Three new career issues are emerging as challenges not just for your immediate career future but also for your longer term reputation and brand.
1. Again! We’ve only just finished a restructure!
Restructures are accelerating and it’s not just for cutting costs any more. In a recent survey of 2400 employers by London consulting firm, HHBR and Quartz Associates, 80% of respondents saw restructures continuing at an equal or faster pace in the next 5 years. In some organisations, restructures are occurring every 18 months as they respond to market changes, with even growth bringing its own challenges to the status quo.
At the human level, there is quite a price to pay, apart from the obvious issue of employee fatigue in an atmosphere of constant disruption and uncertainty.
What can you do to stay sane and even prosper in this state of flux?
Here are nine critical strategies for you to adopt.
1. Manage your external persona. Don’t gossip, don’t show ill temper and don’t associate with negativity.
Most of us need to discuss work situations with a work mate – our loved ones at home may sympathise and support us, but they don’t know the nitty gritty details (and usually aren’t interested.) So, it’s useful to find one person at work whom you can trust and use them as a safety valve. Apart from that one person, however, it is important to maintain your dignity and send a professional message to all others. Any other response does immense damage to your personal brand. This not only damages your reputation with your current employer, it can follow you into future work places.
2. Ask your manager rather than listen to gossip.
There’s no point listening to gossip – it combines very dubious accuracy with an unlimited capacity to make you feel bad. It’s worth a try directly questioning your manager. They may be sworn to secrecy and reveal nothing, but you never know what you might learn.
3. Be alert to new internal job opportunities.
Talk to managers in areas that interest you. At any one time in your career, there are 7 options available to you, only one of which is to leave your current organisation. The other six internal possibilities are: aim for a promotion, decide to trade down in seniority, stay in your job exactly as it is, stay in your job and tweak it, move sideways, and explore internal options. After serious reflection, you may find that one of these six career moves suits you AND allows you to stay with your employer.
4. Volunteer for a planning or project team.
Gain the reputation as someone who leads change rather than someone who is a victim of change. Ensure that you are (at least outwardly) respectful of ideas that are put forward and that you add true value to the team. At a minimum, you will feel as though you have some control during a period of powerlessness and it might also result in you surviving the change.
5. Take advantage of the chaos.
Look for un-identified needs. When Adelaide was in the depths of a recession many years ago, some of my clients presented themselves to prospective employers as someone who would either save money or increase income and they won roles in companies that were restructuring. You know your organisation inside out and back to front. Identify gaps in services or possibilities for new sources of income. Make sure that you represent this identified need as either an essential cost or an activity that will bring in at least 4-5 times your salary.
6. Keep up to date.
The people who are most likely to be eliminated from a role are those who have not kept up to date. This goes beyond the technical components of your job, though this is a sensible starting place. Make sure that you understand current non-technical expectations in the world of work, that you are comfortable with these norms and that you are SEEN as being comfortable. I sometimes have to stop a client who uses the word ‘personnel’ in interview practice, for example – it just reeks of the 80’s and makes them sound like a dinosaur. Uttering that word alone could mean you miss out on a job.
7. Adopt a bags-packed attitude and maintain an active network of contacts outside work.
It gives you huge confidence and creativity when you don’t feel trapped, when you have both power and possibilities. It tends to show up at work and we all know the old saying about confidence breeding confidence. If your role does disappear, you could well be one of the magical 65% of people who find their next job through networking. Of course, this can only happen if you actually have strong networks. So, start the low-key activity of attending professional functions immediately as it can take so long to pay off. Then, talk to career experts about how to conduct a correct Job Search Networking campaign and get started.
8. If the axe falls, seek expert advice so that it doesn’t shake your confidence.
Being made redundant is one of the biggest kicks in the teeth we ever receive in the workplace. You will be an unusual human being if you are not at least slightly shaken by it. A career specialist lives and breathes this space, and should be of immense benefit to you both professionally and personally. If your employer does not pay for a decent Career Transition program, calculate the cost of each extra month that you are out of work. A good career specialist is likely to substantially reduce your transition time, more than covering the cost of the service.
