Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Career Insurance

Career Insurance
 Learning to Stay Employed in Today’s World of Down-Sizing, Re-Engineering, and Mergers

Second Edition

Tom Sheppard
Career Insurance Policy



This Policy Protects Against:
Down Sizing,
and other fluctuations of the employment market

Brought to You By:
Tom Sheppard

Congratulations.  By reading this, you have just taken a significant first step in writing your own Career Insurance Policy.  Read on, and discover
how to protect your career from the dangerous world of today’s employment market.

Do you believe in:
+                    The Tooth Fairy?
+                    The Easter Bunny?
+                    Job Security?

This may come as a shock to some, but none of these exist.  While the truth about the first two may cause feelings of disappointment (and in some cases result in a mystery), the last can turn your whole world upside down.

With down-sizing, re-engineering, mergers, plant closings, and business failures, and the layoffs that accompany these events, no one can guarantee that they will have a job from one month to the next.

Being a good worker and a loyal employee used to be enough to ensure long-term employment.  Not anymore. Companies struggle to survive in today’s highly competitive world.  They cannot afford to keep people on the payroll out of a sense of loyalty.

IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation, as well as most Japanese corporations maintained “No Layoff” policies for years.  In recent years all of them found themselves in serious financial problems which forced them to implement massive layoffs and early retirements.  They sent tens of thousands of employees packing, many of them with decades of service to the company.

Question:  Is it possible to protect yourself from layoffs and cutbacks?

Answer:  Yes! In fact, it is possible to protect yourself from the effects of layoffs and cutbacks, mergers and re-engineering.  The method is simple, but it is not easy.

To protect yourself from layoffs and cutbacks you must make yourself more valuable to your current employer, and more attractive to potential employers.

No Guarantees

Obviously, life has no guarantees other than death and taxes.  No one has an airtight guarantee that we will live to see the sun rise tomorrow.  Likewise, no one today is guaranteed employment for life.  Even in government service and the military, tow areas of extremely stable employment in the past, cost cutting is forcing people out of their jobs.

The Wall Street Journal noted that many companies are beginning to look down on the idea of rewarding employees for longevity.  Simply because they were able to hold on to their jobs for many years is not necessarily a sign that they are doing any good for the company.  Instead, they favor focusing rewards directly on concrete contributions[1].

“Life is not fair.  Anyone who tells you it is, is selling something!”

My children hear this all the time.  They can recite it from memory from an early age.  It may sound cynical, but actually it is not.  The truth is that God may balance the scales in the end, but His end is not the same as our end.  So, if you go through life expecting the world to treat you in a fair and equitable manner, you will live with constant disappointment (or in many cases fearing that your past poor performance will catch up with you).

In fact, if life were fair, we would get a speeding ticket every time we exceeded the speed limit.  You see, fair can be a two edged sword, cutting in both directions.

It is the innate unfairness of life which makes it impossible to make any real guarantees.  Even the company which gives you a life-time guarantee on their product, can go out of business because of bad decisions, or failure to adapt to new realities of the market place.

Because of the unfair nature of life, you cannot count on others to take care of you.  Instead, you need to stack the deck in your favor.  You need to fight back.

You are responsible for your own security.   The only thing you can count on to ensure the stability and growth of your career is your own efforts.  No, you cannot guarantee that you will always have a job.  However, you can always ensure that you have skills which are in demand in the market place.  Keeping your skills up to date is the only thing that will protect you from cuts and layoffs.  And, if you do get a pink slip, it will dramatically improve your chances in the job market.  You have to be continuously working at improving your skills.

In their book on systems, originally titled “Designing Stable Systems”  the Weinbergs make a point about systems which is true about a lot of things.  They state that if something remains stable, it is because the forces trying to destabilize the system are counterbalanced by the constant push from forces trying to maintain that system.  If you look at your career as a system, then you can rephrase the law of entropy to apply directly to your life. It might read as follows:

“If you are staying employed, it is because the forces trying to put you out of work are being counterbalanced by your efforts to keep yourself employed.”

If this is true, and it is, then you must keep up a constant effort to keep yourself employed and employable.  If you try coasting, you are falling behind.

