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Take Charge of Your Career!
by Jean Gatz

The world is changing quickly. What do the terms downsizing, restructuring, outsourcing, mergers and budget constraints mean to you and your career? Do you understand what today's organizations are asking - and even demanding - of their employees? In research for my book, How to Be the Person Successful Companies Fight to Keep, I interviewed over 300 business owners, CEOs, managers, supervisors, HR directors and employers and asked:

"Suppose you have two employees who are both technically competent. But you can only keep one of them. How do you decide which one stays and which one goes? Which one would you fight to keep?"

What my co-author and I discovered in our survey is that decision-makers were in remarkable agreement on the high performance behaviors employees must demonstrate to bring added value to the organization and remain employable and marketable. The key to staying successfully employed will depend on your ability to:
  • Take charge of your personal life
  • Demonstrate value added
  • Have a positive impact on your company, coworkers and customers
  • Embrace and initiate change
  • Work harder, smarter, faster and better
  • Communicate openly, honestly and directly to build a climate of trust
  • Look for leadership opportunities
  • Commit to lifelong learning
Demonstrating these abilities and behaviors could very well save your career and allow you to stay employed. Notice I said “stay employed.” I did not say “keep the job you have now.” There is a difference. If your primary goal is to keep the job you have now, you may actually be placing yourself in jeopardy. We’ve observed that many employees who attempt to keep their current jobs often become anxious and resistant to change. They act defensively, hoard information that needs to be shared, and fear that they will lose credit for the work they do as part of the team. In other words, they display exactly the opposite behavior of what today’s companies are looking for in successful employees.

To remain employed, you have to picture yourself as “employable.” You must remain flexible and keep all your options open. These options could include being employed by another company or in another industry, working for more than one employer, moving to another department or location within your present company or perhaps starting your own business. Keeping the job you have now may be a short-term goal for you. Staying employed is a far-reaching, long-term goal.

Most people will change jobs – and careers – at least three times throughout the course of their professional life. And few people can count on the safety net of a lifelong job. Since job security as we have known it no longer exists, then it’s up to each of us to create our own “career” security. But how do you go about making a visible contribution? One manager shared his opinion:

If you're my employee, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been on the job, how impressive your resume is, or how many initials and titles come after your name. What matters is what you know, and how you continue to learn to stay on the cutting edge. How you apply that knowledge on the job is what really counts in our organization.

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company put it this way:
No one is going to take care of you today but yourself. Every employee focused on job security must be flexible and contribute to the bottom line – every single day.

Our research confirmed this reality. The only organization that will take people under its wing and guarantee them food, clothing and shelter for life is a state or federal penitentiary. Not a very wise career move! So each of us must take responsibility for our lives, both personally and professionally. And we must plan for the future. There is no one else to blame if we fail to reach our goals. A mid-level manager commented:

We need people who can partner with us to stay one step ahead of the game, remain competitive in the changing marketplace, break away from tired old ways of doing things, and help us plan for success.

In addition to the high performance behaviors listed, every single decision maker stressed the importance of character. They all agreed they wanted employees they could trust, people who are compassionate, honest, and act with integrity, who keep their promises and do what they say they are going to do.

Although you may be one of the most honest, hardworking employees in your organization, it’s important to be aware of company politics. Although employers don’t like to talk about them, they exist in every workplace. My advice is to become savvy about the politics in your company, know the lay of the land, network accordingly, and understand that sometimes decisions are made which are not fair. It’s naïve to think that if you close your eyes, cross your fingers and keep your nose to the grindstone, all will be well. Sometimes it’s not enough to be good at your job. You must also stay connected and alert.

Many employees we talked to were so busy trying to find fault or blame someone for their recent or impending job loss that they couldn’t focus on doing something about remaining employable. Their anger, frustration and bitterness drained them of the excitement, creativity and energy they needed to move in a positive direction.

Does your company have the right to expect you to demonstrate the eight high performance behaviors in your job? We could argue the point, but arguing will not change the reality of today’s workplace. These abilities are what today’s companies expect – and even demand.

Do you have to meet these expectations? It’s totally up to you. But I recommend that you seriously consider the importance of these abilities if you want to remain employed over the long haul of your career. Your job title and job duties may change, you may leave your present company through downsizing of through your own choice. You may already have some or even all of these abilities. But if you don’t, are you willing to change to fit the needs of today’s employers?

The main reason people are willing to undergo serious change is because they realize it’s imperative to their survival to do so. In today’s volatile and rapidly changing workplace, it is imperative to your survival that you become – and remain – as marketable as possible. You can no longer depend on a company or an organization for your financial and professional well being. Instead, you must depend on yourself and be responsible for your own future.

How are you doing so far? How employable and marketable are you? Have you taken charge of your career? To find out how you measure up, take the Positive Impact Quiz on my website. As you read the interpretation of your score, ask yourself this question:

"Am I the person every successful company would fight to keep?"

Copyright Jean Gatz. All Rights Reserved.

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