How to Bulletproof Your Career: 1,000 Interviews Reveal the Secrets of Becoming an Invincible Team Member
Can layoffs and reorganizations be good for you?
As I've interviewed more than 1,000 employees while guiding companies through turbulent change, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon: Certain employees are not only surviving the chaos, but thriving. I call this group, "The Invincibles," because they are essentially bulletproofing their careers against the extreme changes experienced today in organizations worldwide.
Where their colleagues perceive adversity, The Invincibles see opportunity. Where others hang back and try to, "stay off the radar," these employees are engaged and prepared for a challenge.
Considered individually, each interview provides a fascinating perspective on how individuals respond to change. Taken as a whole, the more than 1,000 interviews offer keen insights into how employees can thrive in the face of turbulence. Analyzing my findings across various industries and change situations — including mergers, layoffs, and the rollout of new corporate procedures — I've noted core qualities that fuel the buoyancy of hardy achievers.
During a recent radio interview, the host asked me, "Are Invincibles born that way, or can you learn to be an Invincible?" It's an interesting question. While I believe that many of my interview respondents have innate, Invincible qualities, it's my mission to enable others to learn and adopt these characteristics.
Following are five key essentials for bulletproofing your career, based on my interviews. The interviews occurred both one-on-one and in focus groups at Fortune 500 organizations. In all cases, I had been retained by company leadership to assist with change management in situations that involved workforce reductions, restructuring, or revised corporate procedures.
1. Do some soul searching: Do you still want to be in your field? Many industries have changed dramatically in recent years, including journalism, communications, and the automotive and financial areas. For example, did you hear about the daily newspaper employees who were told that their positions were being redefined, that they would have to apply for their jobs all over again, and that by the time the reorganizational musical chairs stopped 70 of them would be unemployed? Who could make this up? Staffers at The Journal News, a Westchester daily owned by Gannett, just lived through this nightmare.
The Journal News workers were confronted by a challenge faced by all journalists today — the jobs they reapplied for emphasized web site skills. Similarly, marketing communications jobs have changed dramatically with the emergence of social media — transforming the traditional model of marketing and public relations.
What about you? What if you had to reapply for your job right now? Or if you're not currently employed, what are you doing to ensure you're marketable in this unpredictable, unstable economy? Changing skill sets are a reality for all workers.
The Invincibles I interviewed were committed to their industries and willing to adapt their talents to the changing marketplace. Are you? If you're not up to adjusting to the changes of your field, it may be time to consider something new.
2. Identify your true value. Whether you're meeting with your boss or a prospective employer, you should be able to articulate how you contribute to organizational success. By the way, I'm talking about providing value, not products or services. For example, don't identify yourself as providing focus group moderating services. Instead, describe yourself as enabling companies to identify what their customers need most — that's inherently more valuable.
Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center. On the left side, put the heading, "What I do." On the right side, note, "The value I add." So if you're in public relations, you might write down, "Manage online communications." On the right side, you could put, "Enable everyone to feel like they can talk with the CEO."
If you aren't sure about your value, ask. Talk with your supervisor, colleagues, and clients. You might just find that your true value is different than what you had thought.
3. Stop thinking of yourself as an employee and start marketing yourself as an expert who adds value. This is a complete change of mindset from even five years ago. The days of job security as an employee are over. We all need to promote ourselves in order to advance within an organization or attract new opportunities.
Invincible employees think of themselves as independent consultants who are building their own brands, even when employed by an organization. They share their expertise with others within their companies and industries, building recognition and demand for what they have to offer. As a result, Invincibles are less likely to need to seek out promotions and new jobs. Instead, opportunities are actually drawn to them. For a unique tool I've developed that will help you to develop your own brand of Corporate Magnetism, visit the "Free Solutions" section of www.JRSconsulting.net.
4. Understand your customers' business situation. Even if you and your customers both work for the same company, it's critical that you understand their business objectives and challenges. Have your customers tried to fix a problem 10 times before they asked you for assistance? Is their department at risk of being eliminated if they can't make improvements? Invincibles know to analyze their customers' business situation so they can identify the most effective way to add value. In other words, it's not about them, it's about their customers' business needs.
5. Step out of your comfort zone. Invincibles are experiential risk takers. They seek out prudent risks and, by doing so, increase their experience base. For example, a communications department manager offered to help her organization's IT department with its informational materials. When her employer laid off 10% of its workforce, she was recruited to a new position as an IT communications manager.
"What if I fall on my face?" is a concern among all employees who consider trying something they haven't done before. When you try something new, sometimes you make a mistake. But the Invincibles I interviewed have the ability to learn from their mistakes and move on. At the end of the day, career growth isn't about whether or not we make errors it's about how we handle them. If you can demonstrate the ability to learn from your mistakes, you'll grow as a person and as a professional.
I'm sharing these key essentials in the hope of enabling others to emerge from the current challenging economic times with a new vitality and poised for success. Training in hands-on application of these essentials is available in my new workshop, "The Invincibles: Bulletproofing Your Career," that I'm offering to organizations of all sizes. In addition, I've created a workshop especially for leaders. "Building Invincible Employees: Leading Successful Teams in a Time of Turbulent Change," that supports company management in effectively engaging employees in the midst of change. Please visit www.JRSconsulting.net for more information.
Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting, Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently attract and motivate employees and customers. With a Master's degree in counseling psychology, Jenny also provides executive coaching to help clients meet their personal and professional goals. Subscribe to the free JRS newsletter on www.jrsconsulting.net/newsletter.html
© JRS Consulting, Inc. 2011