By Todd Smithee

In today’s environment of downsizing (let’s call it what it is:firing), it is natural to simply put your head down, keep quiet, and do your job. Unfortunately, this could be the fastest way to earn a cardboard box containing your personal items, a packet on your COBRA benefits, and an escorted walk out of the building. As companies look to reduce costs, they will be searching for ways to minimize their talent loss through layoffs. Unfortunately, many companies have already gone through several rounds of layoffs. This means that those individuals who were average or possibly even above average employees just a short time ago could now be “below average” via attrition. What do you do? Take some risks!

I want to be clear that the following advice is not for everyone. It has, however, worked well for me. First, do not be afraid to stick out. Go to your manager with recommendations for improvements or changes. Take some initiative. One of two things will happen: (1) you will do something remarkable or (2) you will not. Either way, you will gain valuable skills. You will learn how to present new ideas to the powers that be. And most importantly, you will learn not to be afraid.

I had the opportunity to work for three technology startup companies in the 1990s and early 2000s. While with these companies, I took just about every risk imaginable. I volunteered to take over problem departments, massive product rollouts, and large, capital- intensive projects. I took the attitude that I would leave each of these companies under the “Three-Box Exit Strategy.” The boxes were (1) Porsche Boxter (i.e., successful IPO); (2) Pine Box; and (3) Cardboard Box. Guess what? I got the cardboard box each time (at least it was not the pine box). And do you know what? Each box was one of the best things to happen to my career.

First, I gained experience in many areas, including marketing, operations, sales, and finance. While this experience is valuable, the most important thing I gained was increased confidence. I learned to not worry about making a mistake that could cost me my job. Second, these risky positions led to significantly higher incomes. Third, my longest period of unemployment was four weeks. And finally, the “last box” convinced me to start my own company, which will soon be entering its seventh year.

You may not be in a position to take the extreme risks I took early on in my career. It is much easier to do these things when you are in your thirties and have no kids in college to consider. That does not mean, however, that you should keep your head down and hope for the best. Actively look for ways to make your company better, more profitable. Sure, you will fail occasionally, but have faith that you will come up a winner. The only job security you will ever truly have is yourself.

Conrin, Inc.
Ph: 616-897-4325