My book contribution "From Laid Off to Paid Off" is a story of redefining life after going through a corporate redundancy and finding a new place down under which we call home
While the book has been officially launched in Melbourne back in November 2019, we haven't done any Sydney based launch then.
My book contribution covered our move to Australia in 2016, starting with a leadership training in Sydney back in May 2016.
Therefore I launched it exactly four years afterwards at a virtual birthday party over Zoom with attendees from all over the world.
Here is the video recording on my YouTube channel.
Instead of just making the PDF available, I want to provide you with an enhanced experience around the book. It comes with audiobook versions, narrated slides, videos and a personalised signature in two versions:
In addition to "Lessons I Learnt" I also recorded my earlier stories "Curiosity at the Heart of Emotional Intelligence" (from "Leading Well") and "Lead Not Manage" (from "Leaders of Influence")
Taking a workforce redundancy as the chance for change towards a better self
Nobody plans for the situation where their employer will declare their position as redundant. In most cases, there is not even a warning sign visible. At least, this is often the view of those affected by this massive impact on their professional career.
The same happened to me - and I am grateful for the personal development opportunities to learn from that unwanted lesson.
Some companies do indeed run through a series of workforce reductions which might be known internally or even in the public domain, when they have to report it being listed at a stock exchange. But even in those circumstances, why should it hit you when there are other colleagues who could be affected as well?
Let me share my story, from the unwanted arrival of the situation, to how to enter the change curve, towards inspiring others how to deal with redundancy. Unfortunately this resilience has become a work skill required by more and more corporate employees during the course of their career, apparently even up to three times, according to latest statistics.
There are days when we believe the world within and around us are in balance. That seemed to be my case on a Thursday in early October when I kicked off a two-day promotional sales activity with the internal sales team of my company. On that Friday morning, I just wanted to ask my manager if we could skip our regular weekly one-on-one meeting, given our face to face meetings that week and to keep the focus on that team activity. He insisted on the time slot, so I came in with first results from the activity.
"Come in and have a seat; I already brought a cup of camomile tea for you," he greeted me with an unusually formal body language and approach. Full of energy and in a good mood, I ignored the atypical opening to the meeting.
"We spent good time together this week. I like how you lead the inside sales team, despite the fact that they are working for an external company. This virtual leadership role fits you well."
Quickly I thanked him for that view, but some corner of my brain realised that there was a "but..." within the tone.
"Despite that, and with deep regret I must inform you that our common journey will soon come to an end, as the company has decided to cancel your position."
I had not been prepared for this message, neither for the timing.
Of course, the overall company results were not that impressive during the last half year, but my KPIs for the current quarter were in good order. I sat in stunned silence.
"Hello, did you lose your voice?"
Well yes; what could I say in this case? What was I feeling in this very moment? I'm sure nobody is prepared for this message, especially when it comes out of the blue.
"I can understand that this must be a shock for you. If you want, you can go home and let your family know, as this indeed comes unexpectedly."
"No," I told him after getting a bit of my voice back. "The team needs me for the activity; I'll continue this together with them."
Maybe I wanted to buy some time to figure out what to say at home later.
"Look, I don't have anything in writing for you yet, as I only got this decision this morning from our regional vice president. I wanted to let you know as quickly as possible to give you the facts. The potential last day will be most likely be the end of February. There is still plenty of time. I'm confident you will find another role that fits with your experience. Let me know; I'm here to help you."
Help me? What about avoiding this situation in the first place?
But who knows, maybe the redundancy has already been on the radar half a year ago and he managed to prevent it all this time?
So many questions were flying through my head. I felt numb. Why did it hit my position and not somebody else's? Why did they decide to tell me today, right before the weekend and not next week when they had more information? What would my family say about it? What does the future look like? I had spent most of my career at this company and identified myself with the culture and values, and often represented the brand in front of small and large groups of customers and partners. Would that all be gone quite soon?
I went back to the internal sales team and operated on autopilot. The activity went well; over lunch time we hit the target with another half day to go. I was lucky that I could 'park' the unpleasant message, at least for a few hours, inside of me.
On my trip home I went through possible scenarios as to how I might want to tell the story and what kind of discussion might follow. I decided the best option would be to deliver the negative messages and news straight away. So I told the news as succinctly as possible:
"My journey in the company will end early next year; they will stop my management position. I can try to find something else inside or will have to look outside."
And now came the second surprise of the day, as my wife immediately looked at the positive aspects of the situation. I had been long enough there anyway; it would be the perfect time for getting out on good terms with a clean break. It was not me who they were taking out, just my role. After so many years I was lucky to get this chance and still remain on good terms. Maybe even with some time off that we could enjoy together, instead of typical short vacations of just one week or ten days when my head was still in the company. "You can thank them; it will be alright," she sensibly concluded.
Wow, that's an admirable way of how to get quickly through the change curve! I wished to be at that positive stage, at least soon.
