Times are tough in late 2008 and likely to get tougher. Regardless of the financial bailout and some likely federal support for the automotive industry, there's a belt-tightening going on as consumers reach the end of cheap credit. It was a fun ride but we've lived beyond our means for quite some time, and now it's time to start paying off some of that debt.
As the economy slows, firms will be considering several methods to reduce costs: cut raw material and sourcing costs, cut labor costs, cut advertising, marketing and sales costs, or perhaps all of these. In the labor cost category is something special called "your job". Here's what to think about as you try to prove your worth.
1. The things that seem important in a good economy aren't so important in a bad economy. That is, attending meetings and reviewing the results of the southeast region's 3rd quarter for breakfast foods used to be a fun experience, with flashy charts and PowerPoint. If they are event still reviewing the quarterly numbers, they are probably trying to figure out which costs to eliminate. If you need to be in the meeting, then come prepared with ideas about how to cut costs or increase revenue. If you don't have salient ideas, perhaps using the time doing something else rather than simply attending a meeting is a good idea. When things are going well in the market and in your industry, certain factors seem important. When the economy slows down, a lot of those things that seemed important will pale in comparison to the need to quickly optimize your processes, cut costs and increase revenue.
2. Being valuable is more important than being important. It doesn't really matter where you sit in the organization in tough times, being a contributor who can be counted on to do the important work is more important than being "important". Sun is cutting almost 6000 jobs, starting with the Chief Technology Officer. Being a "C" level officer wasn't all that helpful in this case. Demonstrating that you can help right the ship, through insights into new products or services, cutting costs or an understanding of market trends is much more valuable at this point. When you get into the lifeboat, people will want to know if you know how to handle an oar.
3. Be visible at the right times and places. In a fast moving economy, being seen at the right places may be a career enhancer, but in a slow moving economy where cuts are likely, you need to be demonstrating your value and people need to know your name to retain you. If your great work is unnoticed or you are not connected with something important, or worse, there's no one to stand up for you in the meeting where the cuts happen, it won't matter if you are valuable. Make sure people understand what you do and how you add value.
4. Pitch in and pull together. Now is not the time to remind the boss that you had a great idea that wasn't implemented that would have saved the company. It's also not a time to refuse to do what is necessary to succeed. As the firm gets smaller - and most firms probably will - there's still a significant amount of work to do. People who are willing to pitch in, to stretch themselves and get involved to help out, are the ones who will be retained. People who have a very narrow skill set that seemed valuable in the run-up but can't help beyond their current role will be the likely first candidates to go.
5. Control what you can and keep your skills up to date. In the end, there are some things you can control - what you are willing to work on, how hard you'll work, who you know and who knows you. There are also some things you can't control. Perhaps the firm should have invested in your idea, or launched that new product or service. Perhaps they should have listened to you about the northeast expansion. But all that is out of your control. If you work hard at points 1-4 and recognize the things you can control, and the things you can't, then regardless of the outcome you can hold your head high. In an economy like this, good people with good skills will end up out of work just as often as people who never added much value. Keep your skills and resume up to date. Stay active in your networks. If the worst happens, don't take it too hard. Usually it's just business, nothing personal.