In fact, you probably got your current job as a result of a lot of effort on your part.  Your performance was seen as worthy of promotion or your potential for performance was recognized and you were hired.  Either way, you had to put in a lot of effort to get where you are today.

Rick Pitino, former coach of the Boston Celtics and former coach of the National Champion Kentucky Wildcats never eases up.  He is deathly afraid of not surviving success.  When his team wins a game, he celebrates the win.  Then, the next day he expects them to be back at practice putting in 110%.  He believes that a work ethic must be maintained every day.  If you start coasting, because of your victories, you are setting yourself up for a fall.  And, when you have to support addictions like eating regularly, sleeping indoors, and wearing decent clothing, you cannot afford to fall out of your job.  To survive success requires that you maintain the good work habits which got you where you are.  As soon as you start to believe you really are as good as everyone says you are, you are in trouble.

Manufacturing Based Economy
It may help you to understand how important this is for you by studying a little history.

For many decades our economy has been heavily reliant on manufacturing as the engine of prosperity.  The factories and mills provided the jobs needed to feed our families.  Most managers today are managing their people using principles of management which were first formulated in the factory.

Imagine yourself as the boss of a large factory. Your line bosses come to you and they say, “Boss, that pump on the big Whachawhosit Mark I is malfunctioning again.  The truth is, the whole whachawhosit is obsolete.  We can only put out 150 fruzzes an hour with it.  The NewBoys Company across town just installed the new Whachawhosit 5000X. And now, they are cranking out 450 fruzzes an hour using only half the people we have on the line.”

Being a good manager of your business, you invest the capital and buy a new Whachawhosit 5000X (or maybe even the XL to get a leg up on the competition).  You sell off the old Whachawhosit Mark I for whatever you can get for it.  Maybe it is so old, all you can do is sell it for scrap.  Out goes the old equipment and in comes the new.  No one sheds a tear for the old equipment.

Today computers are the assembly line of the present.  Every six months the latest and greatest one becomes obsolete.  In countless companies around the world, as the newest, fastest, most capable computers are brought in the front door by the truck load, computer equipment less than three years old is removed from the desktop or the wiring closet and carted out the back door to be sold off for salvage.  And when that newer, faster, more powerful machine lands on your desk, you don’t shed a tear for the clunky, slow, overburdened machine that was taken away.

But, today we live in what Peter Drucker calls a Knowledge Based Society.  The computer is just a tool in the hands of a labor force of skilled knowledge workers.  It allows them to put their knowledge to work for the benefit of their employer.  But what happens when their knowledge becomes obsolete.

“The total amount of information in the world doubles every two years.”

If you are a knowledge worker, a person who manipulates data, turning it into information, and the amount of information is doubling every two years, how long will it be before you are obsolete?

Question:  How long will it be before you are obsolete?
Answer:  If you keep working at it, never. If you coast, then you are already obsolete.

When the Whachawhosit Mark I was carted out the back door, no one shed a tear.  When your computer was upgraded or replaced with a new one, no one shed a tear.  But the Mark I and your old PC didn’t have a mortgage to pay and a family to support.  They had no bills to pay and no ego to bruise. 

When you are scrapped, kicked to the curb, let go, laid off, or fired, your ego is bruised and your home and family are at risk.  The loss of employment not only strikes at a person’s very self-image, it threatens them at their survival.

There is, however, one essential, surpassing and excellent difference between you and a machine.  You can learn.

People are not machines!
People can . . .
+        Change.
+        Gain new skills
+         Learn to do things better.
+         Learn to do things faster. 


A machine lacks the essential ingredient which people have for survival - the ability to learn and change.

In Steven R. Covey’s bestseller, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the ability to change is shown to be essential to success and effectiveness.  Without the ability to change, we become victims of our environment, our upbringing, our genetics.  With the ability to change, we become masters of our own destiny.  We are able to rise above poverty, abuse, war, tragedy, handicaps, in short, we can rise above any obstacle by adapting ourselves from the inside out.

