Category Archives: redundancy

Can you risk not having a career strategy?

Why strategic personal branding  is vital to career management
At the end of last year, I wrote about my experience adapting to a dramatically changing culture and new methodologies in my own field of executive search and career coaching. Although the central  theme,   slightly egocentrically, focused on my own challenges and frustrations of dealing with the concept of  high on-line visibility, now a.k.a.  Personal Branding, there was actually a key, underlying core message. The need for strategic forward thinking and preparation.

What is clear now is that we all need to develop and maintain on an ongoing basis, a personal brand and career strategy, regardless of our current age or place in our careers.

Why?
The recent recession has highlighted not just unemployment trends, but shifts in workplace employment and recruitment practises. Some companies have been forced by economic circumstances to re-engineer their policies to reduce their salary bills and employment costs, just to stay afloat. Other organisations have simply used the downturn as an opportunity to introduce workplace  flexibility to instantly enhance bottom line results .

Job loss has slowed down going into 2010, but job creation still lags  behind. Permanent positions in companies have been reduced and are unlikely to return to previous levels. Fringe activities such as outsourcing to low-cost employment areas  and the reduction of  a permanent workforce to what Business Week calls “Perma-temps”  is on the increase and now becoming mainstream . The growth in interim assignments at a senior level is also rising, attracting not just the early retirees who wanted to do a “spot of  consulting,”  but senior professionals with no other source of income.

Do you need support creating a career strategy? Check out the individual coaching programmes.

In 2009, according to the UK Office for National Statistics there was a 31.5% rise  in unemployment for people over 50,  so at this age, there is a one in six chance of being out of work, compared to Gen X  where  the unemployment rate increased by  21.6 %. However, even  if you do have a job  David Autor of MIT , suggests that the chances of older, more highly educated professionals  being employed in  lower skill level positions has  also  increased. At the  other end of the spectrum, Gen Y struggle to get even unpaid internships. Their unemployment figures have hit 18% with predictions  that they will not be fully integrated into the workforce until 2014 with all that implies.

This means that competition for permanent positions in strong, stable organisations will  continue to be fierce, long after the recession is officially over. At all levels. The need to raise our visibility and generate a personal brand as part of a  planned career strategy will be more important than ever.

Be strategic
Brian Tracy  suggested ‘ Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self-development) in order to guarantee your future ”  The reality is that most people don’t do that in terms of their career.  They might take golf lessons or learn to paint,  but  the average person probably spends more time planning an annual vacation  and invests more money maintaining  their  cars, than  planning their careers.  So because they are unprepared,  any crisis (redundancy, firing , lay-offs, promotion disappointments) produces a flurry of activity, not  specific or focused, but usually frantic  and urgent. Deadlines  become short-term, limited to weeks or months, rather than anything longer term. CVs are dispatched and uploaded, networks contacted, headhunters emailed  and sometimes  in extremis,  even career coaches sought out. We would never think of taking off  on a  road  trip in  an  un-maintained car ( at least not once out of college), yet we constantly look for jobs with un- maintained careers and wonder why there are difficulties!

Avoid brand prostitution
@TomYHowe:    suggested in response to my post “I think therefore I exist…Wrong , think again”   that on going brand managemen could lead to   “Life as sales”  and he is indeed correct ,  if not applied strategically. There’s no reason why it should involve on- line soul selling and become brand prostitution. That would come dangerously close to some of the publicity stunts  I mentioned required to market celebrity scent.

Return on Relationships
Nor does it necessarily mean as  @wpbierman:   amusingly quipped  becoming ego related: “I am being followed – therefore I am”.  Behind that funny one-liner there is for me  an excellent thought, that once again comes back to strategy. I am definitely in favour of return on relationships and for me the key message is what Rory Murray   describes as  “maximising your reputation in the marketplace through the effective use of your network of contacts for mutual benefit“.

Measuring success only by the volume of connections/ followers/friends can be misleading.  Lisa Brathwaite covers this concept beautifully in her post  suggesting that some  of the so-called on line experts can be some of the poorest users, simply because they do not engage.

But for job seekers and headhunters alike there  is a great deal of strength in a weak network. It is the new, global Rolodex and  why I think it’s important to start developing that visibility and personal brand as wisely,  strategically and as early in your career as possible,  as the competition for permanent jobs hots up .

Why? To stand out in a crowded market place

  •  to make sure you appear in on-line searches run by people like me. That’s how you get noticed
  • To build up a strong on-line presence and reputation. This is what differentiates and extends your reputation  and how you get those calls from people like me.
  • Build up  a strong  network as part of an ongoing career management  plan.

