Are You Contagious?

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: Organizations behave like living organisms, and are Darwinian in nature. Over the last 40 years, I’ve seen the way a company’s social system responds to who is “hot” or “cold.” When you’re hot, everyone wants to be part of your aura. However, if the community senses the “light dimming” around an executive, the antivirus chaff thrown off can be painful. The higher you are in the organization, the more dramatic the popularity swings. Initially, it’s things like being excluded from certain meetings, communications, fewer calendar invites, and it’s most obvious at executive events when no one wants to get too close (often, literally). Although it’s rationalized as “just business” and “not personal,” one realizes that this phrase is probably the stupidest management cliché ever. Of course it’s personal… Especially if you’re the one with organization “Ebola.”

Liz Ryan is a very insightful career thought leader and regularly posts in Fortune. I like her checklist outlining Ten Signs Your Company Needs You:

  1. You can tell they need you if they contact you all the time, during work hours and after work hours, to ask you questions and get your advice.
  2. You can tell they need you if you have a lot visibility into the future of the company, and are consulted on its future plans.
  3. They need you if they send you around to represent the company on panels, at trade shows and at other high-profile events.
  4. They need you if you are the only person who knows a lot of the procedures. If they often ask you to train newcomers, they probably need you.
  5. They need you if you get a lot of acknowledgment from your managers, and pay raises.
  6. You are valued at work if they seek out your opinion on weighty issues and take your suggestions more often than not.
  7. You are a key player if you are the conduit to your biggest customers.
  8. You are valuable if you have technical skills that few if any other employees possess.
  9. They need you if you have already experienced and triumphed through a similar period of rough seas to the one your company is experiencing now — but this is only true if they know they need you to help navigate, and tell you so.
  10. Lastly, your company needs you if you are central to the way they generate revenue and there is no obvious alternative to keeping you in your job.

Note: I’m adding one to Ryan’s list:

11. The organization needs you if you have a positive influence on advancing the culture of the entire company; if what you do brings a growth and winning mindset to the behavior and aspirational belief. This includes being fundamental to helping the company become great from the inside out 

Frankly if you’re a highly paid executive and not able to check at least seven out of 11, look out. It’s only a matter of time and you will be replaced. Ironically, if the company is too dependent on you, you’re also at risk. If you’re not an executive and you can’t check off seven of 11, you may not be at risk, but you’re also likely not paid great and quite “replaceable.” Gosh, this sounds so harsh… Yet that’s mostly the way it is. If you find yourself being “ghosted” at work, (to borrow a cruel word from my millennial friends), well it’s because you’re contagious or not vital from a strategic perspective. So what does one do?

Character Moves:

  1. The above checklist assumes you already fully embody and live the company values and culture. That’s a given. Now, after that self-assessment, how do you fare against Ryan’s checklist? I believe you need to check off at least seven out of 11. 
  1. After an honest self-assessment, you have two essential choices: Check more off the list, or the organization will eventually check you out. Ouch… But, so directionally true. (Hey… I’m looking in the mirror on this too, so don’t think I’m writing this without self-reflection. Who wants to be ghosted? Geez…)

Virus antidote in The Triangle, 

One Millennial View: The “hot” and “cold” game might seem like a hard truth, but we all play it. It applies to everything: Work, personal relationships, TV shows, movies, hobbies, elections… You name it… Luckily with positions like work, we probably have some control. I know I’d rather be the “fire” emoji, than the “ghost” emoji.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis