Reinvent Yourself by Firing Yourself

Every day we are bombarded by dire economic news. The most shocking headlines have come from the steady stream of reports on massive workforce layoffs in every industry imaginable, from media and financial services to manufacturing and technology. In fact, by the end of 2008, roughly 2 million workers had received pink slips from employers. By November, the national unemployment rate reached a 15-year high of 6.7%—African American unemployment stood at 11.2% —while the four-week average for job claims increased to more than 540,000, a level unmatched in 26 years. Among the hardest hit have been white-collar workers: Outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas found that in November, major corporations led by Citigroup and other financial service firms shed more than 181,000 employees, the greatest number of such workforce casualties in seven years.

Corporations, large and small, have not fared much better. According to figures released in December by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, business bankruptcy filings increased 49% during the federal government’s 2008 fiscal year, from 25,925 to 38,651. Small businesses, considered the engine of our economy, have been severely hampered by the ongoing credit crunch. And as leviathans, such as the Big Three automakers, remain trapped in an economic tailspin, their suppliers desperately seek to steer clear of the wreckage.

So what should you do if you’re an executive who has avoided the recent maelstrom and still receive a paycheck at a viable albeit leaner company? Or what if you’re a CEO of an enterprise that’s in search of the magic bullet to grow revenues, boost market share, and snare lucrative contracts? My advice is simple: fire yourself.

I’m not sharing with you the punch line to a bad joke. Instead, I’m offering you a powerful strategy that can help you reinvent—and reinvigorate—your career or company. As an executive or an entrepreneur, you operate a business that is under siege from an unmerciful economy and predatory competitors. Survivor’s guilt, lethargy, and outmoded thinking will not enable you to survive in today’s business environment. Innovation and execution will.

I embraced the concept of self-termination when I read a blog by Avon CEO Andrea Jung. A few years back, she was on the firing line after missing revenue and profit targets for two consecutive quarters. A board member told her that she was going to be dismissed in a few months if she didn’t correct course. He advised Jung to “fire” herself over the weekend and “rehire” herself as the company’s new turnaround artist. The move allowed her to make hard choices—cutting 30% of her staff, changing her marketing strategy, and revising poor investment decisions. Within two years, Jung had produced Avon’s best financial performance in decades—without compromising the company’s core values.

By taking a similar tack, you can release the baggage of emotion and convention to give your career a boost or your company a fresh start. To be successful in this ever-changing climate, rethink everything and fully understand today’s global marketplace to seize every possible employment and entrepreneurial opportunity. That’s the

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