Continuous Self-Improvement
To keep from being jettisoned to the scrap heap like an outmoded machine, you must plan and carryout a schedule of continuous, active effort to improve your skills and your performance.  This makes you more valuable to your current employer and more attractive to potential employers.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Total Quality Management (TQM) became the latest management fashion.  Pioneered in Japan by Americans Peter Drucker, Edward Juran, and Edward Demming, quality tools helped propel Japanese companies to the top of the world heap.  Where once the sticker “Made in Japan” was synonymous with poorly made trash, it now reflects an image of quality every bit as daunting as the hard earned reputation of German engineering firms.  This notable achievement was attained in large part by the steady application of a variety of TQM tools.

Facing extinction, American car companies finally listened to Doctors Drucker, Demming, and Juran.  They avidly aped the Quality Circles of the Japanese.  They adopted nearly every Quality Practice ever preached.  Almost over night, they created the Quality Industry in the United States.  But, all those cries for continuous improvement - the heart of TQM, were focused on processes, not people.

Even today, the tools of TQM are more readily adapted for use on the plant floor than in software engineering.  Anyplace you have a process, you can easily apply these tools.  But, how do you apply tools for measuring continuous improvement to a human being?  The question is not easy, yet it is essential if we are going to survive and thrive in this Knowledge Based Society.

The point that many people miss when they think about applying TQM in their company is that a company is nothing more than a collection of individuals working together for a common purpose.  The individuals themselves are the greatest key to productivity and prosperity.  Without the individuals, the company ceases to exist.  It becomes simply a legal entity; a creature which exists only on paper and which produces nothing for anyone.

But, if you apply this one tool of TQM to individuals, the concept of continuous improvement, then any company can become a world class performer.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

The same is true of yourself.  If you apply this principle of continually striving to be better and what you do, and learn to do more, you will be a world class performer.  You will be recognized as a top performer, a key contributor, a valuable team member.  You will find that your career is secure, even if your job goes away.

“The kind of life you want to lead five years from now requires that you begin to learn new things now.”

Continuous Improvement for an individual is called Life Long Learning.

There are two broad vehicles for learning: formal training and informal training.  Both are equally valuable and you should actively use both in formulating your career insurance policy.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Just pick one and start moving ahead!

 Vehicles for Learning – Formal Training Programs

 Company Provided Training

Take advantage of every educational opportunity your company provides you.  Every training course they offer, every learning resource they provide, every educational benefit they will pay for you need to use and wring out the maximum benefit.  This is some of the cheapest training you will ever get.  Learn everything you can about every part of your company’s business.  Learn to use every tool available to you.  The more you know about the company you work for, and the business they are in, the better you can do your own job, and the more qualified you are for another job if yours goes away or if a promotion becomes available.

College Courses and Degree Programs

When taking college courses there are two things to keep in mind:  Degrees help open doors, but knowledge is what allows you to excel.  Focus on courses related to what you are currently doing, or on what you want to begin doing.  A degree program provides a structured curriculum and recognizable certification of your efforts.  But, even without a degree, enrollment in college courses shows your employer and prospective employer that you are serious about keeping your knowledge and skills current.

Many employers will help pay for your degree if it is related to your job requirements.  If they will pay any part of it, go for it.  If you become unemployed, there are often extensions to unemployment benefits if you are taking college courses.

Vendor or Training Company Courses
These typically focus on a particular topic or skill and take a few hours or days to complete.  They are great ways to sharpen  or acquire initial skills and understanding of new topics.  Sometimes these are provided free from product vendors.  Often your company will pay for you to attend these courses if you gain prior approval.

“People who made it big in money, power, prestige, or achievement have always educated themselves in what they need to know.”
Social Historian
 Vehicles for Learning – Informal Training Programs

On the Job Training or Cross Training
Work actively to learn to do other jobs.  This immediately makes you more valuable to your current employer, and to your team mates.  This usually doesn’t require any extra time on your part, just extra effort.  Most companies would rather move employees rather than fire them and hire others.  Learning to do someone else’s job makes you better prepared to change jobs if your current work goes away.  It also helps you to better understand how the parts of the company work together to succeed.

Empowerment is a popular buzzword these days.  Many people think it means they have more to do for the same pay.  In fact, it means learn and do your the job your boss is doing, your coworker is doing, and your subordinate is doing.  In the age of empowerment, no on can safely hide behind the old platitude, “It isn’t my job.”  Everyone is expected to do whatever it takes to get the job done, regardless of who is officially responsible for what.

