How To Survive (Or Thrive In) A Downturn

I have a confession: I love turmoil.

One of the hardest things you can do is to get an organization to change.  In periods of turmoil, change is inevitable and the hardest part of your career — getting those around and above you into a "we must change" mindset — is done for you.  Those periods where everything is up in the air, or on fire, or crumbling around you are the ripest opportunities that you’ll ever see.  But before you can thrive, you have to survive.

I recently talked to a friend who is about to downsize his team.  The team is made up of some contributors and some cogs.  As you might imagine, the cogs will be the ones to go.  Not only that, but some of the cogs will probably be surprised since their work is fine and they work a lot.  They are mistaking being a high quality cog with being a contributor.

So how do you know if you’re a contributor or a cog?

It’s actually pretty easy to know if you’re a contributor.  If things are truly different (in a positive way) because you’re there, you’re contributing.  If someone else who is as qualified and works as much had been doing your job for the last several months and put the project/team/department in the same place they are now, then you’re the definition of a workplace cog: an interchangeable part. 

It’s pretty clear that we’re in a period of market turmoil right now.  I can’t imagine any place that is going to be acting the same over the next 6 months as they were over the past 6.  If you’ve spent time differentiating yourself, then you’ll be fine at either your current organization or a new one that’s looking to make a change.  If you’ve just been plodding along, then you’ve put yourself in a precarious position to be replaced or removed.  Get yourself out of that position ASAP and never be in it again.

What about thriving instead of merely surviving?

This is where it gets fun, if you have the stomach for it.  While others are adopting a defensive posture, keeping their head down and trying not to get canned, this is a time to shine.  Can you and a couple of other high-quality people replace a team twice your size?  If so, you have an excellent value play.  Can you, all by yourself, create a new revenue stream?  Can you do it while fulfilling your existing duties?  This would be a perfect time to offer your employer a near-zero-risk opportunity to bring in more money.

No doubt that things have gone pear shaped and it’s going to affect everyone.  It’s up to you whether the effect is positive or negative.  Things are in motion so now is the time to steer.

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