When Jessica Chan's boss was fired, the part-time salon receptionist had mixed feelings. It was an awkward situation for everyone at her salon in Toronto's financial district, but Chan decided to make the most of it. She held a team meeting with co-workers — asking them for input on how the salon was being run — and designed new policies to streamline daily operations, including a weekly schedule for ordering supplies.
"Showing the salon owner that I was able to unite everyone together again, address their concerns, and organize the more administrative tasks, led him to asking me to manage the salon for him," Chan says. OK, OK. Not every employee will land such a sweet promotion when their boss gets the boot. But career experts say there are a few things you can do to navigate this kind of office shake-up — and, potentially, boost your career.
Stay calm, stay professional
It can be a bit shocking when a manager, and especially a direct boss is shown the door. Your mind might be buzzing with worries about being the next person to get axed. But Mark Franklin, practice leader of CareerCycles and co-founder of One Life Tools, says you shouldn't panic. "If you're still there and you haven't been let go, then things are okay for now," he says.
It's also important to keep busy and avoid office gossip — and posting about the firing on social media — says career coach Eileen Chadnick, of Big Cheese Coaching and Chadnick Communications. Even if your boss was a tyrant, bad-mouthing them can sting you in the end, she explains. "Depending on the circumstances, you might be tempted to sing, 'Ding, dong, the Witch is dead' — but don't do it," Chadnick says. "Instead, take the higher road. It will pay off in spades in the short and longer term."
Watch for clues
A boss getting fired could mean they were a weak link in the company. Or it could mean there's more restructuring to come. Franklin says it's important to watch for clues to get a sense of the bigger picture. Has a division recently moved offshore? Is the company branching out in new or different areas? Did the books take a hit last quarter? Answering those questions could mean speaking to coworkers, keeping up with the latest business news, or taking a "good close look at announcements that come out — through a company Intranet or newsletter — and reading between the lines," Franklin says. And, when you get a sense of what's going on behind the scenes, he says it's time to act — which could mean starting your job hunt or trying to capitalize on the situation internally.
Plan for the future
This kind of management change is an opportunity for employees to assess their career goals and show leadership. Franklin says it's good to have three things on your radar: External opportunities, self-employment, or moving up within the company. If the third option is your goal, it's time to show extra initiative to help fill the gap in leadership by taking on extra work, staying a little later, and showcasing your leadership skills. "If there was a project in progress, and it's understood that this project needs to continue, you might step up, have a conversation with your team, and divide and conquer," says Chadnick.
While it might not translate into a bigger leadership role down the line, Chadnick says it's still a great chance to expand your skill set and prove your worth. The timing might also be right for flexing your creative muscles, says Franklin. "If it's that moment and you're feeling your company is on shaky ground, and you've been thinking, 'Gee, I have a business idea'... this is the chance to put those possibilities out on the radar screen," he says. So don't wait around, and definitely don't complain — just embrace the change. "It's up to you to make the most of that opportunity," says Chadnick.
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