“What can I do to ensure that, if I accept a “special assignment,” if it ends I’ll remain employed?”

Question: Alan, I just read your article on “Beware of Temporary Assignments,” in the Job Security section of your blogsite, and it really hit home.

I have been employed with my company for over 10 years. My previous General Manager continually promoted me, and upon his untimely death the Company President promoted me to Plant Manager. When the new General Manager was hired, his responsibilities were actually diminished, and were very similar to my own, as Plant Manager.

I have now been offered/requested to take on a new position: “Lean Champion/Health and Safety Manager.” I fear this may be a way to phase me out, and eventually eliminate this new position – and with it, me.

While the opportunity could be good, I’m afraid it could also not be good. What steps/words should I use in protecting myself in negotiation?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Answer: Your concern is a healthy one – sort of like “defensive driving” of an automobile, because in your car and in your job, you can never be sure of what is just around the next curve. Every new position can be an opportunity, but newly-created positions, in particular, can be perilous.

Though I do not know many important facts, events and circumstances of your situation, and so I am a bit limited in what I can suggest, in this situation, these are the things I generally counsel my own clients:

1. Prepare a memo, to be sent by EMAIL to your boss, and perhaps the Company President (if those two people are, in fact, different people.)

2. Express your appreciation for the ten years of positive working experience, and your hope to work another 20 years for this company.

3. Express, too, your sense of honor at being chosen to fill this new position, and your sense of duty in accepting this assignment for the company’s best interests.

4. However, express your concerns, at the same time, for the possibility that, in one or more unlikely events (whether reconsideration of the new position, or reduction in workforce, or some other unanticipated event) you could inadvertently end up without a useful role in the company, and thus without even a job to support your family.

5. Request WRITTEN assurances that, in the unlikely event the new position does not “work out” for any reasons, the company will find you another position in the company, even if that other position entails (a) temporary assignment, (b) a lower level job, (c) reduced compensation, or (d) limited responsibilities, until an “appropriate position” becomes available.

6. Share your sense that, with such assurances you could devote all of your attention and energy to your new position, without the distraction of worrying.

7. Be frank in your honest belief that the giving, and receiving, of such WRITTEN assurances would be in the interests of all concerned.

8. If you sense a hesitancy to give you the requested assurances, or any uneasiness on the part of the memo’s recipients, listen to your intuition: it may be necessary to consider the “worst-case scenario”: it may be time to look for a new position, from the “temporary security” of your new position.

9. In that new position, do your very best, make sure everyone knows how well you are doing, and keep your eyes and ears open, and watch for any indications that your position is not being highly valued. If you are given significant resources and authority, things are good; if you are denied resources and authority, you may be nothing more than temporary “window dressing.”

10. Stay positive. Stay hopeful. Stay confident. You have done so well in the past; you are likely to do well in the future, too, no matter what you are doing, and where you are doing it. In fact, even if they plan this new position to be temporary, try to prove to them that, under inspired leadership like your own, it is essential to the company’s future success.

11. Please consider dropping an email once in a while to let me know how all is going.

Hope this helps; I really, really do. My best to you.

Al Sklover

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover , All Rights Reserved.