Don’t mistake being costly with “job security”

Too many software and IT professionals joke tongue-in-cheek about “job security”, and I think we need to stop. In almost every case I can remember, the phrase involves some negative situation that would make it hard for someone else to fire us.

So “job security” shows up in many ways:

  1. Being the only person who knows a programming language or how to administer a legacy system
  2. Having all the institutional knowledge in your company in a certain area
  3. Referring to new innovations as just “spin” or “hype” on what we have already been doing
  4. Referring to the temporary constraints others face, including skills shortages, as if they are insurmountable
  5. Blocking introduction or adoption of new technologies, platforms or capabilities that may make you less special

As long as the benefit to be gained from change doesn’t outweigh the value you offer or produce in a given situation, you might feel “safe” in your role. However, the continuous and accelerating pace of innovation in the marketplace means that “safe” cannot be stagnant. We have to always be learning if we don’t want to wake up one day, out of work and wondering what happened and how our employers could “suddenly” undervalue our efforts.

The thing is, employers who accept that competition and marketplace drift compel them to innovate struggle against the constraints they have to endure, including the feeling that they’re held hostage to vendors, platforms, databases and even programmers. They develop contingency plans to cope with threats they expect. It may sound harsh, but they have to if they don’t want those threats to materialize.

When we rest on our laurels, we no longer innovate. When we feel entitled to our positions, we become arrogant. In either case, our relative contributions to our team or company begin to diminish. Meanwhile, our posturing and the corresponding moods and practices that go with it show up to the rest of our organization in the increased costs of trying to work with us. Our job security, if it ever existed, is threatened and we might not even realize it.

Everyone has unique knowledge and ways of thinking – but nobody is irreplaceable. On an agile team, the guru can be a bottleneck and their spurious contributions can actually impede team velocity in the same way that a column of boy scouts marching at varying paces expands and contracts, slowing the overall speed of the group down.

In a team environment, if success involves getting everyone to the goal in a consistent pace according to plan, we would do better to notice and accept the costs we produce when we slow or block innovation, working harder to find ways to enable new capacities and new value from our direct efforts. By taking on the cost of always increasing our value to others we can stop worrying about job security while we focus instead on our positive impact to our organizations.

Are you “secure” in your job or your role? In what ways could you be more valuable than you are today?

(Remember, I don’t require that you identify yourself to post a comment.)

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About ken
Creative insights, passion and technical adrenaline - strategist, agile coach and marketer, providing a good life for wife of 20 years & 2 awesome teenagers!

2 Responses to Don’t mistake being costly with “job security”

  1. Rick Ross says:

    While this doesn’t answer the question you posed, I have also seen “job security” used as an excuse to avoid coding standards, write obfuscated or difficult to understand code, and to roll their own frameworks like a persistence layer rather than using something that has already been proven and tested, like hibernate.

  2. ken says:

    Yep, I have seen that, too. It is frustrating when people adopt that posture because it is not focused on the goal of “shipping quality software that is highly valued, as fast as possible.” How do you handle those situations?

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