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I was in a situation where my manager retired, and we had an acting manager. It was at the same time that funding was less stable, and there were layoffs. At the time I thought I was quite secure: my team lead and customers were all very happy with my work; I was the only one available for some of the work; I was a go-to person for others on my team. However, both my team lead and I were laid off.

If I should run into this acting manager in a social situation (it's already happened once, so it could happen again), would there be any benefit to me asking his views about the political missteps I must have made in that situation, so I can be more aware in the future? Or is each situation enough different that there are probably no lessons to be learned?

(I am aware of some of the missteps taken, from my own perspective. The question is more is there a benefit to getting more information from other perspectives, now that it is past.)

Edit: listing my own missteps makes this less generic, but I know it was more than just budgeting. Certainly, that was why there were layoffs, but selecting me stunned my co-workers and severely angered the customers. However, my team-lead, who I strongly supported, was having a lot of difficulty with the acting manager. Simply being under an acting manager, which can't be helped, is a bad position to be in during layoffs. I also made choices, that in retrospect, helped put me in the wrong place. I've learned some. But I'm still fairly poor at the political game, and that can be just as important as doing good work. The question is then asking if this is a valid way of learning more about work politics in general.

  • Well, it's not clear from your question that your missteps were the cause of your release--what if there just wasn't budget anymore for your position? – Garrison Neely Apr 25 '14 at 16:30
  • People can get laid off for a combination of reasons and frankly, it's hard for me to pinpoint from your post how you got the axe. OK, the decision to lay you off was not one of the world's smarter decisions and said decision looks like cutting one's nose to spite one's face but again, making stupid decisions has always been a management prerogative. I have yet to experience management that admits that a decision they made was a dumb one, so I presume that your search for answers is doomed from the get-go. Best to collect the references, move forward and not look back. – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 25 '14 at 18:03
  • Don't get hung up or obsess about possible political missteps. When they want to get you, they get you. Regardless of what you do, or how carefully you tiptoe the line. Not much you can do about it. Call it "kismet" :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 25 '14 at 18:08
  • No exit interview? It could just be the math; get rid of 2 people at the same cost of getting rid of 5. – user8365 Apr 25 '14 at 18:46
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You are unlikely to get a straight answer assuming that you are correct and their were political reasons behind your being laid off. Admitting something like this is a lot like admitting that you were being petty.

It's also possible that your manager did not know why the management above wanted you and your team lead let go. It may be the result of some perceived misstep or even being covertly being thrown under the bus on something else. It could also be that you and the team lead were paid the same amount as 3 or 4 other developers. Many companies determine manager bonuses based on the number of people they manage. So if they have X amount and can cut their 2 highest paid people and keep 4 other people that means a bigger potential bonus for the manager. I wont comment on the short sightedness of eliminating your best people making it less likely that you will meet the goals needed for that bonus, but it happens.

So no, there is no good reason to try to bring it up. Your former manager may not even remember it if you were not under him very long.

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If I should run into this acting manager in a social situation (it's already happened once, so it could happen again), would there be any benefit to me asking his views about the political missteps I must have made in that situation, so I can be more aware in the future?

How certain are you of making political missteps? Perhaps the executive management thought of keeping on their friends and kicked out the rest that you would have no control to do anything about.

Another component here is how well do you think the acting manager would remember this situation in the future. While you could try something like, "Hey, remember those days at XYZ..." it may or may not go anywhere.

Or is each situation enough different that there are probably no lessons to be learned?

I'd likely argue the possibility of lessons to be learned is above zero, the probability of having the open discussion to get the other perspectives isn't that high that I'd try everything to get there. If I ran into the manager in social situations again, I might be tempted to try to have a private chat to get some more details a couple of times but after that I'd let it go. I also would be tempted to think that the acting manager may not have that much more insight into this than you do as it could be that he was just following orders from someone higher in the company.

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