You have every right to be nervous! At least 26 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past five weeks, and that number may be much higher due to impediments in the unemployment filing process in several states.
Moreover, the recovery is likely to be much more uneven than many observers anticipate thanks to lower productivity as supply chains are adjusted, workplaces adapt staffing to minimize COVID-19 spread, and changing consumer behaviors trigger decreased demand.
With people costs typically consuming 50 percent or more of operating costs in many businesses, it’s logical to assume layoffs will continue as many companies prune unprofitable lines of business and strive to escape red ink.
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As businesses become stressed, it’s the utility players who will survive and thrive. You see them at all levels and in all workplaces: The dedicated team members who consistently step forward and deliver a superior product on-time and under budget, who make time to increase their professional credentials despite a heavy workload in their day job, and who willingly make a short-notice trip to visit with a critical client who needs a face-to-face connection.
In this uncertain environment, here are some specific steps you can take to become a utility player in your organization.
- Volunteer to complete essential staff work. These are the tasks nobody wants to do, but somebody has to do: Periodic reports to board members and investors, customer letters, short-notice travel, and related projects consume significant executive time in every business. The team member who volunteers and completes these thankless duties is buying insurance against the next round of layoffs.
- Think about earning the next degree. Spend some time looking at posted job descriptions that appeal to you and would be a logical step forward in your career trajectory; I bet the vast majority require or prefer a master’s degree. It’s essential in many career fields to ascend to the next level, and there may never be a more propitious time to dig down and get it done, especially if your employer will underwrite a portion of the cost.
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- If the thought of a formal degree program gives you a migraine, consider earning a professional certification, such as CMA® (certified management accountant), CFRE® (certified fund raising executive), PMP® (project management professional), or CAE® (certified association executive). These professional credentialing programs, and many others, are administered by professional societies and organizations. They typically require three to five years’ industry experience, 50 to 100 hours of professional education (generally obtainable online), and a comprehensive exam, plus continuing education to maintain your certification. You are likely to acquire valuable expertise that will help you in your day job.
- Don’t ignore your secondary skills (sometimes called essential skills or “soft skills” by human resources experts). Many employees mistakenly nurture their primary skills at the expense of secondary ones, such as interacting well with colleagues, maintaining eye contact, intense listening, leading cross-functional teams, communicating effectively across generations and through multiple media, and acquiring and demonstrating a degree of empathy in relations with peers, seniors, and juniors. Developing and mastering these essential skills can help you grow into a management role and become the foundation of continued professional (and personal) success. When you move beyond the field in which you built your initial career success, your technical talent becomes less important. Expertise bringing people together, communicating clearly, establishing goals, and supporting subordinates are major components of the transition to management.
No one knows how long the job-eating virus will persist, and the next two years will likely proceed in “fits and starts,” to quote a recent essay in The New York Times. Your best insurance in this time of great uncertainty is to step up and become a utility player in your organization. Lee Iacocca, the corporate titan who was forced out of the Ford Motor Company in mid-career and then led the turnaround at Chrysler, was fond of reminding subordinates that “the discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.”
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