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Finding the upside in an economic downturn

Last updated on: July 1, 2009 

Image: Ramakrishna Momidi is director, HR, Microsoft Global Services India (MGSI)
Ramakrishna Momidi

Turbulent and challenging times can often test the very fabric of an organisation's resilience. It is in such an environment that learning organisations are best positioned to respond to the challenge of the situation. Managing these times with greater confidence and alacrity requires a readiness that is often built over time and kicked into action here.

John Baldoni in his blog 'Leadership at Work' talks about preparing for the upturn during such turbulent times by coming to terms with the need of the hour, through a focus on 'Mastering your operations', 'Use the downtime wisely', and 'Spread some hope throughout the organisation'. The organisation's approach to manage its response in a sustainable manner is crucial, both from the business and the people perspective.

Initiatives that help people and teams to drive up-skilling, cross-skilling and job enrichment can go a long way to achieve a sense of shared vision and effort synergies, where the employee sees the value of the investments being made by the organisation and in turn is better poised to tackle challenges with an empowered and motivated workforce.

Living through a downturn is not a process of grinning and bearing it; it is a matter of working the objectives toward your goals as well as planning for the upturn in the economic climate. And if your organisation does succumb, you will have learned valuable lessons that can be applied to future leadership roles.

As the technology industry in the country is one of the most effected sectors with the economic slowdown, let us look at how some of the processes and learning frameworks when employed successfully can help technology firms face the current economic climate well.

1. Upgrade your skills

Image: A new student learns how to use a computer during a class
Photographs: Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters

During a downturn, employees must re-invent themselves by being open to new assignments, additional responsibilities, and by taking up new jobs that are valuable to the organisation.

They should stretch their horizon and look to contribute to the organisation to their fullest potential.

As professionals, we all need to upscale -- upgrade our skills either in our domain or specialist areas, or broaden the competencies.

Explore with your manager and leadership teams what is most valued in the context of the organisation's growth or survival. Address the survival needs of the organisation.

2. New skills

Image: A journalist uses a computer in APEC's press room
Photographs: Jorge Siva/ Reuters

This is the time to take a new stint, something, which one wouldn't have done in the normal course.

A new stint helps you widen your skill set, and realise your own potential. The wider skill sets one has, the more employable one becomes. This is also the time when one should take one's own development plan very seriously.

The additional skills acquired by taking a new stint will be useful throughout one's life.

Employees must have an open mind, look for opportunities that have high demand in the industry, and try to do those jobs in the present organisation. This approach holds good for career development during all times in one's career.

3. Personal development

Image: Malaysians participate in computer attack and defence hacking competition during the 3rd annual Hack-In-The-Box Security Conference 2004 in Kuala Lumpur
Photographs: Bazuki Muhammad/ Reuters

Take part time courses and equip yourself. Even taking a sabbatical is a good idea, and is not looked at negatively.

By using this time for a sabbatical, which one would have not considered otherwise (since people always evaluate the sabbatical against the opportunities industry has to offer), one can invest in oneself. Remain confident and acquire additional competencies.

5. Cross-skilling & cross teaming

Photographs: Rediff Archives

Multi-skilled resources must be valued and appreciated appropriately. The fundamental philosophy continues to be depth first and breadth later. This means employees must achieve a working level of knowledge in one technology prior to attempting to acquire skills in another. This is important to ensure that they can hold their own in an individual contributor situation and be utilised for independent work.

Not only does cross-skilling enable employees to be leveraged on a variety of assignments, it also enables them to architect better solutions and effectively addresses integration and work-stream dependencies on projects that involve multiple technologies.

All subject matter experts (SMEs) should be provided a holistic road map to the cutting edge practices across different technologies. These experts are then in a position to help customers get the benefit of a holistic approach to the challenges being addressed. This results in a win-win situation both for the business and the employees.

The success of cross-skilling and cross-teaming initiatives ensures customer satisfaction exemplified by the consistent high satisfaction scores received by the delivery teams, at levels higher than the industry average.

This initiative enables almost all resources contributing to the success of the organisation with almost a minimum bench and idle effort burn through the financial year.

Making changes in the workforce planning has become very tempting with the fast changing economy. But these changes may have long-term ramifications. One needs to take a long-term view of the human resource planning while forecasting all future needs of the organisation.