6 Career Strategies for Turbulent Times

It’s easy to succeed when everything is going right — the economy is booming, your industry is growing, your customers are thriving.  Everyone is positive, optimistic, more likely to take risks because their expectations are that it will all work out. 

But when things go south, and perceptions change from positive to cautious or outright negative, from optimistic to pessimistic, and people and companies “hunker down” to “weather the storm,” it has an effect on employment (layoffs and hiring freezes), consumption, revenues, and investment and innovation. So how do you succeed when success seems to be ripped from the very fabric of work?

When we talk about turbulent times, the words and phrases that come up include: unrest, disorder, agitated vigorously, wild, violently disturbed, tumultuous, roiling, churning, confused.  If this sounds like your industry or workplace, take some tips from others who have successfully weathered the storm and have even come out the other side stronger than ever.

Here are six strategies to succeed in challenging environments:

Adopt a Winning Attitude

Success is as much about attitude and mindset as actual skills and experience.  When the world around you seems to be built on quicksand, deciding to thrive and not just survive, can give you an immediate sense of control.  It also sets you apart from the 90% of people who are worrying, retreating, or panicking. Be realistic, but do what continues to move you forward.

For example, check your self-talk and make sure you’re not falling into a victimmentality: “I know I’ll be the next to be laid off,” “I’m never going to be able to work under these conditions,” “It’s all ___’s fault that we’re in this mess.”  Instead, cultivate a victor mentality: “How can we solve this?” “I believe there’s some good that will come of this situation.” “What’s the opportunity here?”

Find Your Opportunities

Opportunities always exist in crisis.  A poor economy, decline of an industry, or massive reorganization disrupts the status quo.  In the void of what was the norm is tremendous opportunity.  Ideas that had been impractical, dismissed, or resisted because they went against “how we’ve always done it” may gain visibility and credence.

Look for areas that may have been restricted or protected previously, and explore whether there are ways to transform them.  What would be the next evolution or complete reimagination of the product / service / area / procedure / position?  What new skills or attributes are needed to move forward?  Is there something you’ve held back because you were afraid it would not be accepted — and is now the time to let people know what you have to offer?

Become the Shelter, not the Storm

When a storm is raging around us, we value shelter above all else.  Just as you are seeking shelter yourself, exemplify it first.  Stay calm, positive, centered and ethical.  Use the core of who you are as a strong foundation so that you will not be buffeted as much by the turbulence around you.  By being steady and reasoned, others will value your opinions and company. Ensuring your emotional resiliency will also help you manage the changes with which you are faced.

Get really clear about your values, your strengths, what you offer the organization and others around you, and how you can help move things forward in a positive direction.  Use that knowledge to guide your actions and decisions, even when there may be a thousand distractions and it is easy to become reactive.

Hone Your Professional Brand

As you clarify your values and strengths, consider how these contribute to your personal or professional brand.  What are you known for?  How are you perceived?  On which topics do people value your opinion? Is your brand aligned with where the industry / company / department needs to go?

Use this time of movement and uncertainty to firm up your brand in the way you want to be perceived.  Gain skills or training if needed.  Focus your actions where they will promote your brand as you want it to be known.  Take on projects that support that direction.  Find a mentor(s).  In other words, be taking action so that when the dust settles you have established yourself the way you want to be known going forward.

Become a Thought Leader

In times of change, we need to accept and embrace change.  But you can take that a step further and look for ways to aggressively innovate in your field.  Adapt to the changes in the industry or company, be vigilent about picking up on signals and suggestions about where the company might be going next.  Be proactive.  Do not accept business as usual, but be creative about innovating.  Become a thought leader.

Think about where the market, industry, field, or company might be in 10 years time.  What forces are likely to shape it, positively or negatively?  What technology is emerging that might change the face of your work? What can you learn about these trends to apply to your situation?

Surround Yourself with the Best People

Success in business is a lot about getting “right people in the right seats on the right bus.”  You can extend this concept to your own career.  Who do you know (or need to know) to gain reliable insights, advice, and support?  Who can help you get to the next phase of your career?  Who do you need on your team to be successful? Who might know about your next job opportunity?

Once you establish a relationship with someone, make sure you stay in touch, getting to know them better and letting them know who you are.  Call it networking, call it connecting, call it “keep in touch,” call it building a community, but when you expand who you know and how well you know them, you have resources to call on.

To survive turbulent times, you need ways to keep yourself from getting swept up in the madness.  Staying positive, centered, in tune with who you are and what you offer, being a fearless innovator and change agent, and having a strong support group around you will all create a strong foundation that can withstand the storm.