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A time for self-interested planning

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What makes migraines worse than most other forms of intense agony is that they’re pointless.

If you break an arm, it hurts because it should. You can understand it — the pain is your body’s way of saying, “DON’T MOVE THAT ARM!” Migraines, in contrast, are excruciating for no good purpose. They hurt only because they hurt.

At the risk of being political for a moment, my biggest concern about our economy right now is that many public figures are treating it as a migraine, not as a broken arm — as something that just needs a painkiller, not as a signal that one or more of the fundamental assumptions we’ve been making about how to manage a modern economy are deeply flawed.

As informed citizens we should all take time to consider such matters. Wearing another hat, as leaders within the businesses that employ us we need to think through our expectations for where the economy is headed, figure out how the answer translates into threats and opportunities, and use those insights to plan a response.

One economic assumption we don’t need to rethink is the proposition that people act in their own best interests. That includes you, so reserve some of your thinking time … not to worry, but to anticipate, and to plan.

Start with anticipation: Determine your risk of imminent unemployment. This depends where you are, who you are, and how you’re perceived. And your ability to be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

For example:

  • If you’re a CIO who’s been in place for awhile and has coasted for awhile, you’re at risk because coasting won’t help your employer deal with its challenges. Tomorrow isn’t too soon to start fixing this. How? Ask yourself one question: If you were a newly hired CIO right now, what would you be doing differently?

Whatever the answer, start doing it. Your only hope of keeping your job will be to exhibit strong, visible leadership. And this economy isn’t a good time for a CIO whose last few years have been marked by complacency to be looking for a new opportunity.

  • If you’re a professional project manager, in the middle of leading a three-year strategic business initiative, call a steering committee meeting. The subject: The future of the initiative. The alternatives: Accelerate, continue, slow down, put on hold, or kill.

That’s the complete list. On this planet, slow down is a non-starter and “put on hold” is ManagementSpeak for kill. The real list is accelerate, continue, or kill.

Businesses approve strategic initiatives based on some set of underlying assumptions about what the future holds. Right now is the time to consider how these assumptions have changed, and whether the initiative fits the new assumptions.

Many steering committees will try to duck this decision, telling you it’s business as usual until you hear differently. Push as hard as you can, because every day of decision by default is a day the company might be wasting money it will urgently need for something else.

That’s your stated reason for pushing hard. You should also push hard because you need to know your future (as if you need KJR to tell you this). If the plan is to kill the project, be professional — help shut it down gracefully — and start looking now for a new position.

The good news is that senior project managers are always in short supply. The better news is that any company looking for one right now has already decided its new strategic initiative fits its plans for the future.

  • If you’re a sysadmin, take a cold hard look at the technologies and procedures your company uses to manage its technical infrastructure. They’re either up to snuff or they aren’t.

If they are, there’s still a decent chance IT operations will lose employees to a layoff. Unless you want to be one of them, make yourself the quintessential professional — have no problems, cause no problems, solve your manager’s problems. Be Mr. or Ms. Yes-I-Can.

If you see serious possibilities for improvement … not through a three-year strategic ITIL initiative but through a swarm of straightforward quick wins … put a plan together and sit down with your manager to review it.

Your point: Layoffs are almost certainly on the way. These opportunities are a way to get ahead of them. Behind your point is self-preservation — if you’re the source of the improvements, you’ll probably be one of the implementers rather than one of those laid off.

These are three examples among many. The point here isn’t to give answers. It’s to encourage the thought process, because there’s only one certainty in uncertain times:

You aren’t immune.