Are we demonstrating value?

Donovan McNabbWhen we talk about "change", we're not just talking about Washington or Detroit.  We also need to include OURSELVES.

The events of the past couple of months have given us all pause for thought with our careers and what we're going to be doing in a couple of years' (or weeks' / months') time. 

We had a great discussion a few months' back when we talked about the challenges of staying relevant in today's corporate climate, and this current economic shift is driving this need for relevance right down to all employees in the organization.  The "relevance" discussion now goes far deeper than roles and responsibilities, it goes right into demonstrable value-add, and the ability to impact revenue.  Whether you work in sales, operations, finance, marketing etc., you need to be able to tie what you do to your company's mission and revenue stream.

Bad recessions bring out different reactions from companies with their approaches to steadying the ship and readying themselves for sustained profitability.  These reactions nearly always result in staff reductions, reorganizations and aggressive means of reducing both variable and fixed costs.  Past recessions have resulted with most companies "snipping" costs without changing their business models, and several firms even kept hold of all their staff and rode out the downturn in anticipation of recovering much quicker and stronger than their competitors.  Most of the snipping was focused on low-performers.

This time is different.  Most companies – right now –  are snipping staff who do not directly impact their revenue, whether they be a low or high performer.  Staff who may be incredibly talented, but focus on activities that are peripheral to the company's core revenue-generation, are at risk in today's corporate environment. 

Employees at risk in today's corporate climate:

1) Staff working in new product lines which are yet to have matured, or are considered discretionary in this environment;

2) Staff in management roles that are largely administrative and have limited involvement in direct sales / client relationships;

3) Staff who are unpopular and considered to have a negative impact on revenue development;

4) Low-performers, which the company has wanted to shed for a while and now see the long cold winteras a chance to ease them off the payroll with limited reproach.

And if you are unlucky enough to get caught in the cross-fire, your next challenge is to understand why this happened.  Most likely, you were unlucky and need to find a new opportunity that aligns you with another firm's core revenue channel.  But if you dig really deep, you may have to concede that you need to develop your skills and knowledge to make yourself attractive to future employers, so you can directly impact their core businesses.  I believe we'll see many people seeking career changes in the coming year as they concede their current skills and experience are no longer as relevant as they once were. 

New growth and investment areas, such as health-care, renewable energy, new technology development, are going to be the lucky recipients of an influx of talent willing to retrain for long-term career security. Moreover, jobs in the public sector and education are now appearing far, far more attractive than they were a couple of years' ago.

All-in-all, we're moving into an environment where some industries will find their feet, others will decline and some may die altogether.  Many people will be refocusing their careers in new areas that they may not have envisaged in the recent past.  One thing is clear – we are in new era where people are going to have get used to change and learn to adapt themselves to new job roles, new routines… and new expectations.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    When automobiles replace the horse, a company that made wagons started making cars (Studebaker) and the folks that worked there learned to make cars. Now the jobs that are created will be created in China, India, and Thailand, not South Bend, Ind. This time job loss is not because the industry changed, it’s because the geography changed.

    I think I’m typical, in that I had to change careers due to a contraction in the mid 1990s and found something that, while I like it, doesn’t really fire me up like my old job did. Now I’m loosing my second choice and need to start over again.

    The fields that all the advice says is “hot” aren’t fields that excite me but I’m going to have to bite the bullet and take yet another job just OK job, just to have an income.

    Malcolm Gladwell believes that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert and that’s about what the apprenticeships used to demand of craftsmen. 2,000 hours a year times 5 years. I mention this to illustrate that while I have over 20,000 in project management followed by over 20,000 in technical documentation, I have 0 hours in marketing or developing a job finding network.

    Looking for a new project or a job is a skill that most of us only use every few years so don’t develop any real expertise. Simply saying that we need those skills and on a global scale doesn’t help the vast majority of people who need to find productive, paying work to help the global economy recover.

    I suspect that unless and until someone, probably a government figures out how to do this things won’t get better. Why a government? Because the people who need help can’t afford to pay a for profit company for the help they need. Remember the people who need help are out of work and struggling to just to “pay the rent”.

    I’m just smart enough to see the questions, not smart enough to see the solution!

    Allen Laudenslager

    http://allenandson.blogspot.com/2009/01/this-time-recession-is-different.html

  2. Posted January 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Allen,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I agree that we’re in an integrated global market now, and we have to adapt ourselves accordingly. Developing your personal network globally is something I find particularly beneficial – we need to know more about the dynamics across Europe, Asia and the US, not confine outselves to a very localized mentality and skillset.

