E. S. Soon | Recession-Proof Your Career

Recession-Proof Your Career

“If you put yourself in the shoes of senior management, between two types of resources, one that could generate new meanings to the company, the other just drift along and have stopped learning, which would you rather keep?”

Economic downturns pose financial stress for companies and of late we have been revisited by management jargon such as cost rationalizing, budget review, strategic resource allocation or any other phrase that basically means “to bring the costs down”. In adverse market conditions, when companies find it hard to increase revenues, they have to reduce costs. But, there are companies that continue to generate revenue and do well in a downturn.

What types of companies survive or even excel in a downturn? According to an article posted on Investopedia by Marvin Dumon, companies with the following four characteristics generally do well and are considered recession-proof:

  1. Companies that provide critical repair and maintenance services, or sell essentials.
  2. Companies that serve a customer base that is insulated from economic meltdown.
  3. Companies that provide products and services that are mandated by government regulation and compliance rules.
  4. Companies that provide proprietary, niche or highly defensive products and services.

If you belong to one of the above types of companies, you may find some relief. That said, even recession-proof companies may leverage challenging times to trim resources to make them even more competitive. Whilst no one can 100% escape from a recession, can we draw parallels from the above characteristics to career management in challenging time? I think we can.

The more obvious insights we can draw from the above list may sound like these. Shifting focus from doing sexy and nice-to-have projects to contributing to critical business survival activities. Expanding on your customers base (be it external customers or internal colleagues) and give priorities to those who will need more of your input and contribution in trying times. Learning a new skill or fine-tuning your skills to make yourself attractive not just for the current time but for the future as well. In other words, you want to show it to your employer that you are one resource “worth keeping” both during and after the recession.

I want to go one step further and bring up the concept of learning agility, which I think is really the key skill for any economic condition. Having spent close to two decades on talent management, I do think learning agility is the key differentiator for any professional to market their worth to employers. In times of a recession, the value of learning agility has just doubled or tripled or quadrupled, depending on the condition of the markets and companies you work for.

Simply put, learning agility is the ability to learn on an ongoing basis, unlearn and relearn. And the ability to draw learning and new meaning from an experience or activity. When was the last time you learned something new, something significant, from your job? It does not have to necessary be about learning from a fancy project or a major deal. People with high learning agility could learn from even the most mundane day-today tasks.

In multi-year studies conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership, one of the glaring differences between successful executives and those whose careers go into a derailment, is learning agility. They found that executives with high learning agility learn faster, learn on the spot, and have numerous learning strategies in place to help them learn. They are energized by the challenge of learning a new thing, a new way to do things better and more efficiently. In contrast, less successful executives or those who’s careers derailed, tend to learn randomly or not at all. They are not active in seeking new knowledge and making sense out of the things they do. They complete their tasks just like their successful peers but did not seek to know something new.

Managing a downturn is never a nice job. If you put yourself in the shoes of senior management, between two types of resources, one that could generate new meanings to the company, the other just drift along and have stop learning, which would you rather keep?


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