Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Jobs are going Size-Zero: 3 Strategies that don’t work & 3 that do!

So, where did all the jobs go?

Oh that! We’re just going “Size Zero”, screams the new-age CEO, heralding the next round of layoffs. Restructuring, right sizing, head-count rationalization… Oh! those buzz words from the age of T-Rex! “Lean and nimble” was so jaded anyway, no one noticed when it came and went! Say something new.

While we kept ourselves entertained with C-suite glib-talk, not sure how many of us noticed the tectonic plate movements happening across industries and businesses verticals. Hundreds and thousands of jobs are vanishing into thin air with all those productivity and automation drives happening everywhere. And mind you, that’s not just in the so-called “high-tech space”. Job security as we understood it all this while, is all but gone, even as pundits talk about frequent recessions here, there and everywhere. Rising “protectionism” in some of the major economies isn't making things easier. Skills that were “cool” on a resume even five years back are looking so 1970s now!

What are we doing to adapt?

This article is looking at this question from an individual readiness perspective. What can folks do to cope better with these rapid changes and uncertainties? How can line managers support people? While the points mentioned here touch upon dimensions of general management, I’d like to see it more as an Adaptability Challenge. Therefore, some of the points and suggestions are derived from an emotional intelligence perspective as well. 

The scale of change now is markedly different, and that’s to put it mildly. Rehashed snake oil fixes can’t be dressed up as strategy, at least not this time. Depend on them at your own peril.

Here are three such practices that should simply belong to the paleolithic age museum. It’s surprising these are allowed to wreak so much damage at the most inopportune time:

What won’t work!

Ignoring the Elephant

Pretending that “things” happen only to other people was never a good idea in any case. Whole business models are becoming obsolete, and that too at a scorching pace. But, how aware are people across different hierarchy levels about the exact nature of the problem?

Are we having an honest conversation about the scale of this challenge? Are we openly talking about what jobs, roles and skills will become non-existent/irrelevant in five years? Are these jobs shifting elsewhere, or disappearing altogether?

Are we talking about these frequently enough? Hiding behind jargon, or tinkering with some trite “cost-optimization”? And just bout hoping the problem will go away? That’s called tempting fate in style! It maybe a classic case of missing the woods for the trees, with scary consequences.

Managing by fear-mongering

Economic downturn phases unfortunately bring out some of the most undesirable qualities in people, especially at the managerial level. Not that they’re bad or foolish people. Perhaps it’s just what happens when a fear-driven command-and-control, insecure and expedient mindset gets glorified, and takes over.

Threatening people with crazy rules and compliances, pushing them over the edge with absurd expectations, pressurizing them so they totally forget what it means to be creative and innovative…and don’t get me started on work-life balance and the silly mistakes frustrated, overworked people do! Again, all this may have worked for a short while in some of the earlier recessions. Will it really hold now, when the ground beneath is shifting forever? Is this the right way to stick it out? Whatever happened to plain vanilla collaboration?

The Waiting Game

A variant of the first one. Waiting for someone (government, senior leadership, customers) to bring back sanity. Hoping that someone out there is working on the ideal solutions that will magically transform the situation, and bring in “job security”, growth, or at least help us hang in there, till the next “uptick”!

Initiative and being proactive are words that have been so overused that it’s become a classic case of crying wolf too often. Fear-Mongering is only ensuring that people focus on weird priorities without a proper understanding of what it takes to adapt and move ahead. A nice little collective delusion of “something” getting done, is more like it!

Usually, nothing happens till it’s time to arrange stuff in certain cardboard boxes. A dangerous strategy of pining for change, when time is of the essence!

What can help instead:

Open Channels of Communication

It is important to take away the stigma associated with redundancies, especially in countries like India. Easier said than done. What we can do is to have open communication. Where people have honest discussions about emerging challenges, threats and potential opportunities. Frank 360 degree appraisal of strengths and weaknesses can also help people check-in and face the facts as they are. That’s important for people to figure out where they are, and also get an idea of the way forward.

Open communication will also help people to collaborate, and be creative and innovative whenever needed. Because dysfunctional competition at this stage is the fastest way to disaster. And as they always say, how you treat the ones leaving is critical. Because the others are watching, and they’ll remember your actions for a long time to come. Bursting balloons on silly Friday afternoon team-building exercises ain’t gonna fix that damage! Overworking rumor mills and corridor talk can make the damage comprehensive. So, timely sharing of information without fear-mongering is the way to go. A fine balancing act of sorts, at several levels! 

Focus on Focus!

This is a long-haul flight with turbulence galore! Work on your stamina if you wish to hold out against tough odds. Remember Grandma’s sermons: the quality of food intake, your exercise, and even that four-letter word called “rest”. Ignoring these basic common-sense lessons is like going to Mt. Everest without oxygen masks.
Agreed, this is the time for everyone to pull up their socks, but why pretend, when you can do the real stuff? Watch your energy levels soar with periodic breaks, timely nourishment, hydration, deep breathing and of course some cool stretches too! 

And you know what it does to the quality of thinking skills. And that could make all the difference that really matters!

Building a Survival Toolkit

Line managers can actively champion a spirit of self-leadership at all levels. So that people can take a shot at evolving personalized career plans that raise their chances of staying in the game.

Developing new career skills, flexibility to take on short term job assignments, adding more value in every deliverable, focused professional networking skills, knowledge acquisition and sharing, mentorship and coaching… Add in all these elements and more to develop a robust toolkit that helps people tide over the situation and even thrive. And even if there is redundancy, people aren't left feeling like fish out of water. And you might like to have this fighting spirit and killer instinct with those who are still on the payroll. Instead of feeling totally flustered and drained out. 

Resilience of the real kind, is indeed the need of the hour. Allow it!

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