Copyright 2000 W. Jan Austin, Corporate Coach and President of Potential At Work, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Work, as it was known throughout most of the 20th century, was based on the manufacturing processes and economics of the industrial revolution, which began in the late 19th century.  This work was largely labor intensive, routine, and non-innovative. Product improvements were gradual.  Companies enjoyed stable and protected market niches for their products, and product life cycles were quite long.  Workers could expect to work for many years, if not their whole lives, in the same organization, doing routine work.  Skill sets acquired during college or on the job apprenticeships sustained people through their entire careers.  Pay increases and career advancement were fairly predictable.  One was rewarded for loyalty to the organization—and for longevity. 



New work, as some have named it, is irrevocably changing the fabric of all organizations, in both manufacturing and service sectors.  Ready access to advanced technology, government de-regulation, and customer demand for better products and services at lower prices have dramatically increased competition.  Consumers have a dizzying array of choices in products that are produced all over the world.  And, consumers have gotten smarter.  They understand clearly that they can expect increasingly better deals—and get them.  If you don’t like the price you’re paying for long distance telephone service, a better deal is just a phone call away.  Think that stereo television system is too expensive?  Just wait six months, and the price will drop dramatically.  Organizations, if they are to survive, much less thrive, must play by these new rules, and the implications are profound. 


The workplace is changing at an unprecedented rate.  Products and services must be continually innovated, even re-invented, and they must be produced more quickly and less expensively than ever before. Automation of many manufacturing processes has eliminated the need for much manual labor. Work now increasingly relies on technology skills.  Moreover, workers’ skill sets must be continually upgraded in order to keep up with the demands of the marketplace.  Workers who fail to upgrade their skills on a continuing basis become depreciating assets for their organizations.  Pay increases and promotions are less predictable than with the old workplace, and rewards are more likely to be tied to employees making value added contributions. 


While many are pointing their fingers at their current employers, no one is to blame for these changes. They are happening all over the world. But they are real, and everyone must adjust his or her attitudes and expectations in order to succeed.  The good news is that the need for highly skilled workers is increasing, not diminishing, and there has never been as much opportunity as there is today to create value in the marketplace.



The changes in the business world have had a ripple effect throughout many organizations.  There is unrelenting pressure to cut product costs, reduce manufacturing cycle times, and deliver high quality products faster than ever before.  Stockholder value in many organizations has taken a nosedive, as competition has heated up and seized market share.  Consequences have included divestiture of unprofitable business units, downsizing, and the irrevocable alteration of the lifetime employment contract that characterized old work. 


What does this mean for you as an employee or a manager in an organization?  The way work is performed is being redesigned, and the performance of work is being rewarded differently. In short, the stakes are higher, and thus, the consequences of delivering lackluster results and the rewards of achieving extraordinary results.  A fundamental principle of the Age of New work is that everyone share risk. 


Being career resilient in the Age of New Work begins with altering your basic expectations about work and the workplace.  No longer can you expect to work for the same employer or even necessarily do the same work for your whole career.  In the future, it will not be uncommon for people to have several careers throughout their working lives.  What’s fundamentally different is that now, you are responsible for managing your own career, as though it is your own business, and you are the brand.  You’ll be responsible for continually sensing trends and their associated opportunities, upgrading your skill sets, and successfully marketing yourself. 


So what constitutes a successful strategy for being career resilient?  What are the most important things to focus on?  There are ten things you can do, starting immediately, to increase your career resiliency—and your ability to add tangible value to the organization:


  1. Become change agile:  Change is occurring at a rapid pace, and it will continue.  You won’t be able to “weather the storm” or “wait till things settle down”, in order to avoid change, because there won’t be such a time.  You must learn to thrive on change, not merely passively cope with it.  Thriving on change means anticipating and seizing new opportunities and managing them for your benefit and that of the organization.  Recognize that change always involves some level of risk and the relinquishing of what’s comfortable and familiar.  But, change can be energizing, opening up a myriad of new possibilities for success.  It requires a new perspective and a new attitude about change.  In fact, those who are most change agile will be those who actually create change.  They’ll be the ones who champion new work methods, product innovations and new workplace relationships built on collaboration.


  1. Create Reserves:   When you create reserves of money, skills, networks, and the like, you are less likely to feel victimized or overwhelmed by change in your personal and work life.  Why is this the case?  People are never at their best when they are driven by fear, but that is exactly what happens when they experience scarcity, particularly financial scarcity.  Fearful people are more likely to demonstrate counterproductive emotional reactions to even minor change.  They are more likely to resist change, out of concern that their “security” will be threatened.  This is a false sense of security, however, and holding onto it can obscure one’s ability to see new possibilities.


Building reserves starts with getting your personal finances in order.  Resolve right now that you’ll eliminate consumer debt from your life and that you’ll live within (or beneath) your socioeconomic means.  This simple act can do more than just about anything else to boost your personal confidence and drive out fear of change.  An added benefit:  the loss of income should you be downsized will be easier to manage.


