October 19, 2008

Losing Your Livelihood: Insuring Against The Risk

But there's things that'll knock you down you don't even see coming. And send you crawling like a baby back home. --- Bruce Springsteen - When You're Alone

Insurance reduces risk and provides peace of mind. We insure our lives, our cars, our homes. What about insuring our livelihood/income/job? Companies disappear and you could be in the wrong spot. What can you do? You can make yourself more employable by improving yourself. This doesn't guarantee success but certainly improves the probabilities.

In the Harvard Business Review, Janet Banks and Diane Coutu write about How To Protect Your Job In A Recession (September 2008). They have three recommendations
  1. Act like a survivor
  2. Give your leaders hope
  3. Be a team player
Act Like A Survivor
Over the years, I had staff seeking promotions or raises because they wanted more money. Or thought they did great work. Or thought they were indispensable. Those aren't good reasons. To earn more, do more than you're paid for. This applies whether times are good or bad.

Since we see better than we think, impressions can mean more than facts. If we act like winners, we get seen as winners and can become winners. Acting like a survivor helps you survive and become a survivor. Overcoming impressions takes time, during which we can improve our skills.

The Best Tactic
Survivors look forward to the future. The best way is by focusing on your customers, anticipating their needs and then satisfying them. Your customers can be inside or outside your organization. By proving your worth, you build your future at your company --- or another.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. --- Viktor Frankl
How versatile are you? If you've built and maintained portable skills, you're valuable wherever you go. You might even find the courage or opportunity to do something fresh and more rewarding. For years, I developed/launched/marketed life and health insurance products. After "harmonization" into our much larger parent company in 2005, my role became redundant. Although I had no experience outside the "ivory tower", I eagerly switched to working with advisors and clients in the field. This new role is much more satisfying because I'm helping people directly and quickly. 

Give Your Leaders Hope
"The better your relationship with your manager, the less likely you are to be cut, all things being equal. Your ability to empathize can demonstrate a maturity that is invaluable to the company, not least because it models good behavior for others." --- Harvard Business Review, Sept 2008
How true. Leaders are people too. Chopping staff is not easy. As a head office actuary, I had to cut five from my team of ten during integration with the parent. Fortunately, their strong skills helped them land new positions.

Be A Team Player
"While everyone prefers working with a personable superstar to an incompetent jerk, when people need help getting a job done, they'll choose a congenial colleague over one who is more capable but less lovable." --- Sousa Lobo, Harvard Business Review
Likable trumps capable? That's tough to accept. But true. I learned this at The University of Western Ontario in 1984. Of the seventeen graduates in actuarial science, only four of us got job offers. What a shock since grads usually got multiple job offers. Three of us were the top students and got the best offers. The fourth was average but the most likable, which grads with higher grades found "unfair". 

I just checked the actuarial directory and don't see #4 listed. He probably failed the exams that lead to an actuarial designation and quit. Being capable also matters.


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