Given all the unknown variables, I obviously could not sleep that night and played all kinds of possible scenarios through in my head, like in a business case with few solution proposals waiting for the customer to choose what fits them.
But there was nobody to decide except myself.
During the following weeks until the final departure, leaving my team and company with respect, I worked on my mindset to prepare for the future. Instead of doing the same things over and over again, I welcomed the chance for a change.
Like so many fully engaged corporate employees, there was never enough time for proper vacations, despite being granted five weeks in Switzerland compared to other countries with less.
The real vacation time is actually reduced by the expectation to be always reachable by incoming emails and other notifications on smartphones & tablets, even when taking well-deserved holidays. That resulted in a negative work-life balance, and I decided to change it.
While it has been seen rather negative in the past if somebody is not employed in the well-experienced middle age of 40+, a "sabbatical" is now perceived positively when a time out of a couple of months can be dedicated to a rejuvenating period.
There are plenty of advantages which come with a sabbatical:
We decided to take a longer trip from Switzerland to New Zealand, following our dream of returning to the same place where we had studied English some 17 years before, but finally exploring the country in more detail than on our initial trip.
And what happened? Beyond the beauty of the South Pacific region, we realised that work-life balance seems to be better Down Under! A short week in Sydney within the New Zealand travels enticed me to consider a move into this marketplace of creativity where people from all walks of life and countries work together.
Australia is also known as a test-market for new technologies, which is great for an IT sales professional like me. But how to plan such a move, find a visa, a job and - more importantly - people around us to know, like and trust?
Quickly I changed my mindset from running in the perpetually repeating hamster-wheel of work in a well-known corporate life, to another departure into the unknown, but this time with a clear target instead of a touristic trip.
Completing an inventory of my own wants, needs and skills, I realised that a management training with accreditation was missing, to officially learn what I had been doing already. I heard that Australia enjoys an international reputation for education, since a friend completed his MBA in Adelaide.
After some research, I chose the "Advanced Diploma of Leadership and Management" at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) because they are the only organisation to provide leadership skills assessments for the government, and thus represent the gold standard in leadership in Australia.
Treating the institute's employees like my colleagues helped me to gain trust and a genuine interest in their work. AIM's recently separated membership organisation, the Institute of Managers and Leaders (IML), runs a series of events with further networking possibilities. In Australia, most people are open to talk to others as it is a cultural melting pot of people from many generations.
So I took two months off to explore Sydney as a potential place to plan our future, attend this leadership program to gain another qualification, learn about the visa options and how to find employment using my backpack of experience. Booking a trip from Zurich to Sydney was no different to a European trip, just longer! Sounds good in theory, but there were further challenges and lessons to learn.
Can you imagine how it feels, not knowing anyone after moving to a new place or testing it out, as in my case? Even when surrounded by many people, it can hurt and provoke a feeling of being alienated instead of safe and home.
What sounds exciting for a business trip or vacation can be a scary experience, at least in the beginning. There was no safety net if anything went wrong, no advice from friends or neighbours, and you can feel totally lost and alone. In addition, things can worsen when language or culture are different from your home and a weekend trip to loved ones is out of reach.
Mobility and travel opportunities enable the dream of moving to another location. Relocations can happen between two jobs, when a company sends their own employees as expats to another country or when planning a new life with the hope of better conditions. For many of us who dream, a move to another state within the same country or to another continent may become a nightmare of social isolation.
The experience in a new place really depends on the people around you. However, building a local network requires strategic planning in advance, rather than waiting for the fallout of being lost to take place. I therefore planned this exercise carefully with my intention of moving to Sydney.
Connecting with strangers is not just about learning how to exist in a new place; it is about learning how to live and thrive. The people I met were curious about my story and what brought me there, so I felt accepted and welcomed. Motivated to make a difference, the place gave me energy for building a strong network in a reasonably short timeframe, using the following steps.
First things first: I made a detailed analysis of Australia before I even booked the trip. This is surely easier within the same country, although moving to another state can also result in substantial differences. Starting with macro-economic factors, typical consumer touch points like favourite shopping areas, researching the food options and studying current media topics helped me build conversational and relational topics.
When I moved from my Swiss domestic position to my international role within the same company some years ago, my colleagues appreciated my interest in their local marketplace after extensive preparation. To gain further competence in my largest market in Russia, I learnt to read the Cyrillic alphabet. Memorising the relevant places of interest and observing the daily life in Moscow, I could engage with customers like a seasoned expat, instead of a one-time visitor.
During my trial period of two months living in Sydney, I researched and breathed in the city life and enjoyed accommodation in ten different Airbnb's. This was much more relational than renting an apartment or hotel room, and helped me distinguish the characters of different suburbs, experience several house types and estimate commuting times. Google Earth didn't tell me how hilly the walking areas in Sydney can be! Personal experience became my newest friend and ally.
