Thursday, June 26, 2008

Five Reasons It's a Good Idea to Stay on a Sinking Ship

There are always some sure-fire ways that you can tell your company is in trouble.

The floors haven't been vaccumed in recent memory because the cleaning crew is now one 80-year-old woman who comes in every other month to dust. You are asked to re-use ovenight envelopes -- and not because the boss cares about the company's carbon footprint. Unknown people are seen going into top brass offices and holding closed-door meetings for hours. You catch the boss working on his resume.

All signs that the ship is sinking, and the rats are headed for the exit. Time for you to join the exodus, right?

Not so fast.

Have you ever thought about leaping onto that sinking ship because it could be the smartest career move you've ever made?

Sounds crazy, but it has worked for plenty of people. I once interviewed a woman whose company was in deep financial doo-doo and was doing everything but selling the copy machine on eBay in order to survive. But while others were frantically sending out resumes, she decided to stay put. She volunteered to take on duties left by departing employees, and soon had access to key managers and top decision makers.

The woman told me that the organization became much more open to new ideas, including ones she proposed. She took on duties that challenged her, and was considered a key player when things started to turn around. While she left a year later, she says it was those skills and opportunities presented by the floundering employer that taught her the most.

So, before you grab the resume and head for the exit of a troubled employer, consider:

* The opportunity to grab a dream job. Even if it's only offered on a temporary basis, the chance to fill a position that greatly interests you isn't an opportunity that comes along every day. It gives you a chance to learn the needed skills and really see if it's something you want to pursue.

* The chance to work with others who are at the top of their game. If you're a new employee, chances are it might be years before you gain access to some key people. Even if these people also depart, any chance to work with them for a short time and form a professional relationship could be key in netting you future opportunities.

* The atmosphere may provide more education than an MBA program. Companies that are in trouble can adopt an "anything goes" style, allowing you to try out a variety of skills and learn at a rapid pace. It's a go-ahead-and-try-it environment, and that's something many MBA students would kill for.

* You're going to be on center stage. Floundering companies don't have time to handhold anyone. You're going to be asked to deliver immediately, and your limitations will be only what you make them. Sleep? Who needs it, right?

* It can help you set up your own company. Sometimes learning what not to do is the best lesson . There are lots of successful people who will tell you they learned most from their failures. Just think of how much you'll learn about what to do -- and what not to do -- being on the front lines of a failing enterprise.

How about it -- do you think the possible rewards make it worth the risk to stay with a failing company?


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Anonymous said...

That's an interest idea. When there is a problem, there is always a opportunity.

It's like running in the opposite direction as everyone else & grab the opportunities left, right & center.

Actually the value of the experience even if it sinks would be great.
In my previous company, I was sent to another site to help out the plant. The situation was not good & we went their to learn new roles & clear up some of the problem.

I came out of the experience learning a lot in a few short months, because I was fixing the toughest problem in those roles which allowed me to have alot of lessons learned from the situations & great stories to tell.
If you are in such a situation, make sure you put on your learning cap.

Anita said...

Stories like yours should provide great hope to a lot of people who are worried about their companies. Even if things are looking bad, it may not be the end for them...but a new beginning. Just think of the cool stuff you were able to put on your resume because you took the road less traveled!
Thanks for posting.

Tiffany said...

It's a sad but interesting insight that some companies have to wait until the ship is literally sinking to begin opening up to new ideas, ways of doing things, and insight from employees.

So, to play the devil's advocate, what if you decided to stay on a sinking ship, and you all go under? It's a big risk, after all, to take. So can you play the - well I stayed but even my best efforts didn't get us afloat - card to employers when you start looking for a job? Or is that a career disaster?

Anita said...

Ahh...that's the million dollar question, isn't it? Is it worth the risk?
I can't see myself doing something like that, but the people who have done it said they just "smelled" the opportunity. I guess it comes down to trusting your gut, and willing to say that the payoff is worth the risk.
And, why not play up the fact to other employers that you stayed? That says a lot about loyalty, dedication and hard work, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

In the early 80s I stayed with a sinking ship. It was a little start-up company that ended up going bankrupt. The only two employees they kept to finalize things after the doors were locked were the accountant and me.

You are right, I ended up having constant contact with the CEO and President of the company. They were all appreciative and gave me wonderful references.

On a side note:
The little company that went bankrupt was in the early stages of developing a new type of technology. They sold it to an American company who developed it further to what we know today as voicemail.

Anita said...

That's a great story!
Often in smaller companies there is greater and easier access to the CEOs, etc., but the larger the company, the more layers there are and the more political maneuverings that are required. When a company is going through tough times, however, a lot of that is stripped away. That's when someone can really gain access.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Anita -
This post demonstrates that knowing when to take a risk is a key skill for an employee as well as an entrepreneur. To be able to see an opportunity under circumstances you describe takes a special kind of employee.

When I worked on Wall Street, I endured a round of lay offs, and I know that it was almost as tough for those of us left "standing" as for those who got a pink slip. If you're willing to focus on specific goals and work long and hard, there can be a silver lining.

Thanks for the great food for thought!

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anita said...

I guess if it does take a special kind of employee to stick around,then that would make them even more valuable. Not only to the employer they try to help, but also to future employees who see that this is the kind of person who is willing to stick with it and turn lemons into lemonade! (I hate that saying, but it gets the point across.)
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the timely encouraging post. I've been battling with this conflict for months as my employer was purchased by a competitor last winter and has been slowly chipping away the staff who stayed on board (we've had several rounds of layoffs and more are still expected). It's not necessarily a sinking ship, but the risk is still the same.

I've been sticking around for many of the reasons you state, but everyone around me certainly thinks I'm crazy for doing so...and maybe they're right.

Anita said...

I can imagine it would be a scary time for you. But the people I've spoken with who have done this say that they just knew in their gut it was the right thing for them to do at the time. It sounds like that's what you're going even though others may think you're crazy, for you, at this time, it may be just what you need to be doing.
Good luck and let me know, if you can, how things turn out.
Thanks for posting.