I asked this question to one of my ex-colleagues to open up the possibility of having a discussion in an interesting and challenging area. The background to this discussion was the decision of his organisation to go ahead with a certain number of job cuts. Considering the volatile world that we live in and the uncertainties created by the pandemic, a large number of professionals must ask themselves this question honestly and initiate actions to prepare themselves for today and tomorrow.
Business cycles are an acceptable phenomenon and with the integrated nature of global work order, any impact usually gets cascaded and at times amplified. In the 2000s, the comforting idea that growth is going to continue in its current form and therefore there is a certain degree of certainty linked to jobs, careers, salaries, was harboured by a generation of professionals working in India. This certainty which provides a sense of comfort and safety, at times clouds our judgment and therefore acts as an obstruction to accept and act when circumstances start to change.
My profession as a coach and a consultant allows me to be in the company of amazing professionals. I realized that some are great working in a small organisation, some do really well in a large set-up, some in certain global corporates and some in Indian companies, each one has a sweet spot and certain a degree of flexibility which creates a range in which they operate very well. Then there is the other category of professionals like entrepreneurs, founders, people who work in boutique firms, freelancers etc, this category is distinct with respect to not only skills but also mindset.
There are a growing number of professionals who can easily and successfully toggle between these two arenas but in my experience, that’s still a relatively small percentage. So, if I have to create categories at an extremely broad level, I would say there are professionals who would enjoy, contribute and grow in what we term as organisations in a traditional sense and then there are others who are in rhythm when they are a part of a working set up that is relatively more flexible, open, extremely dynamic and highly and quickly susceptible to environmental influences. Psychologically the second category is highly aware of the uncertainties as they have to deal with it frequently and in areas that can be termed as hygiene factors in a corporate set up e.g., the uncertainty of income even for a shorter duration of timeframe.
When I talk to these two categories of professionals the visualization that it generates in the case of the first category is of folks who are adept and wants to be a part of a big growing (or stable) megacity with adequate (at times more than adequate) resources, governance, scale and a set of rules and roles that are agreed upon and followed by most of the citizens of that city, which gives it a sense of stability and order to a certain degree. The second category gives their best when they are on an adventure trip in a jungle with limited resources, unfamiliar terrain, unaccounted dangers that can emerge from anywhere, rules and roles are fuzzy, dynamic.
Considering the volatility in the world in general and business in specific, the psychological job security associated with big corporates is now questionable. Situations, where folks working in mid to large organisations facing retrenchment are and quite likely, will continue to be a reality. Usually, job cuts first impact folks who are at senior to mid-level and the challenge is that if one has devoted his/her life for a long duration in a certain kind of setup, then most likely one has built skills and acquired mindset that is required to be successful in that particular set up.
Imagine you have always lived in a megacity and one fine day you go out trekking in a dense forest with your friends and you lose track, you have no clue how to handle yourself and fend for your survival. God forbid if the rescue party takes a long time and you have to spend a night or a few nights, what do you do? That’s the question that all professionals who prefer to stay and grow in a certainly organized set-up, must deal with, proactively. Else when the HR team calls and shares the news, it may result in long periods of denial, grief, shock etc which in most cases then results in frantic job search applying on all job sites, connecting with executive search firms, creating a powerful resume, connecting with old and new friends, colleagues, well-wishers etc calculating and readjusting the finances (all the right steps) and if it does not result in any tangible progress then what next? Mostly, professionals do more of the same.
If in your career journey as a corporate professional, you have been able to acquire entrepreneurial skills and mindset to launch yourself in the other arena (entrepreneurship, free-lancer etc) it opens up a whole new world of possibilities and can act as an interim arrangement (which in some cases becomes the next career journey- that’s when you start thriving in a jungle!), keeps you meaningfully occupied with certain financial inflows. So just to take our jungle analogy forward, when you realize you are separated from your group and you don’t know your way back, you are not petrified as time elapses, night sets in and there is no clue of any rescue mission. You know how to safely perch on a branch, create a shade using natural cover, pluck a few edible fruits etc.
If I take the liberty of generalizing the professionals falling in the above mentioned two categories, few things are worth highlighting: Category one folks are accustomed to certain money coming into their account on a fixed date, they usually have strong association and identification with a brand (organisation name and designation), they leverage and rely and at times even depend on a whole set of infrastructures, resources that are available, they usually have experience and exposure in certain function(s), quite often manage programs and people or teams, at times quite far away from the end consumer and the market. A lot of times the middle layer in big setups is managing the processes and also the visibility with the right folks who at the end of the year are responsible for major decisions linked to themselves and their team’s success.
Category two folks are usually comfortable in multiple areas that are required to run or be a part of an independent and relatively smaller setup. They are skilled in reaching out to a wider network, doing soft or hard business development in their own ways, they definitely have expertise in one or two areas. They are relatively more independent and if required, can do a variety of work on their own, which a manager in a large setup may have quit doing years back e.g., writing a code or making ppts etc, they are persistent and usually do not over-index on an organisational brand with respect to their professional worth. They are relatively more comfortable with uncertainties at every level micro and macro e.g., markets, clients, pay-outs, cash flows.
The above two categories don’t exist in isolated compartments, the idea of presenting them as two distinct categories is to highlight certain fundamental points (even the analogy of jungle and megacity is to create a visualization and not to categories or rate professions and professionals). The big question is are we ready to accept the new emerging realities, are we comfortable in owning our professional development from a wider perspective (not just career paths and career lattice within a company), are organisations ready to develop folks to brace up for the challenge in case of an eventuality, are professionals ready to re-calibrate their needs and wants, when they consider switching from one professional orbit to another? Providing severance, outplacement services are all great initiatives but as organisations, are we teaching professionals how to employ oneself in case there is downsizing and permanent jobs with other organisations aren’t available for a longer duration? this becomes relevant as no organisation in today’s world can guarantee job security and at the same time alternate work models are gaining prominence. This may also be in some way a step towards becoming Atmanirbhar at an individual level. Also, not all sectors in an economy get adversely impacted at one point in time, so there are always opportunity areas that can be leveraged, even if the organisations in safe or growth zone do not want to immediately add full-time employees.
I think building basic entrepreneurial skills and mindset is the need of the hour irrespective of whether we prefer or not to become an entrepreneur in a classical sense. Professionals and organisations need to be candid and honest and not become comfortable by simply communicating ideas like intrapreneurship which at times are nothing more than old wine in a new bottle (though there are a few exceptions). In my view, the working professionals must prepare themselves and demand from their organisations to equip them to navigate in choppy waters. The need to discover one’s purpose, core/differentiated capabilities and build basic entrepreneurial skills is critical. Otherwise, when one finds oneself lost in a jungle, unprepared, one feels lost, demoralized and incapacitated and that must change.