In my third year of graduate school, I saw the national debt skyrocketing and so I asked Ben Schneider (you might remember the article “The People Make the Place”) what happens to I/O psychologists in a bad economy. He first told me that I was wrong about the economy (thanks Ben) and then went on to tell me that his experience was that, as an I/O psychologist, he always had work; however, the type of work that he did differed. As I shared last night, in my experience, I have tended to see the following types of work increase, decrease or be mixed:
I/O work that tends to get cut
· General training (e.g., communication skills, goal setting, time management)
· General management training (e.g., general management training; specialized management that is closely linked to the business such as sales supervisor skills tends to get funded – remember the our emphasis in the training class on being seen as a performance consultant, not a general trainer?)
· General OD (e.g., team building, small group interventions)
· Recruitment (for general positions, but there will be work for recruiters for highly specialized skills)
· 360 feedback systems
· Employee surveys
· Coaching (for junior executives and below)
I/O work that gets funded
· Senior executive development
· The CEO’s special projects and initiatives
· Online training courses (to replace classroom training)
· Outplacement services (e.g., for employees who are being let go)
· Career development services (paid for by the company or the individual)
· Coaching for senior executives coaching (especially for executives who are critical to the business but who don’t get along with others)
· Succession planning for senior-level jobs
I/O work that is mixed
· Selection – Specialized and high-end selection systems tend to get cut, but selection processes that can screen lots of applicants fairly, quickly and with no adverse impact tend to get funded
· Performance management – It always has to be done, but often with a reduced number of people to run it
· HR Generalist positions –they tend to be reduced, but as we discussed last night, sometimes HR Generalists absorb the work that HR specialists used to do. For example, they might take over OD consulting responsibilities for their groups offering a great opportunity for them to move into a more strategic role if they have the skills (which all of you do)
Personal Strategies – Below are some good things to keep in mind in these times
· Perform! The people who keep their jobs are the ones who deliver results – be the BEST you can be, be conscientious, work hard, produce high quality. These are always important, but especially important in tough times.
· Get as close to the business as you can. Find ways that you can add to the bottom line. If you are in training, work as closely as you can with the sales manager to help him/her increase the performance and get more out of the sales force. Work with the operations director and find out how you can help him improve team productive and efficient. For example, if the organization has adopted lean manufacturing, offer to work with the manager to drive that initiative. Know the business strategy and how you directly support it – How can you help the company make money and perform well? Remember HR is a support role and so it shows up as a cost, not a profit-center. The secret is to work closely with the managers and senior managers who do produce revenue for the company (see the above discussion)
· Find excuses to work for senior leaders and find ways to add value and support their key priorities. Think of the pressure and how hard it is to lead a company in tough economic times. Find ways to support the senior leader and help them make the company successful.
· Find your unique value-add. What can you do that nobody else can? What is your value-add? This will include your I/O knowledge and skills, your personal strengths, and your passion to name a few. Create a niche for yourself. Find what you can do that nobody else can do, and then do it very, very well. Remember that it needs to be something that is critical to success of the company. General training skills aren’t important. Instead, figure out how to support sales training, customer service training, teller training, barista training – whatever is most valuable to the organization (e.g., keeps customers coming back, makes money for the company, etc.)
· Consider moving to a line job. you might need to take a front-line, technical job for a while. In an insurance company, maybe this means become an HR generalist in the claims department or becoming a claims agent for a while. Think about the your career holistically. Maybe this is a chance for you to get some technical job experience that will make you more competitive in the long run. Consider the big picture and the long-game.
· Find ways to work with line leaders and line managers. It helps if senior leaders know who you are because they are the ones who will have to make these tough decisions. This especially includes your direct manager. This doesn’t mean you should pander to them. They will ultimately be looking for people who can perform (see #1), so do your job well, but don’t shy away from opportunities to interact and present to them. Oh, and don’t place all your hopes on just one leader. He/she might not be around later so look for opportunities to work with several leaders.
· Expand your career options. Your resume should be updated and you should be looking at what jobs are out there. Make sure you are networking with people inside and outside of your company. Apply for interesting jobs just to keep in practice. Find a mentor at another company in the area to get a broader perspective outside your company.
· Know when you are losing your soul. There might come a time when your values are challenged and you decide you can’t work in the environment you find yourself in any more. For example, a new leader might come in who treats people poorly. Maybe you see some of your co-workers unfairly removed from their jobs. I can almost guarantee that there will come a time at some point in your career when you will have to choose whether to stay and compromise your values or quit and leave when you don’t know if a job is waiting for you on the other side. Decide ahead of time what that line is for you and make a pact with yourself that you will live up to your values. Personally, I find myself resting on my Christian faith that says I might not see what’s into the unknown, but I have God’s word that he will be there and He will honor my choice. It might not be easy, but He will be with me. I think of Martin Luther King and the risks he took, not only for himself, but the risk that also came to his wife and children because of the choices he made (very real risks including a bomb explosion on his front porch). So, a big question to ask yourself, is “What price am I willing to pay?” Fortunately, we have some great role models who have gone before us to show the way.
The year to come may be tough, but that’s when your leadership and who you are counts more than ever. And, as we also discussed, these times always open up opportunities as well, job opportunities and opportunities to serve others in some amazing ways.
-Dr. Paul Yost