Don’t Hunker Down & Hang On

Peter Weddle

The conventional wisdom is to hunker down and hang on during difficult times. Don’t make waves, avoid controversy and keep your nose to the grindstone. According to this view, it’s best to play it safe when staff reductions and budget cuts are rippling through an organization. And experience shows, it works; the approach has proven effective in the past against getting caught up in layoffs. During the current pandemic and recession, however, it’s a sure-fire way to be seen as expendable.

For years, the corollary to hunkering down and hanging on has been “out of sight, out of mind.” The logic is sound, I suppose. If you’re not visible, you’re not top of mind when decisions are being made about who stays, who goes and who loses out. It was ironic but nevertheless true: the key to staying employed during hard times was always to be overlooked or at least to go unnoticed.

As simple as it was, the strategy has also been remarkably resilient. It probably helped thousands of people keep their jobs and sustain the priority of their work in the 12 recessions the U.S. has endured since the end of World War II. There was a sameness both to the downturns themselves and to what happened after them, so using the same strategy over and over again made sense. But now, it doesn’t.

CEOs and their c-suite teams have absolutely no idea how the current recession is going to unfold or what is going to happen after it. This pandemic-induced downturn is unlike anything they have ever experienced. They are, however, absolutely certain of one thing: whatever the present and future hold, they will be significantly different from what occurred during and after the last 12 recessions.

Every challenge and every opportunity will be unlike anything employers have dealt with before. In effect, the nature of “hard times” has changed. So too, therefore, has the best way to survive them. The sure-fire way employment was protected in the past – that tried and true strategy of hunkering down and hanging on – is now no longer relevant. It simply will not work in the present or the future.

Stand Up & Step Out

In a period of uncertainty and change, the best company leaders try to find the right way to compete in the new marketplace that is emerging. They know they can’t be successful by repeating past practices, so they search for and test new ideas and then implement those that are the most effective. Instead of hunkering down and hanging on, therefore, the best way to ensure continued employment is to stand up and step out.

What does that mean?

The most valued employees will be those who can rise to the occasion during tough times. They make themselves visible by proactively offering suggestions, identifying potential improvements, and surfacing innovations. They see it as a part of their job to help the company chart a course for the future.

Recruiters’ role in the middle of the organization provides those at the top with a unique perspective that expands the range of options they have to consider. Not all of the ideas they propose are likely to be well received, and some may even attract criticism, especially by those who want to continue with business as usual. The most successful leaders, however, will insist on preparing for whatever emerges as the new reality of business. They will see those who act as bold and forward thinkers not as an overhead cost but rather as a value-creating asset. And, good leaders almost never dispose of their assets.

Unlike any other area of the enterprise, talent acquisition enables recruiters to touch a broad cross section of the population. They connect with both current and prospective candidates as well as new hires and those who are not selected, all of whom are often also the customers of their employer. That vantage point gives them insights and experiences that can be translated into the fresh thinking and innovative approaches companies need in a time of change. Those who stand up and step out to share that knowledge will always be seen and appreciated as critical contributors.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can check out his latest books on Amazon or in the TAtech Bookstore.

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