It's Tough Out There?

July 22, 2010


Lately more and more people are calling me up to let me know they are out of work. They either lost their job or business is just non-existent.  It really is disheartening and sobering at the same time. This is a serious recession and not to be taken lightly. The business landscape is being rewritten before our eyes.  Let me tell you with few exceptions these are people who are very talented, have great experience, education, etc. Well rounded with solid resumes. I hope they all realize not to take this personally. Lose your job during the good times and look in the mirror. Lose your job now and sell the mirror as you’ll need the money – only kidding of course. Unemployment is the highest it’s been since 1983. Whether you are currently working or not don’t let the situation get the best of you.

Your attitude, confidence, and energy will show through as we all tend to wear these things on our sleeves. Thinking about what happened to YOU or is happening to YOU and the emotion around that is a bad energy – energy you are better off redirecting to your future. This is no time for blame. The conditions that created this situation is bigger than us all.

The unemployment statistics only tell part of the story. Many who have been unemployed are back working yet are what can be referred to as “underemployed” having settled for a job that not only pays less but has misaligned their skills to the job. Think about how many really talented people are out there working out of context to their skills and desires.  Every economic downturn has its fingerprint; a uniqueness that defines not only the path it took to get there but, under the statistics, a set pattern to the economic drivers for recovery. This downturn is no exception and the drivers including freeing up more investment money, stabilizing the housing market, putting people back to work, and the overall psychological boost that comes from a economy moving to the right and up are tings we are all looking for.

A key inflection point of a recession is the bottom of the economic downturn. Regardless of the absolute value of the bottom, knowing things are improving or on the way up vs. going down creates big differences in how companies act, view their chances, and invest. Glass half empty/half full syndrome. Not sure where the bottom is” and “when we will hit it”  are statements that support the out of balance conditions and circumstances not being easy to read, to understand and, thus, difficult to forecast. what the future holds.

In times like this people and businesses get paralyzed and while they hope for the best, tend to prepare and act as if it couldn’t get any worse. Many unnecessary jobs are lost, good investments stopped, businesses market less, sell more carefully, take longer to make decisions, and average down in every key business area instead of averaging up.
YUK!  Dismal? I don’t think so.  I think we are at the bottom and it’s time to look up.


While I am not an economist and can’t even pretend to project the attributes or rate of recovery I do have advice for anyone impacted by this situation. Instead of approaching the “next opportunity” from the outside looking in I suggest looking at it from the inside looking  out. More often than not people looking for a job work through recruiters, ads, postings, etc. to get into the job market. In good times this works as there are many choices of well defined and understandable “jobs”. I remember when I got hired by Nortel a few jobs ago. The job was clearly defined as the need was driven by the growth Nortel was seeing. It was a great job yet it was a position that was created out of a need to do more of the same. Business was great and what Nortel needed was more operators. That is not the case today.

Inside looking out suggests looking at the challenges of a company or an industry segment and creating an opportunity looking at it from “the need ” with an assumption that the need will most likely not be totally understood no less defined as a  job position. Remember businesses today are paralyzed and in survival mode.  In other words create a role where one doesn’t exist. Or create a business idea or consulting opportunity to address today’s challenges linked closely to tomorrow’s opportunities.

A lot of business people I know that are out of work when I ask “What are you going to do now?” tell me they are going to consult. Consulting, they believe, will carry them over until the economic downturn reverses itself or until companies start hiring again and realize what a great employee they will make. When I ask them “What kind of consulting are you going to do?”  they typically respond by taking me through how they are going to help out a few companies “market”,  “sell”, or “wherever they need help”. I think this approach is shortsighted and may lead to a lot of time on the hands of people who take that fork in the road. While the need to help businesses is there, though rarely realized, the first order of business is to define the need specifically around the ability to immediately and measurably help the company achieve better results NOW in ways that prepare them to thrive in the future. A tall order for sure but unless you can align to this you might find yourself fighting over table scraps and finding the few traditional opportunities getting pushed out for months.

Your ideas on how you can help a business basically becomes your business plan which means you should think about and build it accordingly. So instead of looking for a defined job or waiting for it to fall in your lap, you are proactively positioning how you will help a business NOW and how your business plan is essential for their company. Quite a different approach and one that will distinguish you.

Create your role in which you can clearly define immediate value in areas that are challenging businesses today

Proposed actions that generate new revenue, grow share with existing customers, generate higher customer loyalty, help operate more efficiently, will get the interest of businesses. Be creative and think out of the box for the terms in which you want to help. The typical “This is the salary I am looking for” or ” I charge $175 per hour for my services” just won’t cut it today and won’t separate you from others competing for work. Getting compensated for results instead of effort might make more sense and compensation schemes that tie the results you are promising to what you get paid, says a lot about your confidence and willingness to work as a partner.

While most companies can’t escape the impact of an economic downturn, great ones figure out how to exit the downturn far better than they entered it. To do so requires operating through the current period with faith and a pragmatic sense of reality. There is a notable difference between being overly optimistic about the future and having faith. In Jim Collins book “Good To Great” he introduces the concept of the Stockdale Paradox. Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton”prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights,no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. Only a few prisoners made it out alive. In Jim Collins interview of Jim Stockdale he asked:

“Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come,and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of our current reality, whatever they might be.” Companies need help in balancing the realities of the current situation with the “faith” required to get through this difficult time.

Tomorrow is Today…

A good friend once told me “Unfortunately you can’t experience the rainbow unless you experience the rain”. I think we all get the message and how it applies to today’s economy. It’s raining out now but the rain will stop. Don’t wait until then to determine how you will make your mark. The time to act is now. The need that is now is actually creating a requirement for skills, experience and business judgment that is unprecedented. This favors the “knowledge” or “wisdom worker”. Now that’s exciting for a lot of us.

The economy will bounce back. Businesses will turn around and, in fact, many will be stronger. Actively participate in this tremendous opportunity to help businesses deal with the challenges of today and the opportunity of tomorrow. The future will be about value creation and this will drive the need for a lot of people who get it. NOW is an exciting time for the people and businesses prepared to take advantage of it.

Best of luck to all!

About Frank Picarello

Frank is a well-respected leader in providing technology services to small and medium-sized businesses. He is currently COO for TeamLogic IT, Chairperson for CompTIA's Small Business Owner's Group, and a member of CompTIA's Unified Communication Committee.

View all posts by Frank Picarello

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