Original insights in international business and marketing
Survival in the business world is normally tied to one’s value to the organization. Not a year goes by when companies aren’t tightening their belts and asking more from each employee. Not a front page goes without referring to mass reorganizations or layoffs.
Employees at the beginning or in the middle of their careers need to take heed if they want to secure long-term employment. Corporations which are running out of fresh ideas, facing shrinking markets, increased competition or just plain commoditization are continually cutting more costs out of the organization. People in traditional cost-centers like HR, IT, customer service, accounting and even marketing (not to mention manufacturing of course!) should be intimately familiar with the outsourcing/contracting trend of the past decades. How then do you know if you are still needed?
1. Be economy & society aware. Look at the macro trends that are taking shape across the globe. Are economic conditions easing or are headwinds increasing? What are the forecasters saying? What societal trends are emerging that are weighing on economies (e.g. retiring baby boomer generation). It helps to read up on current issues to get a general sense of which direction things are heading. This is what I would call your long-term, 5+ year radar. Keep an eye on it occasionally to get a feel for what macro-economic and geo-political forces are at play and how they could affect you and your industry. Fundamental shifts at this level could spell the end (or possible resurgence) of entire industries.
2. Be industry & technology aware. What is the state of your current industry? Is the overall size of the pie growing, stagnating or shrinking? Are more competitors coming on-line and from where? What are the technological trends and financial issues that are buffeting your customers? This is your 2-5 years radar or forecast indicator. Watch this closely to understand where things are heading in the medium-term and what forces are driving growth or decline specifically in your industry or market. Are new, low-cost entrants nipping at your heels? Products starting to get commoditized? Technology opening entire new segments? This is where you can diagnose trends and patterns that will shape the future of your industry.
3. Be company & department aware. Take a hard but honest look at your own organization. How well is it performing? Has there been a lot of senior management or strategic churn in recent years? Is there a pattern of “hire & fire” or of major reorganizations every 3-5 years? How prepared is your company to address the changes in the markets/industry? This is your 1-2 years, short-term window. Use this regularly to assess your organization’s health and ability to anticipate the changes. Try to determine if you are over or under-staffed and what management is planning to do about this.
The above views or perspectives are more of what I would consider the demand side of things. They tend to govern how many and also what kinds of employees are going to be in demand (and where!). No matter what the scenario, people will always be needed whether in a healthy/growing business or even in an ailing/declining one.
The key, in my opinion, lies more on the supply side of things, namely what you have to offer to the employer. Just how valuable are you in good times and bad ones? When business is good, everyone looks like a star, in spite of incredible inefficiencies and poor decisions. We tend to forget , forgive or gloss over them during good harvests. The real challenge is when things start turning sour. One of my favorite sayings:
“When the tide goes down, you get to see who’s been swimming naked.”
I believe that in many large corporations, at least 20-30% of employees offer little or questionable value to the enterprise. It’s not always their fault. Nobody sets out to be a failure or ineffective. Many times, companies simply over-hire, they over-anticipate based on rosy forecasts or perhaps execs try to build small empires for themselves. Furthermore, the inefficiencies of a large and matrixed organization often conspire to dilute, delay or destroy contributions from perfectly capable individuals. Often it is the environment and internal processes that choke things up and create layers and silos full of employees with marginal value.
So what can you do about this? The simple answer is that you have to turn your personal “radar” on and find ways to stay relevant (i.e. increase your “supply” value to an organization) given the industry & economic level trends you have identified. With technology and markets evolving so fast nowadays, it’s easy to see how over time, say 5 to 10 years, people can slowly get left behind in terms of skills and knowledge. They have failed to anticipate the macro trends and their skill sets have not evolved or kept up. Truth is, the world we knew and studied 30-20-10 years ago is changing faster than many can keep up with it. Moral of the story: Don’t get caught “naked.”
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