 That’s how you avoid crisis and improve your job search chances.

Thanks to WP Bierman,  Lisa Braithwaite,   Rory Murray    and Tom Howe

 

Career reflection: Could you get your own job?

What would happen if you had to apply for your own job?
In the past year I have been conscious of, and written extensively about, the pace of change in my particular field which seems to be greater than ever before. It’s hard to keep up!  Every time I learn something new, I have to get to grips with something  even newer. I cannot imagine I am alone in this position! I also coach people in transition in various professions and sectors and advise them always of the need to stay up dated in their fields. But what about  people not looking for jobs or directly at risk in any way? Could you get your own job if you had to apply for it?

Could they successfully apply for their own jobs?

Could you?

One of the cruellest spin offs of any organisational re-structuring is that sometimes employees are invited to re-apply for their own jobs. This happens frequently when they have been in post for many years and have considerable seniority and experience. But does this mean that they are necessarily the best candidate for the job as it exists now in the current environment and climate? Regrettably not always.

There are a number of counter arguments to this thesis.

Organisational responsibility

Many will say it’s the  responsibility of the organisation to ensure than their employees are trained and up to date in any developments in their field and are performing to the best of their abilities. To  some extent this could be true.

Any switched-on company committed to employee development  will do this, seeing  peak employee performance and talent management  as  intrinsic to bottom line success. But in times of economic stringency and turbulence,  when training budgets have been slashed, updating employees and keeping them up to speed may not be their top priority. This is set against a background of quite often incomplete, inadequate,and irregular performance appraisal which limits meaningful feedback from any manager to his/her reports. Essentially many employees have no real idea of how they are actually doing, or where their strengths and weaknesses lie on the ideal candidate spectrum.

Avoid complacency

Many of you will also say that it’s no way to live, or work, in a state of permanent insecurity always worrying about someone coming in to take over your job. That’s also true. But complacency isn’t a good state either. One of the things we have all learned in this current economic crisis is that there are no certainties in life. So perhaps it would be foolish to sit and wait for someone else to take responsibility for your career and ultimately your life. Many people who are moved sideways, demoted, have promotion disappointments or who get fired,  very often don’t see it coming. Many of us are wedded to our tried and trusted ways of operating. Even though we might acknowledge a need to do things differently at one level (mainly intellectual), we still struggle to implement  practical change. It doesn’t matter if it’s C-suite level of Fortune 500 companies  or middle managers in SMEs, taking that step to honestly and brutally self appraise is never easy.

It’s also not just about the arrogance of captains of industry such as Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, or the senior executives of General Motors or Lehman Brothers who failed miserably to understand the limitations of their own performance, until of course it was too late. It’s important for us all to consciously examine our own roles in relation to the market and be aware and take care of any short fall.

So start asking yourself the following questions:

  •  How qualified am I for this position, not necessarily always  in  terms of educational certificates, but in experience?
  • Is my knowledge current?
  • What improvements could/should I make to may own skill set and performance to achieve better results?
  • What other changes would I make ?
  • What is my mission statement?
  • Can my contribution be measured?
  • Do I look for, process and act on constructive feedback?
  • What value do I add?
  • Do I know my own worth? Do my bosses, peers, and reports?
  • Who could replace me?

So… would you hire …you?

Could you get your own job?

Does your career need a health check?

Fortunately, despite the events of the past couple of years, career coaching isn’t just about  crisis, redundancies and  panic job search. Transition coaching can happily be more  routine and measured:   brainstorming for the next stage, setting some goals, making a plan.  So with any executive working on this career management phase,  we always start with  a gentle chat about themselves and what they’re looking for.  Essentially and almost imperceptibly, what we’re doing  is a  career health check.

Self- insight
This process establishes where they’ve been,  what’s going on right now and  where they’re headed.  What I call the “know thyself spectrum”. Then I  ask them to draft a short  mission statement.   Not a  big deal you would have thought for rising captains of business and industry. But many are astonishingly resistant and some in fact even struggle.  They don’t see this as necessary to the process.  They have a great  job already and don’t need  to produce what they perceive  be part of a new CV . They’re completely fine.  Just need a bit of fine tuning. Still I insist!

Avoidance strategies
The range of excuses I hear to get out of this  exercise warrant  an “A” for creativity.   Kids –   listen  and learn from the best!

