I remember the movie from a few years ago, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” It was a fun movie where the father of the family accidently used his newly invented shrinking machine to shrink his kids. Anyway, it seems that the career pyramid seems to be shrinking in a similar way. As companies consolidate, merge, downsize, and transform, the number of higher-level positions seems to be decreasing. I know of a department in one firm that had 12 positions at the Director or above level in one area two years ago, but only six today. So, that is a perfect example of what is occurring broadly — the positions we felt we might attain as our career progresses have disappeared.
So, how do we thrive in the face of the incredible shrinking career pyramid? Are we destined to simply realize that career opportunities have diminished? Is there something we can do proactively to actually thrive in this environment? I believe the answer to this last question is, “Yes, we can do something about it.” Here are my thoughts and advice:
- No whining – The absolute worst thing you can do when frustrated by decreasing opportunities is to whine about it. Stop complaining. In these challenging times, feeling hopeless and helpless can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a time to become a warrior, not a worrier. Take action and go on the offense. Avoid negative talk, rumor-mongering, and a depressive attitude. This can simply destroy any of those diminishing opportunities that might have been possible.
- View the shrinking pyramid as an opportunity – Many years ago, my entire division at the company where I worked was eliminated in one day. Suddenly, I was without a job. I had a new house with a mortgage, a small child with another on the way, and no tools to help me find another job. However, in the end, my next job is what put me in the healthcare industry – the very best in the world. That terrible, horrible day became the springboard to things much greater for my career. This reminds me of a great quote: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” (George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans). Look at the shrinking pyramid as a time to consider learning new skills, experiencing new challenges, etc. It may not be the end, but a new beginning.
- Re-double your networking efforts – I cannot emphasize enough the importance of networking. During the shrinking pyramid period, you must do that even more! Re-acquaint yourself with old colleagues, recent acquaintances, etc. Ask a colleague to introduce you to someone they know. Make it a goal to connect with someone from your past and someone new once each week. That will force you to see new opportunities.
- Invent your own position – These times might be good ones to break your old paradigms and create new ones. Perhaps, the future organization will be totally different than it is today. What activities tend to be trending in importance? What new needs have arisen? Where do you see a future need? What should you get ahead of now. I personally know of a dozen or more individuals that migrated to positions that previously didn’t even exist. Find that opportunity, demonstrate its value, and make a pitch.
- Enhance your “serve” – There may be a tendency during times of shrinking opportunities to become self-focused. That is wrong. Yes, you need to consider your own plight, but I believe this is also a time to enhance your service to others. You are not the only person experiencing the shrinking pyramid. Others need your presence, your advice, your help. You might also learn that when you serve others, your own frustration and short-term view becomes alleviated. Do something for someone else and see how it impacts your attitude.
- Increase your responsibilities – A shrinking pyramid might also be a time to seek ways to increase your own responsibilities. As consolidation occurs, there might be functions left uncovered. This is a time to ask for a chance to demonstrate your abilities by taking on more. It shows your value plus it gives you a chance to learn something new.
- Expand your horizon – We all often have a very narrow view of our abilities, career, or purpose. This is a time to expand it. Be creative in what you can do or what value you can add. For example, read the actual job description on open positions posted. Think about how you would position yourself for positions outside your normal function. What skills can you bring? You may have never been in a Project Manager position, but you have managed projects successfully. You may have never supervised people directly, but you have managed the activities of teams of individuals. Stop limiting yourself!
- Never stop adding value – Finally, now is not the time to slow down. In most cases, opportunities in these difficult times are offered to individuals with a proven ability to add value… the demonstrated ability to make a difference. There will always be an opportunity in companies for individuals that get things done consistently.
Bottom line… When things get difficult, those that persevere are those that win. Now is not a time to shrink along with the shrinking pyramid. Take action, get involved, and manage your own career destiny.
Have a fabulous day! We each have within us the ability to make a difference. Find your place to do it today.