9. Don’t catastrophise.
Step back and assess the situation dispassionately. That way, you can define and come to terms with what’s required. Seek support from someone who is a ‘glass half full’ person. If you manage this situation well, it’s more than possible to end up either happier at work than you were or, at least, as happy in a different way.
Above all, restructures require resilience – that common attribute among great leaders. Resilience is often described as a personal quality that predisposes individuals to bounce back in the face of loss.
Surprises are the new normal, resilience is the new skill. It requires steely determination from the outset. However, resilience IS something you can learn.
2. Do you know how to crack the ‘potential’ code?
Let’s say you do lose your job in the restructure or perhaps you’re just on the move. In due course, you snag an interview for a role that you are very keen on.
You think you’ve done well at selling yourself but the interviewers think you lack that mysterious ‘something’, which hiring managers call ‘potential’. Although they may not be able to explain exactly what it looks like, or why they think you don’t have it, they WILL judge you severely for any supposed gap.
For more and more employers, potential is as important as past performance. Some define it by looking for people who seem capable of winning two promotions in five years. One useful definition is that potential is being able to zigzag and succeed in places that are outside your comfort zone.
Each organisation has its own criteria. Some might favour open curious team players. Others may favour entrepreneurial drive, an eagerness to learn and a desire to help others. Others want people with learning agility – the ability to adapt to new roles, and listen and respond well to feedback.
The starting point is to find out as much as you can about the organisation so that you can identify what they actually value (which is often quite different from what they SAY they value).
Then you must be able to prove to that employer that you have their version of potential.
The trick here is to ADD the category ‘potential proven’ to your interview practice checklist. Script your interview war stories using either the STAR or PAR model. Then, assess whether your content and delivery style highlight the ‘potential’ as desired by that organisation. Make any necessary changes and, as always, practise, practise, practise.
3. Absolute power corrupts and leads to ghosting
At least one piece of good news is that power is swinging back to employees. You may find that you have multiple job offers or that you start your new job only to receive another great offer. What do you do?
The US Federal Reserve regularly issues a Beige Book, a round up of anecdotal information about regional economic conditions. This year, the Fed highlighted the trend of ghosting.
What is this? Is it so bad?
Ghosting is when would-be workers:
1. blow off recruiters’ calls and ignore their emails
2. commit to a job interview and just don’t show up
3. arrive late for appointments
4. ridicule recruiters online
5. abuse recruiters when they search them out for a possible role
Even worse, employees often sign job contracts but just don’t bother showing up or else they leave a job only days after starting, sometimes without giving notice.
The level of audacity is astounding.
I queried local Adelaide recruiters a month ago to check whether it was happening in my neck of the woods. They had never heard of it and regarded it as insanity for anyone wanting a long term career in the city.
As they commented, no one forgets.
I would say it goes further than that. We are all so quick to rail against the poor behaviour of those in the world of work who have power over us. Are we any better if we stoop to their level?
‘Behave’, as my mother would say – for the sake of your own honour and dignity.
Coming back to restructures, only 12% reach all their goals by the intended deadline according to Stephen Heidari-Robinson, author of ReOrg: How to Get It Right. It makes me glad that I am not in the business of advising organisations in this area. Clearly lots of things go wrong.
As an individual caught up in the changes at work, you need to stay calm and start your networking. And, your networking should never stop even once you land your next job. True job security comes from receiving at least one job offer a year from this hidden job market. Only then can you sleep at night, knowing that you are safe from any negative changes at work.
When it comes to interviews, cracking the ‘potential’ code is increasingly important for ambitious applicants and candidates for promotion. Most organisations are bad at sizing up someone’s potential, so YOU will need to take responsibility for selling this aspect in the interview. Finally, in the job merry-go-round, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This biblical quote says it all, doesn’t it? No ghosting!
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