    • It’s on my office computer, not on my lap top ( ooooh….and vice versa!)
    • Backberry/iphone/ other  electronic gizzmo is down/crashed
    • Meetings: Wall to wall / Back to back
    • Deadlines : Year end /Q end/weekly/daily
    • Flight / trip:  delayed / bought forward
    • 3 kids: that one came from an executive with a stay at home wife
    •  Crisis: Personal/ family/professional/ national/ economic /global

Trust me – there is nothing I haven’t heard before!   There is seemingly a whole breed of executives  who don’t  have the following words in their vocabulary:  beer mat, pen, 15 minutes, plane, airport lounge, taxi – plus some other obvious ones.   This  type of inventive procrastination comes even from people who on the surface of things are  leaders in their sector,  perhaps in the top percentile of their professional and academic fields,  or have achieved significant business successes and are outwardly brimming with confidence. But despite this,  there is  something holding them back  from putting a name  to these  signficant achievements and the skills they needed to call on to facilitate such great results.

There is a reason why we all need to do career health checks on a regular basis.

Benefits
Personal insight,  knowing your strengths, weaknesses  and achievements  and being able to articulate those to yourself ,  is important for managers to excel in their current  roles.  It is not just those executives  who find themselves  unexpectedly on the job market.   A high percentage of executives I coach,  who have been “let go” admit to being unhappy in their jobs before the redundancy was made.  They also  suspect  that their bosses were possibly aware of it.  Harsh though it may seem,   companies generally  find a way to retain high performing, motivated managers, no matter what sort of crisis  they’re in.

So why is it important to understand and  articulate  these skills and achievements,  to know well how we have dealt with  any challenges in the past and be relaxed about any future ones?  It gives us all a sense of control.

Control
Feeling in control,  having that unshakeable self-belief  that we have the resources to successfully deal with anything that comes our way, generates self – confidence.    Self confidence is that indefinable , intangible quality that effective managers possess in spades.  It’s not a flashy showman leading from the top  or an over bearing arrogance that won’t listen or consult. It is something else all together.

Confidence
Confident managers know what they’re doing  and their teams can see that.  This is highly motivating and leads to better results.  Because confident managers have recognised their own successes and achievements,  they have no problem endorsing the success of their peers or reports.  They instinctively set in place recognition systems to foster and support self belief in those around them. This inspires greater team effort and even greater success.  People gravitate towards them. Success breeds success.

Confident managers are great mentors and don’t feel threatened by new talent. They generously encourage and develop.

Strengths and weaknesses
Because they know what they do well and  how they do it,  they also understand where and when  they don’t do so well.  Confident managers  are happy to  consult and  are comfortable looking for opinions, advice and support.   They are open to unsolicited input. Astonishingly,  true confidence can even admit lack of confidence  and  say ” I really have no clue what I’m doing,  but I’m going to find out.  ”   And they do. They process criticism positively.

Pro-active
Truly confident managers know that it’s important to get it done,  rather than get it right and will motivate and support calculated risk taking.  They rise to new challenges.  They get out of the way.  They give themselves and their teams permission to fail,  but still  keep a watchful eye on the score card. They support,  not blame,  during the failing process and takes steps to manage any  fallout if that’s what needs doing.  They see mistakes as part of  a learning  process. They take steps to avoid repeated bad habits.

Goals
Confident managers are  positive thinkers, solution driven and not problem focused. The first thing they want to know  “How can we get that done?”  not what the barriers are. Confident managers have goals and if they are off target they realise that they have to change … so  they sit down,  re-assesss and make new goals.

Sometimes on beer mats in airport lounges. They don’t need a perfect time, environment or location. They just get it done.

So when was the last time you gave your career a health check?

Mind Management: Beat Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly – but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (” busy-ness”) when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “mind over matter”. Or mind matters!

Mind fabrication
I’m not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don’t know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase “drowning in my own thoughts” to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times ” being out of work for 2 years” and a need to explain a ” 2 year gap on my CV”. I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we’re now July 2009 – how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

Self sabotaging
At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was ” opting out” and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is – a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you’re reading this!)

Re-frame with questions
So if you feel that anyone doesn’t understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can’t see what you’re about – perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you’re choosing to work with. Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

Write things down
So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let’s pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

Track the message !
ORIGINAL THOUGHTHmmm… I should apply for that job” write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait… if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won’t know what to say … **then I’ll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview… **then they’ll know how useless I am..** then I won’t get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone….**then everyone will know I’m stupid and laugh at me.. **then I’ll let my whole family down… ** then I won’t get any job anywhere, ever… **then I’ll never work again… then I’ll have no money so I’ll be bankrupt … **then I’ll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I’ll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box … **then everyone in the world will hate me…then Hmmm … OK…. I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower …I’ll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Look at the facts
Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you’re a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn’t know you. Keep a job search log so you can’t convince yourself into thinking that you’re active when you’re not. Facts talk.

