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It's Not Them. It's You.

It’s been nearly two months since the beginning of an IBM restructuring that left thousands of people without a job, and the negative comments still pour on the web with an unequivocal message: “It’s management’s fault. Poor leadership and short-term thinking. The company is doomed.”

I get it. It hurts.

It took most people by surprise. It horribly destabilized plans, at best. In the blink of an eye, families (including mine) had to re-evaluate BIG decisions (about health care, education for their children, elder care, and lifestyle), adjust plans, and figure out how to deal with this very daunting turn of events.


Some things will help improve your situation, and some won’t. Venting lets you blow off steam at the injustice and indignity you feel may have touched you, but does not move you an inch closer to getting a new job, or even more importantly, to drawing lessons from what happened to you.

To move forward, a critical first step is to recognize the role we play in whatever happens to us. If we don’t take full responsibility for our actions and current condition we are like adult versions of the toddler who bumps onto a coffee table and expects comfort from a loved one who will, with the best of intentions, point to the “bad table” as the cause of the accident.

Secondly, while it may offer some level of comfort to think of the loss of a job as a somewhat removed, macro level event (“The company is undergoing a major restructuring. My job was just caught in that wave”), this type of thinking leaves out the “micro” event, your immediate experience, which in this case is that jobs were lost, but not everybody’s. You may have peers that preserved their positions with the company, and it is much to your benefit to consider the reasons their reality today is different from yours.

As part of my 19 years of experience with IBM, I had the opportunity to interview fifty of IBM’s most senior leaders from different geographies, lines of business and job functions, and collect their perspectives on what they saw as core success habits. One of the emerging insights is that at a fundamental level, it is important to think of Skills, Experiences, and Network as key contributing factors towards professional success. Think of it as “the art of SEN”.


A farmer who wants a thriving field of sunflowers knows that he must plant and care for sunflower seeds. There could be a host of reasons why a person may advance in her career, stagnate, or even be laid off. However, Skills, Experiences and Network are always important, and the old teaching applies: As you sow, so shall you reap.

Below, ten questions to help you assess what it is that you have been sowing:


  1. Do you have a specific, publicly recognized area of eminence that differentiates you from other individuals in your organization?

  2. Is your skill level above that of your peers? Are you a referent leader on the subject matter in which you are expected to contribute to your organization?

  3. Is your skill level such that employing you provides a competitive edge to your company or organization?

  4. Are your skills current and relevant to the company given the company’s strategy? (Wayne Gretzky said “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”)


  1. Are you really learning, engaged in experiences that truly challenge you to operate outside of your comfort zone?

  2. Are you engaged in experiences that will bring value to your organization?

  3. Are you engaged in experiences that match the direction in which you want your career to progress?


  1. Do you have a strong horizontal network, with peers that recognize your leadership in certain areas?

  2. Do you have a strong vertical network, with sponsors, mentors, and people above you in the management chain who could help you move in your desired career direction, and with people below you in the corporate hierarchy, who you could count on to help you attain specific objectives?

  3. Do you have a strong external network, with suppliers, partners and customers who recognize your talent and the value you provide to your organization and the relationship you established with them?

Skills, Experiences and Network need to be developed simultaneously to protect and advance your career. Being weak for an extended period of time in any of these areas is enough to have a stagnant career, at best. It should be no surprise that lacking relevant skills, not being engaged in experiences that move your team or organization forward, or lacking the network that will support you (particularly in difficult organizational times) can result in anybody, regardless of years of service, being out of a job.

If you regularly assess your Skills, Experiences and Network, you can get a sense of your internal motivation, level of engagement, and standing in the organization.

Weakness in any of these areas should prompt you to consider a) what are the drivers behind the weakness and b) whether you are already looking at your own “writing on the wall,” with only a matter of time until you are asked to officially check out.

If through your self-assessment you find…

Weakness in Skills, consider:

  1. How interested are you in learning about the subject matter you are meant to be providing value on? Is the subject matter you are dealing with captivating for you?

  2. Does the organization, or your management line, support your development and growth in what’s expected to be your area of expertise?

  3. Has the field or area you are dealing with changed, requiring you to revise the way you keep your skills current?

  4. Are you really interested in devoting a substantial amount of time to close the skills gap in your field, or would you enjoy more developing skills in a different area?

Weakness in Experiences, consider:

  1. What’s the reason behind your lack of engagement in the kind of opportunities that will develop you for greater roles and responsibility? Is it your personal decision, or is management preventing you from participating in these opportunities?

  2. Are you truly interested in participating in challenging experiences in your particular line of work, or would you prefer to be engaged in experiences that fall outside the purview of your current job scope?

  3. Would you say that the experiences you go through as part of your job make you feel “engaged, and in your element,” or are they often experiences that you go through without major satisfaction and mostly because you have the right skills?

Weakness in Network, consider:

  1. Is your horizontal network weak due to lack of interest? Do you enjoy the team or organization you are working with?

  2. Is your vertical network weak due to lack of management support or lack of interest?

  3. Do you find the idea of broadening the network relevant to your job role exciting? Do you foresee enjoying the growth that would come with the development of such network, or do you see that development as a mere requirement to be able to carry out your job?

Today, it’s not just global conglomerates that can serve the needs of customers in other parts of the world. More than ever before, you, as an individual, can participate with relative ease in the economic activity of national and international markets… as can your competitors.

This is not an easy context for the faint of heart, but precisely because of it, I would advise a strong resolve, focused action, and an optimistic attitude. Whether you are a part of a large company or not, the world still has room for you not just as a person, a valuable member of your family and community, but also as a professional. If through your Skills, Experiences and Network you can bring substantial, differentiated value to a company, team, or individual, and help them move forward towards their goals, then you can be sure that there are abundant opportunities for you to seize.

It all starts with your recognition that your fate is in your own hands, for better or for worse. What you sowed in the past brought you to your present condition, and it is precisely because you are still the author of your own story that what you write on the next pages is entirely up to you. Plan your Skills, Experiences and Network to lead you in your chosen direction and execute your plan with wholehearted intensity. The late entrepreneur Jim Rohn once stated “You can’t hire someone else to do your pushups for you.”

I recognize that this can be a difficult moment in your life. But you have it in you to change your condition for the better. People with much wider gaps in Skills, Experiences and Network than what you have today have managed to close those gaps and develop meaningful and fruitful professional lives.

This is a time of opportunity to reshape how you live. Take it, do not settle, and give the world the best You. You’ll be amazed at the life you can reap.


* H. Jackson Brown Jr., Life's Little Instruction Book (1991)

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