11 Jul 2017 20:32 IST

Resilience for the difficult times

How professionals can weather shocks that may rock their career boats in a VUCA world

Last few weeks, media has been abuzz with the not-so-good-news about how firms handle downsizing. It even got the prime time discussion slot on some news channels.

But what one can be sure of, is that this incident is neither the first, nor will it be the last to hit the news. Beyond the media hype and the pain such episodes inflict on employees, is a serious leadership issue.

Blaming the lesser mortals in HR will only serve to side-track the problem, without solving fundamental culture issues. We shall address this separately in another column.

Tackling the ‘new normal’

For now, let us look at how professionals can build resilience to weather such career shocks. To the best of our knowledge, we are living in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Roller-coaster rides are likely to appear more frequently.

It is reported that in the US, every single home has at least one family member who lost a job in the last five years. And this is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ in other developing countries as well.

As professionals, we can be as optimistic as we want about the currency of our skills, but it is more important to circumspect and develop a healthy dose of paranoia about the continued smooth ride.

Taking right steps

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. But some careful steps can prepare you for this ‘new normal’. It is important to remember that this is not a one-time exercise but something that needs periodic drill.

Here are some of the steps that can help you swim through the scary tides of organisational life, and help you anchor yourselves securely.

Build a robust relational web : Dr Pamela Meyer, author of best-selling Agility Shift, makes a powerful case for organisations and individuals to build a ‘relational web’ and nurture it continuously.

Relational web is much more than Facebook and LinkedIn connections. This entails continuously expanding your network of people as well as resources. Resources include support systems, knowledge repositories, mentors and coaches and other advantages you can leverage. When a tornado tears apart a town or an earthquake rattles a place, it is the relational web that quickly helps recover and heal the wounds.

In this case, relational webs can help us all ‘weather the career storm’ when it strikes. Keep in mind that investing in an ever-expanding relational web has to be done during good times.

Keep writing your resume at regular intervals: Tom Peters, a writer of business management practices, recommended many years ago that ‘resume-ing’ is critical to staying relevant. This is not meant as an advice to ‘become a rolling stone’ every a few weeks or months, but it is to educate us on taking stock of our learning so we remain relevant.

If your resume does not need an update even after six months, it is evidence enough that you have not learnt anything new — and it is something you should be worried about.

Build adjacent skills: No matter what your core competencies are, it is absolutely important to build a few ‘adjacency’ skills. Our ability to do one job to the right and one to the left, plus one job above and one below are critical to survival.

While businesses value core talent, market forces can often render the ‘core’ a chore, overnight. Automation is a near-term reality, and robotics, machine learning, 3D-printing, Artificial Intelligence and the likes hold many more unhappy surprises for professionals who have not yet migrated to higher order skills.

Build a strong personal brand: We all know what a brand is about — it is difficult to substitute, commands a premium, is readily flaunted by those who own them and is trust-worthy.

The same holds true for professionals. Cultivating a personal brand by being ‘credible and visible’ within the organisation is the first step. However, brand building also happens in the talent market, such as by being known for one’s knowledge, being networked, speaking at conferences and seminars, contributing to technical and management journals and the likes can significantly enhance a personal brand. This aspect provides a ton of resilience during tough times.

Find an internal mentor : Many a time, professionals who have found a good internal mentor and cultivated a good equation with them escaped the travails of a career tremor. This is not to be misconstrued as ‘buttering the seniors’. On the contrary, when you forge a mentoring relationship, the mentor(s) often are aware of your strengths and value and it is that appreciation that saves the day for you.

Acquiring additional certifications that matter: Continuous learning has a lot to do with being career-resilient. Today, we have many such opportunities that are both accessible and affordable. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offered by Coursera or Edx are two such possibilities. Signing up and completing a couple of courses every year can significantly enhance your chances of finding another job relatively quickly, when compared with others who do not take up such courses.

As the ancient wisdom dictates, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. When the leaders have a lot to fix in their organisations, we as professionals have even more to focus and invest our time and energy on. Good luck!