by Leslie Rothman
Most of us are living with the concept “lean and mean”. This is the reality of many organizations today. Operating in an increasingly global marketplace forces companies to get the work done with minimal cost and, despite an often voiced “employees are our greatest asset”, this results in a decreased commitment to employees’ long term futures.
As a result, when times are tough, employee cuts are frequently made. Since the late 1980’s I spent a significant amount of my HR management career on the job cutting side, and have been part of numerous downsizing conversations. In my current work as an Outplacement Coach, I have worked with many individuals impacted by position eliminations. The integration of these experiences leads me to the following recommendations on how to maintain your competitive advantage in these challenging times. I call them;
The 3 Keys to Surviving and Thriving in today’s workplace
- DO WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO
- LEARN TO WORK EFFECTIVELY IN CONSTANT CHANGE
- MANAGE YOUR CAREER STRATEGICALLY
DO WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO
Frequently people who get cut are surprised because they view themselves as competent, loyal, hardworking, “good performers”. Typically this is all true, and the reality is, that isn’t enough. In these competitive times, to stay in the game, being good isn’t good enough. You need to be GREAT at what you do. It’s typical for at least half the people I see as an outplacement provider to say, “I haven’t really liked my job for a while. I’ve thought about doing something else, but of course I never told anyone that”.
You know what, it showed. People pick up on subtle indications of a lower motivation or decreased enthusiasm. Sometimes it manifests itself in not staying current with your discipline or industry, not putting in extra time, not coming up with new ideas or solutions. Often people have been in their jobs too long and are bored, stale or burned out as a result.
Most of us have busy lives and busy schedules and we don’t take time to think about what we like and are really good. Instead of taking charge of our work lives, we spin frantically on the gerbil wheel.
Take Your Engagement Temperature
There are many ways to take stock of activities that engage you and identify what talents they draw on. A simple way to do this is by using an Engagement Thermometer. Twice a day for 7 days schedule a check-in time to take your “engagement temperature”. At your scheduled check-in, give yourself a 1-3 engagement rating for the day’s activities and note if you’ve been engrossed, in your element, the time flew by or the opposite, you were bored, stressed, or overwhelmed. For the activities you’ve been doing that you rank with a high engagement score, jot down the abilities and skills you tapped into to get that work done. Be as specific as possible about the abilities. Rather than noting, “I was talking to customers on the phone”, specify what you were doing –i.e., helping to solve a problem, answering routine questions, or persuading them to try something new.
After you do this for 7 days, compare the charts and you’ll be surprised at the amount of data you’ve accumulated about yourself. Using this data, develop a career goal that incorporates using the identified engagement activities and abilities more regularly in your work. If you need help with developing a career goal or formulating how to get from where you are to what comes next, seek out a good career resource. This can be a career book like What Color is Your Parachute, career articles on a job board website, or the advice of a Career Coach.
LEARN TO WORK WELL IN CONSTANT CHANGE
Stop fighting and bemoaning changes. I see many people who get stuck in a negative place as a result of changes. This can look like rehashing injustices, blame others or themselves, taking on a “whatever – with a shrug” attitude, or outwardly appearing like everything is fine while inside they are hurt or angry.
These negative attitudes lose customers and they lose jobs, despite your “competence” level. There is much that can be said about how to progress through normal emotional reactions to change without getting stuck in a negative place. Two important strategies are;
- Recognize your own response to a change and acknowledge it as where you are. If you see any of the negative behaviors mentioned above in your attitude, pay attention to addressing them. If you aren’t sure, ask a trusted co-worker or friend who will speak candidly, to give you feedback about your attitude. Don’t argue with what they say. Listen, asks questions and then think about what you heard and how you really feel.
- Develop 1 -2 short term objectives that will help you move forward. Some examples;
- Connecting with a positive friend/professional acquaintance who seems to thrive in change and learn from what he/she does.
- Making a weekly date with yourself to do something enjoyable just for you that
gives you positive energy
- Trying a new activity that interests you and has a creative element to it
- Updating your resume
- Joining a professional or social association to meet new people
You get the idea. The benefit beyond the positive experience of any one of these specific objectives is the sense of accomplishment you’ll get when you develop and complete your objective, as well as the sense of control you regain by taking positive actions.The optimal goal is not to just adapt. This implies dealing with changes but better still is developing the ability to recognize increasingly quickly what your reactions are to any changed situation, identifying what you’ve lost and then taking positive steps in your altered environment.
MANAGE YOUR CAREER STRATEGICALLY
Active and strategic career management is the opposite of what most of us do – drift, or spin along, waiting for something or someone to tell us what our next career step will be. This approach takes the control and responsibility out of your hands –and you become a victim of situations by default. Here are four strategies to take back control and position yourself positively for changes that come your way.
Establish an Annual Career Goal
Ask yourself “What do I want to be doing in one year? Where do I want to be?” Some examples;
- Be the best in my business which means…
- Expand my customer base by __ %
- Receive a higher performance rating in my current job
- Get a promotion to ________
If you want to be in the same job and improve your performance –What holds you back? What sharpens your edge?
If you want to do something different –what do you need to do or learn to move forward?
Develop a goal every year and work toward it by identifying and implementing specific action steps. Now you’ll gain some forward momentum.
Schedule a Twice Yearly Check-in
Put 2 one hour appointments into your calendar. Use this time to check in on your current level of engagement, attitude, and progress against your goal and action plan. You may want to solicit feedback from others on any of the above if you need additional input. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Don’t sacrifice doing this for the inevitable urgent crisis of the moment. This is an important time
to pick your head up, assess where you are, and strategize on how to keep yourself moving forward.
Be a Constant Learner and Experimenter
Becoming a constant learner and experimenter is both a defense and offensive approach toward your career management. It is defensive in the sense that you must be adding to your skills, experiences and knowledge to maintain your current position and keep your edge. It becomes an offensive strategy when you are constantly improving toward a goal which will increase your marketability in the arena you’re interested in.
Self improvement activities can be taking classes, attending conferences or workshops (how many of you regularly max out your training funds?) volunteering for projects, doing volunteer work, or reading professional publications. Little things that help break your routine, like doing something different during your lunch break, can help you to think creatively and give you time for professional development.
Practice Continual Networking
Finally, it is important to integrate ongoing networking into your life, and not just when potential staff reductions are headed your way. It is frequently easier to strike up a conversation or make a new contact when you’re employed –you aren’t asking for anything. Make it part of your professional agenda to constantly meet and mix with people in your profession or area of interest. A few ways to network;
- Keep in touch with people that impress you at conferences, workshops and meetings
- Join an association and actively participate on committees and attend the functions
- Participate in community events, committees, and associations
The payoffs will be many – you’ll continue to hear about opportunities,(often when you’re not looking the best opportunities pop up) keep yourself industry current, and you’ll be building your contacts for the future when you may need them.
To incorporate these strategies; 1. Doing What You Love 2. Working Effectively in Constant Change, and 3. Applying Strategic Career Management into your work life – start with whichever one of these areas seems to be your Achilles heel. Make forward progress on one and then move to the next. You’ll be amazed at the positive difference applying each one of these strategies can make for you. And you will be far less likely to end up being “cut and without a plan” if you’re organization decides to cut back.
“Thriving vs. Surviving in the Workplace” is reprinted with permission from The Employment Times, this is a copyrighted publication of Career & Work Directions, LLC and cannot be copied or printed without express written permission of Career & Work Directions, LLC.