The American workforce must pay attention to a variety of conditions when it comes to their careers in an increasingly unpredictable world. Workers cannot afford to be blind to the risk of layoffs, unforeseen bankruptcy, or “quiet layoffs.” Potential blind spots are everywhere: artificial intelligence taking over your job or disruption from global events like pandemics or natural disasters. Many workers are at a loss for how to avoid a work crisis. It’s easy to get so comfortable in our positions that we forget that tomorrow brings no guarantees, so risk management is important to safeguard your career.
Check out my story by Bill Eckstrom, founder and CEO of EcSell, who told me about one afternoon when the president of his company called him into a small conference room on the top floor of his office building for a quick meeting. “He fired me,” Bill recalls. “And I’ll never forget how his words took the breath out of me. I left the conference room in a daze and went home and curled up on my bed in the fetal position for three hours.” While he didn’t see the alarming event coming, he ended up stepping on it. Fortunately for him, the suffering it brought him changed his life forever for the better. According to K. Scott Griffiths, The Leader’s Guide to Managing Risk: A Proven Method for Building Resilience and Credibility, the secret lies in seeing, understanding and managing the risk. He says there’s a better way to take control of your career, uncover the hidden pattern of why bad things happen, and apply the science of preventing negative outcomes to your profession. In this case. Bill Eckstrom learned that getting fired was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
How to Hit the Career Jackpot
Griffith, its founder and managing partner SG Collaborative Solutions, shared with me three common biases that blind us from taking risks in our careers. Griffiths warns: “Don’t be risk averse, be smart.” Many risks are worth taking, he insists, so take them. But be smart. “If you’re applying for a job or considering a promotion, you should ask yourself these three questions,” he advises. First, understand what the business needs. Second, figure out what you’re good at doing. and third, identify what you like and how it makes you happy or satisfied. If you can line up all three, congratulations! You’ve hit the jackpot of your career.”
On the other hand, it states that as you navigate your career, you will discover areas where you may need to adapt or work to develop strengths and passions beyond your current job and focus. “Bad outcomes such as layoffs or bankruptcy of a company are rare black swan events. The signs are usually hiding in plain sight if we know where to look. Having a contingency plan is always a good idea if the business you are in is uncertain. But don’t worry. Change often leads to new opportunities for growth, at any age. Starting over can be scary, but no experience is wasted. We become the sum of our experiences and each new one adds value to our career.” In this case. After being fired, Bill Eckstrom believes the experience was the best thing that ever happened to him. He used the crisis to succeed, founded his own company and wrote a book about how comfort can destroy your career while discomfort can boost it.
Understanding the risks ahead
Without a crystal ball, how do we see and understand the dangers ahead? Griffith recommends looking beyond the obvious to recognize patterns when you see them, including how companies treat all employees, not just top performers and executives. “Big companies offer more than high salaries,” he adds. “Look for companies that align with your values and long-term goals and provide growth opportunities for all employees.”
He explains that career risks come from external the internal sources. External risk arises from circumstances over which we have no control. Examples are changing market conditions, pandemics, burnout resulting from workload, environment and culture, discrimination, harassment and assault. Internal dangers come from within us. Examples are changing our minds about the type of work we want, not paying attention to our mental health, not having proper training, burnout resulting from too much pressure from within, or neglecting work-life balance. The bottom line, Griffiths explains, is that you can’t deal with risks you don’t see and understand. So it’s important to stay informed about your industry and what’s happening in the world around you. She suggests checking in with yourself to make sure you’re on track internally, too. Once you can see and understand risk, you can adopt strategies to avoid them or become resilient or able to recover if things go wrong.
Three Professional Risk Protection Strategies
Griffith says there are three strategies you can use to future-proof your career and be ready for whatever challenges come your way.
- Don’t be a one trick pony. “A great way to build resilience in your career is to train (or be willing to learn) in more than one area. Invest in expanding your skill set and pursue your various interests. You never know when they might come in handy. For example, a lawyer who was fired from a law firm stays on her feet, working in HR at a large company. A mechanical engineer moves from designing aircraft components to medical devices. A game developer develops new artificial intelligence software for an autonomous vehicle manufacturer.’
- Listen to your heart. “It is important not to neglect the internal sources of risk to our careers. Building human resilience requires a focus on maintaining mental health and the ability to overcome self-esteem and self-worth at work. You are worth more than the sum of your parts, including your work. Building resilience with this skill may require the help of a network of friends, a therapist, or a coach and/or mentor.”
- Lean on collaboration. “Build a strong network and seek professional advice from potential coaches and mentors. Silos arise in business because the world has become more specialized, but the best of us navigate the world looking through multiple lenses. Silos work until things go wrong. Responding to risk requires collaboration, and the most successful careers are built on being able to interact across silos.