Self directed learning is potentially the most rewarding and least expensive of all learning activities.
+        Determine what you want to learn about.
+        Set a goal or a measure which will show you when you have mastered the subject.
+        Keep a record of what you learn along the way.
+        Use the public library, the corporate library, college libraries, television, and knowledgeable friends or associates.
+        Find a mentor.

There is a wealth of resources all around you.  Take advantage of them.

Do you have the skills you need to compete and be hired elsewhere?  Are you marketable?

If your company went out of business today, could you get a job tomorrow?

Getting Started
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you take a plane, a train, or an automobile.  What matters is that you get moving in the right direction, right away.  The first, and most essential step is to start.

If you haven’t established a goal or envisioned that perfect job you are aiming for, start learning anyway.  Pick any subject you would like to know more about, find out what resources are available to you to help you learn about it, set a date, establish a goal, make a plan, and start working on it.

However, to get the absolute biggest benefit from your efforts requires that you start with the end in mind.  You need fix your sights on a goal that you have a burning desire to attain.  Then, lay out a plan to achieve that goal, identifying the things you need to learn to succeed and overcome the obstacles in your way.  In this way, your learning becomes a servant to your life, not the purpose of your life.

Remember the ACTION acronym for goal setting [for more info on this see "Come Out On Top: Goals to Live By" by Tom Sheppard].  .

Attainable. Goals are measurable and reachable. If you can write it, you can measure it.
Compatible with your mission. Will this goal move you closer to where or what you want to be one year from now, three years from now, five years, ten years?
Time specific.  Set a deadline for achieving the goal.  Remember, someday never comes.
In writing.  To be real, you must write your goal down.  Otherwise, it is just a wish. Ink it, don’t just think it.
Ownership of your goals.  You must take responsibility for achieving your goals.  You cannot plan for someone else to deliver your destiny to your door.
Negotiated and agreed upon.  If your goals involve other people, as they often do at work, they must be agreed upon with anyone else who may be affected

Working backward from the time specific deadline, and identifying the obstacles between where you are and where you are aiming for, you can turn these goals into manageable, daily activities. You can create a work plan which will take you where you want to be.

Many years ago a study of Harvard Business School graduates, ten years out of school measured their level of financial success.  Eighty-three percent of these graduates had no goals when they graduated.  Fourteen percent of them had goals, but they weren’t written down.  This fourteen percent were three times more financially successful than the group without goals.  The remaining three percent had clearly defined, written goals.  This three percent were ten times more successful than those with no goals. And, the three percent had a financial net worth greater than the entire ninety-seven percent of their classmates combined.

A recent advice column in the Wall Street Journal recommended that you manage your career like you would your own business [for more info on this see "Come Out OnTop: Goals to Live By" by Tom Sheppard].  It advised that, just as any good business man develops a business plan, so too should you develop a career plan. 

When you develop a business plan, you identify your strengths and weaknesses, check out the competition and how you compare, evaluate the market, and outline your plan for attaining the market position you desire.
These same steps can easily be applied to your career plan.  Candidly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.  Determine how to play to your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses.  Check out the competition.  Who and what do you have to compete with for jobs in your career path?  How do you measure up against the competition?  Evaluate the market?  What are the needs of your company today and in the future?  What changes are occurring in the marketplace?  What skills are in demand today, and tomorrow?  Finally, outline your plan for attaining the position you desire, and put it all in writing.

With this kind of a career plan in front of you, a burning desire to achieve it, and the will to persist in spite of any setback, you will overcome all obstacles and you will succeed.

When setbacks happen, and they will, remember what Henry Ford said,

“Failure is an opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.”

Although you may fail at some things, as long as you keep at it, you are never a failure.

Visioning Your Perfect Job.
Unless you know where you want to go, what kind of job you are looking for, much of the effort you put into your job search is wasted.  Take time now to figure out where you want to go with your work life.  For most people, work is the single largest piece of their waking hours for the majority of the years of their life.  If you are going to invest that much of your time and energy in something, it should at least be something rewarding to you.  But, if you just drift along from position to position, company to company, the likelihood of you stumbling onto the perfect job is extremely low.  You probably have a better chance of getting hit by lightening.

