Protect your career by thinking like a risk manager

On November 26th 2018, GM announced plans to close five plants and lay off 15,000 employees. Given the ongoing expansion of the US economy, the announcement came as a surprise to many. Speculation as to what GM’s move and other flagging economic indicators might suggest for the future of the economy at large serves an unwelcome reminder: No matter how steady the economy or how secure we feel in our current positions/careers, uncertainty is always with us.

Risk managers work to ensure organizations achieve their objectives as they operate in environments full of uncertainty. Risk management involves the practice of identifying the potential threats and opportunities an organization faces, asking “what if” questions to decide on the optimal response, then taking the appropriate actions based on that exercise.

The same general principles can be applied to any individual career, whether you feel that your career is on track or you find yourself in a period of volatility. Acquisitions, buyouts, bad management decisions—risks you aren’t considering—could make the future much less rosy. While we may not be able to completely eliminate uncertainty, by thinking like a risk manager we can take steps to prepare for uncertainty and better control our career objectives.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss?

There’s been speculation for months. And then comes the meeting where you learn that your organization has been acquired and will soon be merged with another. What does this mean for the company, its clients, and employees? More importantly, you wonder, is this a good thing or bad thing for me?

This was the case for independent EH&S consultant Dan Markiewicz. Early in his career, while serving on a task force that looked at how the corporation he worked for should manage risk, Markiewicz recognized the potential for applying risk management principles to his own career.

“It was in my own best interest to consider individual risks to my job,” writes Markiewicz in Managing Best Practices: Risk management for your career. “I developed a career plan filled with ‘what if’ considerations and treatments, i.e. controls. An acquisition by another company indeed put my job at risk. But I was prepared for the effect of uncertainty on achieving my objectives.”

Risk management is not only about identifying and minimizing risk, it’s also about recognizing opportunity and taking the appropriate actions in order to achieve your objectives. For example, you may find the new, combined organizations as a breath of fresh air. As described in an April 2017 Harvard Business Review article, Surviving M&A, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) assessment may prove helpful as you plan for the coming months.

The four factors—“what if” considerations and treatments—that follow are examples of how you might approach the potential impact of an acquisition and merger scenario on your career:

Fit

As the plans for merging two companies comes into sharper focus, does the new path forward align with your values and interest? Let’s say you’ve been designing widgets for the past decade and find the work extremely rewarding. You’ve been steadily advancing and think you’re at the point of moving up to a management position. Does the new management share your opinion? What if your role and duties change significantly as the company realigns to meet new objectives? Will you still be happy? What do answers of “no” mean when it comes to next steps?

Options

What are your options? If you have a highly specialized skill set, are there other organizations in your industry that will pay you to do that? Are there steps that you could be taking now (for example, in the form of an advanced degree or additional certification) that could expand both your skill set and the options available to you?

Just as important is ensuring that you avoid reducing the number of options available to you. For example, if it you’re presented with a new employment agreement, will signing it limit your ability to leave for a competitor? Always review an agreement with an attorney before you sign anything, and understand the implications of adding your signature.

Benefits and Work/Life Balance

It’s critical to understand how your family could be materially impacted by a merger. What if, as a result of a potential office relocation, your commute changes from thirty minutes to more than an hour—after school pickups take on a very different feel. What if you learn your only option is to relocate to an office in a different city altogether?

When reviewing changes in benefits, what if your deductible jumps, if your healthcare plan changes, or if work from home is no longer available. What does the opportunity look like with all of the costs and benefits plugged in? How will you respond?

Culture

Following a merger, you now have hundreds (or thousands) of new colleagues. Does everyone think about work, or about the business, in the same way? What if the merger comes with a 180 degree change in the way decisions are made? According to another HBR study, cultural incompatibility—in areas ranging from communication to accountability—is a primary reason that mergers fail.

The potential for incompatibility doesn’t only reside at the company level. What if, based on the management approach prior to an acquisition, you were always able to talk to your bosses about problems as a first step to finding a solution, yet you find that you’ll soon be reporting to someone who doesn’t value that approach. What if you find that you chafe under his or her supervision? Would another organization provide more potential for personal and professional growth?

Factors will vary and the answer to “what if” considerations will differ for everyone who takes this approach. What is important is beginning to ask the questions. As Dan Markiewicz writes, “Are there individual opportunities that you have not identified, analyzed, and evaluated?”

We cannot control the economy. But we can be prepared to take action in the face of uncertainty and opportunity to ensure our career objectives stay on track. You can take control of your career by applying basic principles of risk management.

Origami Risk is consistently recognized for being the best—and the best place to work—in the business. If mitigating your career risk is on your mind, check out our workplace awards here. Or, explore our open positions here.