When 300 engineers at a major East Coast utility were told to re-apply for jobs in their department as part of a major reorganization, they were livid.
"I've been here 18 years." (Longevity means immunity to change)
"I hired the idiot who's running this thing." (If I gave someone their job, they won't mess with mine)
"They already know what I can do." (I only have to prove myself once)
"No other utility has ever had to go through this." (This place isn't being run according to the norm)
"No one told me this could happen when I was hired." (This wasn't part of the deal)
"My wife and I have planned our retirement for 23 years." ('They' are responsible for my cradle-to-grave existence)
The Danger of The "Invisible Assumed"
When you signed on with your current employer you probably discussed:
Salary, benefits, corporate vision, the marketplace, performance expectations.
Chances are you won't become really upset as a result of any of those items changing a bit. It's the ones you assumed to be true that will come back to haunt you.
You'll become disenchanted as a result of someone breaking the implicit contract.
The contract that you created in your own mind. Visible only to you.
In the real-life example above, the implicit contract had to do with the unspoken nature of Utilities:
Stable, Secure, Lifetime Employment, Methodical Career Progression...
No one ever said those things out loud. They were just "known."
Q: Do you and your spouse get upset about what you talked about before you got married or what you assumed would be true?
Tips for Employees and Employers
1. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out your assumptions.
2. Make a written list.
3. Check out their validity with your prospective company or boss.
1. Before introducing a change, take a look at the culture.
2. What is it that drew people to your company in the first place?
Security? Action? International travel? Work close to home?
3. If one or more of those traditional characteristics (the unspoken attraction) will change, then help neutralize the impact by discussing it openly.
Tell what is going to happen and why. Explain the reality of implicit agreements and that you realize this might be one such example. You'll give people a mental model to understand what they are experiencing.
Finally: What happened to our 300 engineers?
a. They had been told before the process started that no one would lose a job with the company. They would hopefully be better matched as a result of the process. And, everyone did remain employed.
b. The department as a whole was more effective.
c. About 10% chose to retire rather than make the change.
What is your implicit contract?
If you have to act on it, will it match the explicit reality?