Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rethinking Your Comfort Zone

In the New Normal if you’re not adding value to the organization, you’re not of value to the organization. This means you can’t afford to get comfortable in your position. You need to be able to speak to your contribution to the organization; you need to be constantly contributing; and you need to be comfortable doing so.

Among the 6.5 million long term unemployed people in the U.S., many are having trouble getting out of their comfort zones. For many years, they were well rewarded for being comfortable. They worked at their companies; did their job; came in at 8 AM and left at 5 PM. Occasionally, they may have been involved in a special project or two. They survived acquisitions, restructurings, and for a time, layoffs. In the meantime, they earned a good living; received annual salary increases; they enjoyed a lifestyle that their income enabled. And they got comfortable.

The problem came when they were eventually laid off from their job. They hoped for a quick rebound. They may have taken a few weeks – or a few months – off. They may have enjoyed their time off; got some projects completed around the house; took a family vacation. Then they were ready to get back to work. They drafted a resume; one that noted that they had 20 years of experience; one that spoke to their responsibilities. They may have listed every project they worked on since graduating from college. Then they posted it on or CareerBuilder, or both. And they waited. They may have applied to a few positions that they felt they were perfect for. And they waited. They may have been contacted to sell insurance or be financial advisors, but not much more.

Weeks of unemployment stretched to months. Some have hit the year mark without a job. They may have changed tactics in their search. They may have a profile on They may be attending networking sessions with other unemployed folks. They may get the occasional interview.

What they can’t do is clearly articulate why the organization should hire them; how they would add value to the organization. What they did for 20 some odd years isn’t of value any longer. They are members of the “Too’s Club:” too experienced, too old, too expensive.

Over the years they’ve gotten comfortable with their lifestyle and their perceptions of work. They’ve known their roles with the company and what was expected of them. As long as they met expectations, they were safe.

Unfortunately, expectations have changed. It’s not enough to meet or even exceed expectations. These days, you have to be able to define expectations. You have to be able to say how you can meet the organizations needs, which means you need to know what their needs are. And you have to show how you've been successful in similar situations in the past: “I’ve done it before; I can do it for you.”

All this means you have to rethink what you’ve done; how it affected the organization (the company or the team) you were part of. What were your accomplishments? How can they be applied to the organization you’re interested in now?

This also means that the role you’re seeking may be very different from the roles you’ve had in the past. An organization (company or team) may be willing to hire you, but only in a temporary, project-based role. Once the project is over, you’re done. You may spend the next ten-to-fifteen years of your career going from company to company, from project to project. You may have to get comfortable with being the person who finds work, rather than having work assigned to you by someone else.

This could well be the world of work in the New Normal. Can you rethink your comfort zone? Can you work completely differently than you have in the past? Can you adapt to the New Normal?

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