Advancing your career during corporate downsizing requires changing your mindset and actions. In this article, the authors offer five strategies for turning adversity into springboards for your professional growth: 1) Reframe your thinking. 2) Fill the void. 3) Look for quick wins. 4) Negotiate for later. 5) Perform sideways movements.
As director of operations at a manufacturing company, Marlow was on a path of rapid growth. In the past year, its team has doubled in size, thanks in large part to its ability to navigate them through turbulent change and drive key supply chain initiatives.
Marlow’s results and dedication have landed him in an interesting opportunity — a newly created role as vice president of process optimization. Promotion was the goal he set out to be and represented an opportunity to make an even bigger impact while shaping the future of the company.
Unfortunately, while Marlow was on the cusp of this big career move, the market took a downturn and the company’s profits quickly plummeted. In the face of economic challenges, difficult decisions must be made. Marlow’s once thriving team was halved, and to make matters worse, the role of vice president he had longed for was dissolved. He finds himself at a crossroads, questioning how to move forward when his aspirations seems to slip.
Many leaders and professionals find themselves in Marlow’s position — feeling discouraged and not sure about how to advance their career as their company downsizing. It’s no wonder when layoffs happen increase almost fivefold by 2023 with no end of financial instability in sight.
Organizations are always looking for ways to cut their costs and profits. While it can mean disastrous changes like spending freezes and layoffs, it doesn’t have to destroy your career prospects. In fact, it can be a springboard for growth. Here’s how to overcome the annoyance that comes with cost-cutting measures and emerge stronger.
Reframe your thoughts.
Experiencing various emotions – sadness, anger, self doubt — natural during times of organizational turmoil. But shutting yourself out, avoiding situations, and feeling sorry for yourself will get you nowhere and only leave you feeling stuck. Instead, embrace change and uncertainty as part of the job description.
Whether the cause is technological advances, shifting market dynamics, or growing customer expectations, companies are restructuring quickly. You need to be prepared for transitions both big and small at any time. Tough times reveal your character and where your leadership is most needed. You can choose to adopt the perspective of viewing upheaval as a crucial moment that presents an opportunity to provide value and emerge as a strong and influential leader who drives positive change.
Fill the void.
Step over and fill the void created by the shifting sand. Change can be unsettling, and that’s why stability is so important. Align your efforts with the company’s new priorities, which typically include a focus on core offerings, cost control and operational efficiency, as well as employee and customer retention.
Despite the setbacks he faced, Marlow quickly recognized the importance of reducing costs during a downturn and had a laser-like focus on key business areas. Marlow aligned his team’s efforts only to essential operations. Pitching multiple innovation projects was a difficult decision, but Marlow’s shrewdness caught the attention of senior management, who appreciated his display of strategic priorities.
Look for quick wins.
During difficult times, everyone looks for a savior. Chances are morale and self-confidence shaken up and down, from junior employees all the way to the C-suite. By identifying — and acting quickly — areas for improvement, you can position yourself as a valuable asset, someone who gets results while looking out for the best interests of the company.
Look for ways to make a real impact in a short amount of time. For example, you can:
- Renegotiate supplier contracts
- Find a cheaper way to source materials
- Collaborate with other departments to save resources
- Implement automation to streamline processes
- Launch your product to untapped customer segments
- Develop campaigns to increase repeat purchases
Negotiate for later.
After the Vice President role was dissolved, Marlow made it clear to his manager that he understood the company’s financial constraints and why the process optimization role he had hoped for was dissolved. Then he proposes a way forward to balance the needs of the organization while keeping its long term goals in mind.
“While I understand that major changes may not be feasible at this time, I would like to discuss the possibility of revisiting my scope in the future,” he said. “I can take on X responsibilities now, but with a commitment to explore opportunities in the process optimization domain in the future as the market improves.”
Like Marlow, you’ll also want to read the room. Now might not be the right time to ask for major changes to your role, responsibilities, or compensation, but you can try to get a commitment for later. For example, “I’m happy to take X now, as long as there’s a commitment to revisit my scope later.” Or “I want to help, but my end goal is to go in the Y direction. When do you think you can make that happen?
Make sideways movements.
While up-and-down career advancement may be limited during downsizing, lateral moves can still provide opportunities to learn new skills and gain new experiences. Sideways moves allow you to broaden your expertise, which increases your versatility and makes you a more valuable asset to the organization. Let’s say you’re in a sales role. A move to a product development team can provide you with an in-depth understanding of the product development process, market research and customer needs analysis. Offering your sales insights means companies can better align their offerings with market demands.
Moving laterally also exposes you to new colleagues and broadens your professional network. This can open doors for collaboration on future projects, mentoring opportunities, and access to a broader body of knowledge about internal politics. Plus, it exposes you to new stakeholders, decision makers and senior leaders. The more people you know – and more and more people know you — more and more opportunities will come your way.
Advancing your career during corporate downsizing requires changing your mindset and actions. By implementing these strategies, you can turn adversity into a springboard for professional growth.