Build reserves of marketable skills to immunize yourself against the threat of layoff.  Taking classes, keeping abreast of developments in your field, and training for a new skill are just a few of the ways you can add to your skill base.  Ask for a change in job assignment if you’ve been doing the same job for a while.  Doing varied, highly visible and important work increases your value to your organization as well as to prospective employers.  In fact, expanding or enriching one’s job roles through varied job assignments is highly predictive of overall career success.


Don’t forget your personal and business networks when building reserves.  Expand your personal and career network contacts in order to:


·        Enhance your current job effectiveness

·        Have resources you can turn to should there ever be a need


The time to build your networks is before you need them, not when you need them.  Networking is the most powerful means of business promotion, and 80% of all jobs are obtained as a direct result of network contacts. First, decide what your networking goals are, then look around you, and decide who you’d like to have in your network.  The best networking relationships are those in which all parties give and get benefit. 


3.      Look for ways to add value:   The principle which is driving all business today is the customer’s ever present access to value.  If customers don’t get the value they seek from one supplier, they’ll simply go elsewhere.  Value can be thought of in several ways.  It might be a great price for a reliable product or service, or it might be unique features or timely delivery or customization.  As a member of today’s organization, either as an individual contributor or as a manager, it’s your responsibility to figure out how to create value for your organization’s customers—on a continual basis.  This means neither you nor your organization can ever become complacent and expect to keep your customers. 


4.      Become self-managing:  The organizational hierarchy which characterized old work provided clear, top-down direction regarding strategy, standard operating procedures, job responsibilities and lines of authority.  When work was routine, and change was gradual, organizations could afford this admittedly slower way of getting things done.  Those days are gone.  Downsizing has eliminated many of the previous levels of management.  Moreover, the pace of business has required that decisions be made and implemented quickly, by those closest to the customer.  Being self-managing requires that you be able to manage your attitude, maintain a sharp focus, and make decisions that involve risk.  In today’s flatter, leaner organizations, there are fewer supervisors to mediate conflicts, so you also need to be able to work collaboratively with others, both inside and outside of your immediate area of responsibility. 


5.     Act with a sense of urgency:  The world of business has sped up, and there is an unrelenting urgency to the business agenda.  Acting with a sense of urgency means being clear about your priorities and executing them decisively.  This requires your full attention, and your willingness to be courageous in the face of ambiguity.  Don’t confuse urgency with panic.  Panic is about unthinking, uncontrolled actions, and it results in false starts and costly mistakes.  Urgency is about focused, controlled actions against a deadline.  It’s also about raising standards each time a new action is implemented.


6.   Be in business, not busyness:  Many people work very hard at the wrong things—things that keep them occupied but don’t add value.  Career resilient individuals measure everything they do against the organization’s business goals, and their own high standards.  Ask yourself if the things you’re doing each day put the organization in a position to meet its business results.  Are you efficient, or do you expend unnecessary energy? Are you really focused on what’s important?  What are you tolerating in yourself or others that wastes your time and energy?  In the new workplace, you won’t be valued for logging in long hours, but for producing tangible results which add to the bottom line.  Ask yourself: “If this were my own business, what would I be doing?”  Career resilient individuals make the organization’s business their business.


7.   Stand out while fitting in:  Career resilient individuals stand out by making unique contributions to the organization.  Their skill sets are not easily replicated by dozens of other people, and they represent vital “knowledge capital” for the organization.  They also know how to work well with others, thus fitting into the organizational culture.  Either of these without the other will translate into diminished effectiveness, because you are too much of a maverick or overly conforming. 


8.   Don’t get caught in the “wait and see” trap:  This is a deadly trap to be in, and the career resilient individual stays clear.  The competition isn’t waiting for you, so why would you wait?  You can’t afford delay.  It’s that simple.  While you are waiting, the competition is grabbing market share, and your peers are taking their skills to the next level--and being groomed for the executive suite.  Those who wait and see tend to be wishful thinkers or over-analyzers.  Either way, it’s a passive stance.  Career resilient individuals are proactive. They sense opportunity, and they often act on their gut instincts—well before others get on board, and without a lot of hard data. 


9.      Raise the bar for your performance:  Add continually to your skill sets and raise your standards for how you work.  Career resilient individuals raise the bar higher than others would even expect of them, and thus, they set the standards for others.  Whereas old work could be defined by “standard operating procedures”, new work can be defined by “innovative operating standards”. 


10. Let your strengths be the driver of your life and your work:  No one ever achieved greatness by trying to overcome weaknesses.  Greatness is only possible when we are playing to our natural and enduring strengths.  When we engage our strengths, we are more focused, committed, and passionate about what we do.  It’s fairly easy to spot our strengths.  They are the things we yearn to give expression to.  We learn new skills related to our natural strengths more quickly and easily than when we are trying to overcome our weaknesses.  And, we more effortlessly achieve results and truly enjoy what we do when we’re playing to our strengths.  If you don’t know what your strengths are, discover them now, and put your energy into developing them, because that is the place where extraordinary potential resides.