So, take charge of your career and your life.  Take some time to think about how you want to be remembered when you have left this life.  What part does work play in that legacy?  For most people it will play a significant role in how they are remembered.  Enjoy life, enjoy work. 

Work is an eternal principle.  Even before Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, they were told to work as gardeners.  Afterward, the curse they received was that they would have to work harder than they had before to get the same fruits of their labors.  But they still had to work, before and after the Fall.

In today’s world it is just as true.  When we lived at home, our parents provided for us and we lived off the fruits of their labors.  As adults, we forge ahead in our own lives, separate from our parents and we must provide for ourselves and our families.  As the work world changes rapidly, it can quickly become the reality that we have to work harder tomorrow for what we earned more easily yesterday.  There is no substitute for hard work.  But hard work along with a good plan will move the world.

Undoubtedly there were many great commanders before and after Alexander the Great.  But he alone among them had the vision and the plan which, coupled with hard work, forged an empire spanning the entire known civilized world of his day.  We too can create a great legacy by having a plan and working hard at it.

You are Responsible
Regardless of which methods you use, and you should try them all, the bottom line is this: You are responsible.

“Personal responsibility is our greatest evolution.”

+        Make sure that you are fully prepared in today’s market place.  You cannot count on your company to take care of you.  You can at any moment find yourself unemployed through no fault of your own.

+        Keep your skills up to date.  You are responsible for your own career.

Companies get bought or go out of business every day.  When they do, many  valuable, loyal, and competent people are forced out, regardless of their skills and talents.  When this happens, they have to compete for their next job.  Getting laid off is a question of job security.  The odds are it will happen to you at least once in your career, maybe several times.

Maintaining steady employment, even though it passes through a number of employers is Career Security.  Keeping your skills and accomplishments up to date with the demands of a changing market is your Career Insurance Policy.

This is your challenge -
+        Keep your Career Insurance in full force and protect yourself from layoffs by improving your skills and learning new skills.
+        Improve your earning power by improving your skills and learning new skills.
+        Take charge of your career by taking charge of your self improvement program.  No one else can do it for you.

The Bible tells an illuminating parable about ten virgins who are invited to a wedding.  Five of them were foolish and brought only the only which could be carried in their lamps.  Five others were wise and brought extra oil with them. 

The groom was late and the oil lamps had begun to run out of oil when he finally arrived.  The wise virgins quickly refilled their lamps from their extra supply.  The foolish virgins asked the wise ones to let them have some of their oil.  The wise virgins knew that if they gave away some of their oil, they would not have enough for their lamps to continue burning throughout the whole ceremony and they would be embarrassed when their lamps ran out of oil and darkened the celebration.  They told the foolish ones to run and buy themselves some extra oil in the market place.

The foolish virgins, rather than being embarrassed by having their lamps run out in the middle of the festivities, rushed to get more oil.  But, by the time they returned, the wedding had begun and they could not enter the hall and disturb it.

Knowledge and skills fill our lamps and allow us to illuminate the paths of our careers.  If we allow them to stagnate and fail to replenish them in a timely manner, when the crunch comes - such as a layoff, we will not have the skills we need to compete in the job market.  And, we will not be able to borrow those skills from our more diligent coworkers.  What skills they possess are their own and cannot be transferred to you. Likewise, what skills and knowledge you possess are your own and cannot be taken from you.  You will succeed or fail depending upon how well you can learn and apply your knowledge and skills to improve your position and your company.

Knowledge is power.  Empower yourself.

For additional helpful information, see:

[1] Longevity Reward Programs Get Short Shrift, Alex Markels & Joann S. Lublin, 4/27/95, page B1

Topics Related to This Post  
Success, Goals, Goal Setting, Entrepreneur, Inspiration
Books Related To This Post:

The Home Finders blog was created by ADB Properties and The Gold Seal Homes Group to provide a resource for people in the greater Charlotte, NC area to find peace of mind through quality, affordable homes. This blog features properties that are currently available to rent or buy from affiliates of The Gold Seal Homes Group ( All affiliates of The Gold Seal Homes Group agree to abide by high ethical standards and certain operating procedures that make it easy for people to do business with all affiliates.
© Copyright 2014 by Thomas K Sheppard
All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.


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