Survive Your Company's Downsizing

Downsizing is an inescapable fact of corporate culture. Stay at a company for more than a year, and you’re almost certain to go through a change in management, company structure, or even the entire business model. At a start-up where my friend Marjorie worked, the CEO realized a month after the initial product launch that it wasn’t going to sell. For several months after that, the management team remained holed up in a conference room trying to reposition, periodically emerging to give the staff just one piece of information: “Where are we going? Forward!”

Despite how unsettling experiences like that can be, the practice they can give you at successfully navigating change can be a major asset to your career long-term. Here are some ways you can not only survive a reorg, but thrive through it.

Watch and learn. Chances are, climbing the corporate ladder to a senior management role of your own may be one of your goals. If so, orchestrating reorgs yourself will almost certainly be part of your future. Pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t as your company changes. Is the new business plan achievable? What old problems will the reorg eliminate, and what new ones might it introduce? What steps could be taken to improve employee morale? What’s driving the decisions the current management team is making, and what would you do differently if you were in charge?

Stay positive. Employees who don’t freak out are a rare and valuable commodity in a time of upheaval. Do your best to stay focused on your work. Or, if the reorg means that you currently have no clear tasks, make sure that you show up on time anyway and spend your days finding things to do that are likely to be helpful. It may feel like a waste of time, but it will be worth it for the lasting boost to your reputation.

Seize opportunities. Often a reorg will involve the creation of new positions. Don’t be afraid to go after one that appeals to you, even if it’s in an area where you don’t have much experience or is a level or two above your current role. If you’ve proven yourself as a hard worker and quick learner, managers may prefer training you to hiring an outsider.

Cover your butt. Even while hoping for the best, make sure you’re prepared for the worst. For example, check into your company’s severance policy to make sure you know your rights, and map out your escape plan in case you suddenly find that your redefined role primarily consists of fetching the coffee.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Change is stressful for everyone. As long as you’ve covered the steps above, find some outlets to get your mind off work. Since a reorg may mean a small (or even large) reduction in your workload while the company changes gears, now might be a perfect opportunity to focus more on your fabulous new boyfriend, plan a trip with friends, or research where to buy your first house.

No matter how your current reorg shakes out, two things are certain: You will learn a lot from it, and this period of uncertainty will pass. After all, where are you going? Forward!

Career expert and best selling author Nicole Williams is re-defining the world of work—making it glamorous, entertaining and relevant to modern women. Nicole founded WORKS by Nicole Williams in 2006 with the vision of building the first media and content company focused on career development specifically for the highly dynamic and powerful market of young professional women.

Nicole is the author of two bestselling books; Wildly Sophisticated: A Bold New Attitude for Career Success (2004) and Earn What You’re Worth (2005), published by Penguin Group Inc. Her latest book Girl on Top, was recently purchased by Hachette Book Group and will be published in Fall 2009. Currently, Nicole is filming a new fifteen episode makeover series with TLC & Real Simple Magazine which will begin airing in October 2008. WHAT WORKS, a Supernanny meets The Office make-over reality show, is currently in development.

Nicole is a frequent contributor to major media outlets including The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Elle, and has appeared as a regular contributor on ABC’s Primetime, Good Morning America, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox News, and CNN. She has also provided motivational speeches across the country for brand name companies including The Ford Motor Company, ClearChannel, Electronic Arts, Saks, BCBG MAX AZRIA, Banana Republic, and pharmaceutical giant Barr Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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