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Mike Figliuolo


Surprise! You’re Fired!

You might be at risk and not even know it. How engaged are you?

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2023 - 11:03

Have you ever met someone who was fired from their job? I’ll bet you $50 they said, “Yeah, I never saw it coming.” For some reason, getting canned always comes as a shock to people. They’re clueless as to how bad they’re doing and how close to the door they are.

Makes you wonder: Are you close to the door and you don’t even realize it? Put your hand in the air if that question made you uncomfortable.

There are many reasons people get fired. The company is failing and has mass layoffs. Your boss does a lousy job setting expectations and providing feedback. You’re caught stealing money from petty cash. Those are clear reasons for a canning, and there’s not much you can do about them (except get your fingers out of the petty cash envelope).

Instead, let’s focus on the “clueless” firing. The one where you think all is well, and then an anvil falls on your head. Let’s explore how we get ourselves in those situations in the first place, then discuss how you can recover before you get pink-slipped.

I sucked at what I did

First, a story to illustrate. At one point early in my career, I sucked at what I did. I had been doing very well on performance reviews for a long time. Then I ended up on “the project.” You know the one—the one that’s not challenging, the work is tedious, and the project manager is less than motivating. That project.

Without realizing it, I allowed apathy to creep into my performance. I got lazy and did the minimum amount I had to in order to get by. My deliverables were less than insightful and not very inspiring. Work became a 7–11 (which is a.m. and p.m., the consulting equivalent to a 9–5). I was mailing it in.

The weird thing was, I had no clue how badly I sucked. To the client, the work was getting done, and my output seemed to be meeting their needs. My manager was clear on a few occasions that I needed to do more insightful work rather than being satisfied with the minimum. His words simply didn’t register for me.

Then came my progress review after the project was over. I think they created a new rating category titled “You Suck” just for this instance. I was momentarily caught by surprise.

How was I so clueless? Because I was viewing my work from my perspective alone. Had I ever taken a moment to step back to ask, “Am I meeting the needs of my clients, my colleagues, and my boss?” I would have seen how poor my performance was.

My lack of excitement for the project led me to realize (upon reflection) that I had developed a sense of entitlement. The question, “If the project isn’t giving me the excitement, stimulation, and challenge I need, then why should I give it my best efforts?” seemed to run through my pea brain.

Fortunately, I was given another chance after that progress review, and I got my act together. Things went much better going forward because I was more in tune with the needs of my stakeholders. By doing so, projects got more interesting, I got more engaged and excited, and a virtuous circle ensued.

How to stop sucking

First, realize employee engagement is a two-way street. You can’t abdicate responsibility for being a poor performer by saying, “Well, my boss and company haven’t engaged me.” That’s a load of crap. If you personally seek ways to engage, I guarantee those opportunities will find you. No matter how tedious the project, look for a new angle or skill you can build.

Is the work boring and below your skills? Take on the challenge of training someone else on your team. Redefine the work you’re being asked to do to make it a challenge. Don’t make it about delivering the database; make it about training someone else to deliver a database.

You get what I’m saying.

Second, get over yourself. Stop being myopic about what’s important to you and instead analyze what’s important to your stakeholders. Sure, you could care less about the intellectual stimulation of proofreading a memo that’s part of your company’s deposition. But I’ll bet your corporate counsel finds that proofreading very important, and you doing a great job on it is critical to her ability to win the case for you guys.

If you can make the work important beyond yourself, it goes a long way toward motivating you to do a great job on it.

If you can’t find ways to challenge yourself and see your work as part of a broader whole, your performance will definitely suffer. You can either be lazy and hope you have a great boss who helps you see past these challenges, or you can plod along and wait to be canned. And when firing day comes, I guarantee you’ll be caught unaware because you’ve never looked at your performance through someone else’s eyes.

Homework: Go write down the names of the top five stakeholders who have an interest in the work you’re doing right now. Write down what they really care about and want. Evaluate your delivery of those needs. Evaluate it candidly and honestly. If you’re not really meeting their needs, you’re on a path toward the cannery. If that’s the case, get off your butt and get off that path—go start meeting their needs today and find ways to find challenge in that new work.

Published Oct. 11, 2023, in the thoughtLEADERS Brief on LinkedIn.


About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch (Weiser, 2016) and One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass, 2011), and co-author of Lead Inside the Box (Weiser, 2015). He’s also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.