Dear J.T. & Dale: I'm department head of a small state agency. Recently, our HR manager approached me to confide I should be aware two of my peers are actively trying to get me fired. Their plan is one of them will take over my (very successful) department and my salary could be used to enhance raises for the coming year. She thought I should watch my back. Since then, I was given a one-day suspension because of missing documentation in a report. I believe I am being forced out. How would you recommend I deal with this? - Paulette
J.T.: It's important you seek guidance and find allies. I would ask the HR manager for advice on who you could speak with at a higher level. If your peers end up getting you fired, that would affect the agency's obligations with respect to unemployment, and it would impact your references - yikes! Address this as quickly as possible.
Dale: Indeed. Your career danger level is definitely flashing Code Red. Here's the first issue to address: Are they right? Would the group be better off if you were gone? You have to figure out their best case for getting rid of you, then make a better one for keeping you, laying out a detailed argument that you and your department are essential.
J.T.: To do that, inventory your performance. Organizations (including governmental ones) give the highest value to employees who can save them money or generate revenues. Start pulling together facts that prove you are doing one or both. In particular, if you can show that your financial contribution is more than that of the person gunning for your job, you'll have a strong case.
Dale: Further, this would be a good time to visit other managers and executives, particularly those in senior positions, and seek their advice. They may have good suggestions, but even if they don't, having asked them for advice increases the odds that they will be your allies.
J.T.: Whatever you do, don't sit back to see how things play out. Assuming that management will do the right thing is unwise, because they will make decisions based on the information provided to them. Make certain that the majority of that information is coming from you.
Dale: Treat it as a political decision, and remember this: The decision about you made by Executive X will be the decision that most benefits Executive X. Don't make your argument just about you and your performance, but make it about your boss and the agency, and who can do most to help both. Here's a general rule for your future and for everyone reading this: Assume that your main job is to make your boss look good and get him or her promoted. Do that, and you'll be the one most likely to look good and get promoted.