Headhunters are receiving a lot of resumes these days. One I spoke with yesterday told me that her office is being flooded with them. At the same time, there’s a dramatic decrease in the number of companies that are actually hiring. “And even there, many replacement positions are being held off until absolutely necessary,” she noted.

2009 is, and will remain, a difficult period. If you’re employed, there’s a greater chance of layoffs or company failures in 2009 than at any time in the past 27 years. If you’re self-employed, or a small business operator, the prospects are no more positive. Clients are cutting back. Most are paying their bills more slowly. Either of which can destroy a small operator. And, if you’re out of work, it’s likely that you’ll be looking harder and longer to get back on your feet.

More than ever before, I’m hearing similar requests for ideas and guidance. To boil them down, more or less:

– How can I guard against ending up as another one of the statistics reported on the news every day?

– Are there tools or approaches that I can use to help ensure that I don’t join those seeking a job?

Here’s an approach I’ve found to be very successful for a lot of people. It’s called The Rule of 3 and is built on a planning concept used effectively over the years. I like it because it’s predicated on the premise that nobody should be managing-by-crossed-fingers. Especially during a year that’s shaping up to be the worst shakeout period in memory.

The Rule of 3 is the opposite of “hoping.” You know: Hoping to not get fired, or Hoping that one’s clients will start buying more, and then Hoping they’ll pay their bills more promptly. Crossed fingers as a strategy isn’t going to do it. Much better to just buy some lotto tickets.

But the Rule of 3 does work. It works for someone who is employed, self-employed, or contracting. It assumes that none of us is always smart enough to see everything that’s ahead. It’s been used by successful organizations and businesses as a planning tool for decades. It’s about keeping options open, being thoughtful, and rolling with the natural shifts in cycles. I suggest you give it some consideration, and noodle about how to apply it to your situation.

Starting today, become clear about having 3 options for your professional life. I’ll use an example of someone who works for an organization where these options could be:

1. I have a job and will do whatever it takes to keep it. For most people, this means stepping-up. Doing, and being seen and recognized for doing, things beyond which others in similar roles would do. Showing – more than ever – that you’re the one who the company simply must keep – even if others must be laid off. For you, this could involve more work, more hours, helping out in different areas beyond your role, taking courses to show that you are capable of doing other projects or activities. You want everyone to know that you, more than anyone else, are a keeper.
2. Accept the reality that you still may lose your job. Despite your best efforts personally, other factors can come into play. The company may go down, or the offices where you work may be shuttered, or your department could be outsourced. And then you’d be unemployed. With that as a possibility, now is the time to start planning what the ideal alternative would be. What I mean is, “If I became victim of this environment, what would my preferred outcome be? If I could choose my next job, what would it be and where would it be?” Get clear on this and start investigating, while you’re still in your current role, what it would take to get that other job. It could be internal or with another company or another industry. Now you’ve got the beginnings of a back-up plan that you could use in the event of the worst case in the current job. With some groundwork now, you would be in a stronger place to move from a sacking to a job you’d be happy with. Start taking actions that will help ensure you will not be immobilized by decisions made by your current employer.

3. Recognize that your preferred outcome may not materialize as expected and hoped.
So, you lost your current job and then went after the preferred alternative, but your plan didn’t come together as intended. This can happen, obviously. Maybe the other department, or other company had better choices, or aren’t in a position now to use your services – even though they really want you. Now what? Here’s where the Rule of 3 is even more important because, as ugly as it is, you’ve already contemplated this scenario.

You’ve noodled about other jobs, or sources of income, that you could do and which would keep some cash flowing into your life. Not necessarily the kind of activity you’d prefer; but they can keep the rent paid and buy you some meatloaf. Creating this fallback plan while you’re still employed is important because you’re doing it from a distance and therefor more dispassionately. Your ego is still intact. Your common sense is more in play. And believe me when I tell you that those can disappear for a while when someone from HR comes to your cubicle and asks for your employee badge. Creating your “worst case scenario” now is a lot smarter. I once had a company executive tell me his #3 was working at a gas station that still pumped gas. He said he knew that he felt good providing great service to others, and that this could be an easy way for him to do that without feeling like Donald Trump’s biggest loser.

Hopefully, that guy – and you – will never have to use your #3; but creating a plan now that is more likely to help you make it through today and tomorrow will reduce the chances of having to find out. You will be in the process of more actively managing your future. This will increase your chances of dealing with any situation more effectively.


Leadership Coach