    In most business functions, there are global elements becoming increasingly critical, for example IT, finance, supply chain and engineering areas. Developing experience working with international cultures puts professionals today in greater demand. That means more travel, the willingness to work abroad (in some cases), learning new languages, new business cultures / ethics etc. The professional environment is moving quickly to a global model and it’s time to get on the train, or be left behind…

    PF.

  3. Posted January 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Phil:

    I think you are right. Americans are the consummate “evolvers.” The Studabaker example is a perfect analogy. I am worried about how this will all shake out, instead I am challenged by the very question you ask…. Do I add value? I would hope I do, as my family and many other’s welfare depends on an affirmative answer. But I think that those who are most successful at evolving and adapting with the times, are those who constantly think about this question, and who seek ways to daily, “make a difference.”

    As a Consultant and “Partner” to my clients, I receive an hourly or monthly payment for my services. This commitment guarantees either a percentage of my time, or a flat commitment of time. Where I add value is by ignoring this and making sure that I GET THE JOB done, and that I consistently exceed my client’s expectations. This often meens exceeding my time commitment to them, but it also means that my value, my commitment and my loyalty to their success… is demonstrated in very real ways.

    In the last three years, I have had clients who started out with brief commitments (Usually less than 30 days), and ended up working with me for more than a year, at times with no contract other than a mutual commitment to give some pre-agreed upon notice (60-90 days), if either of us wished to terminate our agreement.

    I believe that this kind of loyalty is based on respect for the value I bring. In a time when a lot of people are looking to cut back on cost, consultants can be the first to go if they do not demonstrate their value. My goal is to always stay ahead of the axe by demonstrating that the value I add is consistent with the long and short term financial goals of the organization I partner with.

    David Anderson

  4. Asvin
    Posted January 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    I think you make very valid and important points. These are not only pointers to the current times but also when times are good when people need to constantly evaluate realistically on the value that they are adding to the company’s topline or bottomline directly or indrectly.

    Unlike some industries that have tectonic shifts in business models most other industries it is people who can make a difference in their own lives….

    However, it is important to note that its not easy….it is tough going through this excercize and needs constant self motivation.

  5. Posted January 19, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    My radical opinion is that organisations are testing even the fundamental business model of whether they need people on their payrolls. Undoubtedly, there are some interesting Web 2.0 based business models where an organisation conducts business with contributors spread across the world. An excellent example of this would be mystery shopping websites, that allow potential consumers to bid for assignments, and to become a mystery shopper, all you need is to register on their website, as against giving loads of interviews.

    I think organisations, in such downward spiralling times, are very uneasy about committing to have people on board. However, they do need some staff to execute immediate tasks. I think the best bet for employees in current times is to get over searching for that dream “job”, but set themselves up as a business to execute a set of transactions that they are specialists in, with multiple organisations (through contracts). For me, this is the biggest change that is needed within the minds of people looking for jobs. Having said all this, I believe I am being ahead of time, especially for those sectors, that aren’t doing so badly enough to think about transforming their businesses in such a radical way.

    Regards,
    Amit

  6. Posted January 19, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    Harvey MacKay, author of various books said it best: “Better to dig your well before you are thirsty.” When times get tough, people start evaluating their skills sets and contributions, hoping to avoid being laid off, or at least finding a job in some hot, new sector.

    The best advice is to keep your skills current and continually assess the market conditions and needs for your skills. Guaranteed employment with one company no longer exists (and in reality never really existed except for a brief moment in the 20th century), and we all really need to pay attention to the what you are doing, and what you are assigned to.

    I work in the technology sector, and even during very early stages of the tech boom, I considered leaving my employer because I wasn’t being assigned to the leading-edge efforts of our company. I have always worked hard, and always endeavored to put myself in a position where I could contribute to those high-valued projects that demanded the most current skill set and the most knowledgeable, capable people.

    It’s a bit of a mercenary attitude, but once I secured another position elsewhere, I had a great conversation the led me towards being assigned to those projects that I wanted to be a part of in the first place. My employer was dragging his feet because he thought that he could, but the risk of losing me changed his mind. Flash forward several years later at this same company – now performing layoffs – and I was paid a bonus to stay.

    Dave Moran

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