Reality check
The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink into job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don’t want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

The recession’s silver lining: FunEmployment:

Creative or abusive?
 
 We are now heading towards the summer and those that can afford a holiday are looking forward to a break. Some are nervously awaiting half year results. Companies in all sectors are trying to find ways to reduce their salary bills, to synchronise operational activity with reduced customer demand. Some have made straight lay offs and redundancies, others are able to be more creative. Organisations from BA and KPMG to smaller companies in addition to forced lay offs, are offering employees voluntary extended vacations, sabbaticals,and reduced working days or weeks. The hope is that when the economic upturn does kick in, they will not have lost the pool of talent that has taken years to recruit and train.
 
Transition
 
 In the past 6 months as a coach I have seen individuals transition from grief, shock, panic and despair, through adaptation and acceptance, but increasingly (in the last weeks only) to the slight beginnings of optimism, even from those who had to deal with the out- of- the- blue shock of losing their jobs. This is not to detract from the reality of everyone’s situations. I am absolutely not doing that. Pensions and property values have been slashed the world over, bills still have to be paid and life savings are dwindling wherever you live. Out of work young adults are returning to the family home, with other unforeseen consequences, plus a myriad of other things too numerous to mention
 
Shifting responses
 
What I am saying is despite all of these clearly negative experiences, it is amazing to observe a shift in response. People still claim, somewhat surprisingly, to see an unexpected “silver lining” in their circumstances.
 
 Benefits
 
 I talked to an HR Director in the hospitality sector last week and he maintains that the response to his company’s offer for employees to voluntarily reduce hours or take extended vacations has been very positive. “Employees seem to be jumping at the chance, even to take an unpaid sabbatical.” he stated.
 
 I wondered if my observations were regional. To test the water I put a mini-poll out on LinkedIn and found that the international responses did actually coincide with my own personal and local experiences. Yes, there was residual anger and unease about the future, but for most people there had been some very positive outcomes. Those that have opted to take reduced hours or were forced out of the job market, have now found that once they cut their cloth to match their new, reduced budget, they are enjoying a slower paced life. So what are the overall benefits can individuals see in this dark cloud?
  • people have more time and energy to spend and share with their families and partners or nurture other close relationships
  •  people enjoy waking up in their own homes and eating proper meals
  • some are travelling – perhaps on a budget, but getting to see new places now they have time
  • others are studying, renewing old qualifications or learning new skills
  • some are volunteering
  • almost all said they were focusing on their health dealing with weight or exercise issues
  • many said they are taking up the hobbies they had always wanted to, or picking up old ones
  • others are enjoying the extended vacations or sabbaticals – they had simply never been able to take the time out of the office or workplace before
  • some are working from home or looking into new business ventures
  • many said they hadn’t been happy in their jobs anyway


 
Paul, a Customer Service Manager from Minnesota had his working week reduced to 4 days in January wrote I initially panicked, wondering how we would survive financially. But then I realised I had been working 50 hour weeks, maybe more for years. With a 32 hour week ironically my hourly rate is probably higher than it has been for a long time! ”

Christophe, was laid off in the chemical sector in Belgium earlier this year and as a gifted linguist is using his period of unemployment to add to his skill set by learning Dutch. He is also supervising the remodelling of his house himself, something he really enjoys, but would have previously outsourced to an architect simply through of lack of time. The upside of Michael’s period out of full time employment is feeling fitter, healthier and weighing in 14 pounds lighter! He is spending time with his wife and kids, as well as playing some golf. With a long career in the IT sector he is working from home as a consultant and looking at joint ventures and start ups.

Shawna from Oregon describes herself as recovering workaholic. ” For me, being laid off meant the opportunity to not be in an airplane all the time, the chance to work on home improvement projects that were too big to do when I had a full time job. …. “She explains how she wanted to get beyond the pain points ” I typically chose to feel that since I don’t want to regret the things that happened, I can always use the events to learn from and get stronger. That doesn’t make the event positive or negative – it just means I re-tell the event as a positive so that I can work with it, instead of against it.”

Marina from San Francisco added “If I had not been laid off recently I would have missed out on some wonderful and necessary things. 

Will this feeling of enjoying the moment last? I have no idea. One discussion the recession has generated is the perennial chestnut of work/life balance. I think we have all been profoundly changed by what has gone on around us – hopefully for the better. It will be interesting to see if when economies do pick up, whether we will have learned any useful lessons, or we will all drift seamlessly back to our old ways.

It seems that a year ago, we might have had more money in our pockets but perhaps we were less well off in other ways. Somehow, are we seeing that now?