Surely there were already other people from my home in the new place? I used LinkedIn and Facebook to find out who was already working there or knew somebody to connect with. A referral from a first-tier connection was a good start for a remote conversation. In most cases it was quite easy to reach out and meet them later for a coffee. Usually expats are happy to share their experience and let others learn from their stories.
The benefit of nurturing social networks over time speaks for itself. Moving within the same company helps to create connections quite easily. Before I started my Down Under adventure, I connected with local colleagues from my former company to gain valuable tips. Those returning from an overseas assignment were helpful as well.
The best way to create a local network and exchange with people remains attending face to face events. Small businesses meet regularly at breakfast events of Business Network International (BNI) and similar organisations who encourage referrals with a "givers gain" mentality. Service clubs like Rotary run regular meetings without the need for a membership. Most attendees of these events are usually well-connected and believe in active networking.
In Sydney I attended regular professional networking events, Meetup groups and InterNations, the world's largest expat network. Most of their members have moved Down Under not too long ago, found their way at work and made friends. However, it's also very important to cultivate an interest in the new place rather than just reliving your old life.
LinkedIn was my first choice to find relevant contacts at the new location. The algorithm suggests prospects based on the location which can be set only once, even in separate profiles per language (e.g. English and German). Very active users on social media might struggle here, as two markets need to be served.
Whoever believes using business card is an old school instrument is missing out a good chance to connect. Face to face networking events and talking to people requires exchanging contact details and remembering conversations. Handing over a nicely presented card is much more favourable than writing names and email addresses on scraps of paper. In addition, it can be difficult to spell certain names (take mine for instance!).
The alternative is a LinkedIn connection request on the spot. Without the time to craft a personalised message, the hook of the topics covered at the first encounter is not documented, resulting in a missed opportunity for follow up.
On my first trip to Sydney before eventually moving over, I ordered printed business cards with a professional title, local phone number and residential address along with a photo (rather uncommon in Australia, however it proved really helpful). Adding a QR code covering my LinkedIn profile URL also turned into faster connection requests.
With a growing network each day, proper follow up was needed for another exchange online or in person. In my approach I didn't focus on personal gain, rather on the key to proper networking; providing help to others with a genuine interest in people. The time and coffee invested will surely pay back, even if it's not obvious in the first place. As mentioned earlier, many people might be curious towards unexpected advice and help.
When I stayed in Sydney looking for my next professional role, I helped another person in the same situation within my newly established network. I was very happy that he landed a promising interview with my help. To quote LinkedIn expert Koka Sexton: "Networking means providing value after careful, active listening."
Considering the examples above, it is indeed possible to meet many interesting people in a short period of time. This is a rewarding experience, mixed with a mindset of active listening which can provide value to your next steps. However, it is important to remember those fruitful discussions a month later - not everybody is active on LinkedIn or social media. Commenting on the collected business cards won't do the job either.
To keep track of my networking efforts, I created a spreadsheet highlighting the event, discussion points, storage of contacts (LinkedIn, Outlook, Facebook, business card) and a comment as to how we could mutually add value to each other in the future.
When moving to a new location, the local network growth can be exponential. It is therefore better to be well organised to enable further exchanges. Arriving with good organisational and time management skills surely helped me. Following those steps to establish a network in Sydney required a lot of enthusiasm and persistence to be successful.
After further job searching in Sydney remotely while being back in Zurich for a couple of weeks, I found the right company which liked my work experience abroad and my approach locally, so I received my visa sponsorship.
During my third trip to Sydney that year for the face to face interviews and contract signing, I asked myself if those weeks back in Switzerland were just like vacations, as I could immediately reconnect with my already established local network in Sydney. Australia was becoming home!
Receiving the work visa within just 11 days, we packed our container in a rush and finally moved to Sydney, starting our new adventure. The journey was completed, from laid off to paid off.
And the inner journey along the change curve showed me what was possible in accepting my redundancy situation and finding out what I could gain on personal development.
Summarising the steps from the first message, I went through seven milestones:
The bold letters together result in ROADMAP, which stands for a planned way forward, instead of just a journey. For all others in such a situation, I suggest proper planning, exploring and acting wisely to find the right balance between just moving to another company and taking the chance for a real change.
Living in Sydney for three years now, the daily effort into building a network paid off as a rewarding experience. Over my corporate career, I transitioned from an introvert to an active networker with a passion to help others.
The redundancy helped me to learn more lessons than expected, while feeling happier and more useful than ever before.
About the author: Gunnar Habitz helps organisations to advance social as highest performing customer engagement channel. Turning his passion for Social Selling into a profession, he enjoys providing value and insight as Senior Partner & Alliance Manager at Hootsuite along the mission to champion the power of human connection.
As a Chartered Manager at the Institute of Managers and Leaders (IML), he mentors the next generation of leaders. Find more content about leadership, networking and #socialselling on www.gunnarhabitz.com.au.
It was a pleasure running my birthday as a Zoom event this year with the book launch. Great to see so many participants joining from plenty of countries!