually you became as disappointed in yourself as you had been in your predecessor and just became another working hack, getting up to the dreaded alarm each day, making your way to the plant, going through the motions and just doing what was necessary to get to the end of the day. You comforted yourself with the knowledge that, while performance wasn’t improving under your leadership, at least it wasn’t getting any worse. And besides, who was anybody kidding that performance could really get any better given the cards you were dealt?
Thus your current predicament: termination.
If only you had it to do over again, you think. You should have avoided the temptation to succumb to excuses. If you could do it over, you would have found a few more hours in a week to focus on continuous improvement initiatives. Given another chance, you wouldn’t have backed down so easily when your subordinates questioned your ideas or your improvement initiatives.
Once the initial shock of your termination transforms itself into acceptance you learn a bit about your replacement. The good news for the employer is that the perfect replacement for you has been found. Someone they believe will drastically improve results. A take-charge, aggressive, results-oriented, goal-driven individual. What’s more, your replacement has direct experience in the industry. He knows your equipment, knows your customers, knows the company’s culture and even knows all of your employees. He’s the perfect replacement who will hit the ground running.
You look out the window of your office to see your boss introducing your replacement to your team. He looks strikingly familiar. He looks like … the Man in the Mirror. Congratulations, your replacement is … You!
The alarm you once dreaded breaks the early morning silence and you open your eyes. It was all a dream.
In the “Business Turnaround” seminars I run, I invite attendees to -- at least twice each year -- spend an entire day viewing their business from the paradigm of a turnaround expert whose job it is to analyze the performance of the attendees’ business. In other words, answer the question: “What would you do differently if you were hired to replace yourself?” By stepping back at least twice each year from the day-to-day tasks and minutia that cloud a broader perspective of the business, they become strategic and finish the day with a list of improvements they can make in the next six months. The feedback I often hear is that these two days are the most creative and productive of the year.
It struck me not long ago that this might be a good practice for all of us, regardless of our positions in our organizations. Tomorrow, when the dreaded alarm goes off, ask yourself then and throughout the day, “If I had been fired yesterday, what would my replacement do today to improve my area of responsibility?”
The day after tomorrow, get started on your list.