How A Product Manager Can Avoid Being Fired

Product managers need to know how to not get fired
Product managers need to know how to not get fired
Image Credit: Hammonton Photography

Ok, so there really is no pride here: I’ve been fired. Not only have I been fired, but it turns out that I’ve been fired a lot. Like a total of seven times. Now, in my own defense I’ve worked for 14 different companies, but seven is still a very big number. I must confess that I really don’t quite know why I’ve been fired so much. As my sister has told me, you know there is one thing in common about all of the jobs that you’ve been fired from – you! I’m a nice guy. I don’t drink, do drugs, I show up for work on time and work the whole day, I get along with people, etc. And yet I still seem to keep getting fired. The good news for you from the flaming car wreck that is my career is that I’ve learned a lot about how to avoid getting fired (don’t do what I did). Let’s talk about what you need to do as product manager in order to hold on to your job.

  1. Be careful when your boss leaves the company. You need to prove your worth to your new boss –they don’t know you. Find the time to talk with the new boss and find out what they want you to do – and then do it! Maintain a good working relationship with your boss’ boss in order to make sure that if your boss complains about you, his boss will tell him to work it out.

  2. Make sure that you are valuable to the team. Don’t hide information, rather become super valuable to everyone. Try to position yourself so that if they let you go, a lot of projects would at best slow down and at worst grind to a halt.

  3. Out of sight means out of mind. If you don’t work side-by-side with your boss, make an effort to keep in touch with them. Always be asking what they want you to do and then deliver it and make sure that it meets their needs. Understand who holds the power in the company and make sure that you are valuable to them. Any decision to get rid of you will probably take multiple people agreeing to do it, work to prevent this kind of agreement from happening.

  4. When starting a new job, be very careful how you interact with the people who work for the company. You don’t want to come across as being too disruptive. Communicate that you are there to help them be successful and ask them what they need you to do. You are going to want to avoid being seen as a change agent or as somebody who has a different way of doing everything. If enough people speak up and say that you are rocking the boat, management may try to appease them by letting you go.

  5. Understand that if your boss is fired, you may be next. If this happens, you need to find out who will be stepping into his shoes. Once you do this, you need to find the time to talk with them, explain all of the valuable things that you are currently doing, and ask what else they need you to do. Provide this new person with status updates so that they understand just how very valuable you are. Make it so they realize that they don’t understand everything that is going on, but you do. Make it so they can’t get rid of you because you are the person who can keep things moving forward.

  6. Understand that you live and die by email. Always stay on top of your email and reply quickly to people when they reach out to you. Understand who your boss fears and make sure that anytime that person gets in touch with you that you answer their questions so that they don’t have to go to your boss to get information.

  7. Don’t fall asleep at work. Learn to listen to what your boss is trying to tell you to do – don’t talk over him / her. Understand that when you are listening to him, you should not just be waiting for him to pause before you jump back into the conversation with what you want to say. Echo back to your boss what you think that he wants you to do in order to get confirmation that you have heard him correctly. When you deliver work to him, review it and make sure that you have done what he needed to have done.

What All Of This Means For You

So I’m willing to admit it – I’m not perfect. I’d like to say that I’ve had a risky career because I’ve been willing to work for a number of startups. However, I’ve gotten fired from both the big guys as well as the little guys. Clearly there is something about me that makes it difficult to hold on to a job. However, I have now collected a LOT of experience that I can share with you so that you won’t make the same mistakes that I’ve made.

In order to hold on to your job, communication is key. When your boss changes you need to make sure that you set up a good communication path with your new boss. It will be harder for your employer to get rid of you the more valuable you are. If your boss does not see you every day, then you need to make an effort to stay in touch with him / her. Make sure that you don’t show up and make waves when you are starting a new job. If your boss is let go, you may be next. Email is critical and so this means that you always need to be staying up on your emails. Learn to listen to what your boss is telling you and echo back what you think that they have asked you to do.

Are all of my firings in the past? I sure hope so. With a little luck, I have learned enough in getting to this point in my career where I can understand the environment that I am working in and I will be able to take steps to prevent myself from getting fired for the eighth time. Listen to what I am telling you and you just might be able to hold on to your product manager job!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If you think that your boss is preparing to fire you, what steps should you take before that happens?

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