HR Executive and Co-Founder of Gig Talent, a modern talent agency connecting innovative organizations with elite HR consultants & coaches.
This week in a leadership meeting, I jokingly said, “The people who are worried about layoffs should just focus and work harder.” I watched as the room either laughed, knowing I was being facetious, or looked at me like I was a heartless villain.
Of course, I didn’t mean it in the callous way it came off, and those who know me know I have deep empathy for people and the fear that drives many of us personally and professionally. I’ve lived it. What I did mean is that even companies that are people-focused and have great cultures have to make strategic pivots, adjust to market changes and prudently manage their business.
As one colleague said, “We have to look out for all people because saving one person on a sinking ship does no one any good.” There is always a balance of doing what’s right for the business and treating people respectfully.
That said, while I’ve been the deliverer of devastating news more times than I like to recall, I’ve also been at the receiving end of it. I understand the fetal position on the floor of the closet and the fear of a single parent worried about maintaining necessities for the family.
We are certainly living through dynamic times. While I wish I could say there is a way to guarantee we will never be subject to a layoff, seeing a reduction of hours or pay, or our company folding, that’s not realistic. So what can we do about it? We need to take control of our careers and steer the ship.
Here are five tips for reducing your chances of being laid off. (Hint: These are things we should always be doing to drive our own careers.)
Focus on the work.
Understand what is most important to your organization right now. Align your efforts and your time with the most important priorities. Do good work and actively look for ways to increase impact. This doesn’t mean making artificial efforts to prove value due to insecurity.
A trap that many people fall into when they start feeling anxious is that they start assigning meaning to anything they perceive as a “sign.” These signs might include who was in a meeting, who wasn’t in a meeting, how frequently people are meeting, every word that an executive does or doesn’t use. While I’m not suggesting that you stick your head in the sand or ignore actual things that people say or do, focus on what you can control. By always doing your best work, being engaged and maximizing the impact of your work, you will do your best and keep yourself sane during times of potential change.
Learn and leverage strategic foresight.
Strategic or corporate foresight is the discipline of planning that includes looking at many sources of input, exploring alternative futures and scenario planning to drive business strategy. As individuals, we can do this by looking at our own personal and professional goal setting and action planning while incorporating a forward-looking view.
We need to maintain an understanding of what is happening in the external landscape, pay attention to indicators and trends and become subject matter and industry experts to the extent that we can. Building the ability to do this will help you ensure that you continue to evolve your skills and knowledge for what the future might bring to your industry, company or role, help you drive innovation, and help prevent you from being outdated or less relevant.
Build an authentic network.
Some form of networking needs to be integrated into our professional lives. Whether it is to continue professional development, share best practices, consider career evolution, give back to your professional community or even make friends, we all need to develop a professional network.
The key is to do this in an authentic way that engages things you care about and are interested in. Don’t picture cheesy, uncomfortable conference rooms where people you don’t know (or maybe don’t want to know) are shoving business cards in your hand. No one wants that. Rather, look for opportunities where broadening your circle will bring you joy, help you learn or create opportunities to help others.
Networking looks different today in the Covid-19 environment. That said, find creative ways to connect with other professionals. Do it now. Do not wait until something happens and you feel you need a network; that is a totally different situation and one that people can find both challenging and disheartening.
Create and manage your own brand.
What are you known for within and outside of your company? If you’re not sure or if what you came up with differs from what you’d like to be known for, this is ripe for opportunity. If you incorporate the other keys outlined here, by definition you will be taking action in intentionally shaping your own brand.
Some people quiver when I say this, as it might feel artificial. I get that we all want our work to speak for itself, but people are busy, attention spans are limited and our world is changing. Consider what you do each day to contribute to your brand, looking through both the internal and external lens. External matters should you find yourself in the market, voluntarily or involuntarily.
Think like an entrepreneur.
Consider what you really enjoy doing, then think creatively about all the different ways to apply it. Whether that’s within your current organization or outside of it, looking for ways to apply your strengths and skills will allow you to feel more empowered in driving your outcomes. Finding new ideas to improve how you work and add value can create opportunities.
This is an introduction to these five best practices. I encourage all professionals to consider prioritizing one practice each week and making goals around them. When you do this, even if you are ever subject to a layoff, you will feel better positioned to navigate a change in your career.