Will You Be Ready?

Make plans, improvements now for when the economy recovers

by Russell T. Westcott

Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a Career Corner column titled "Fired? Tired? Mired?"1 Still today, that’s the sense I get from the restlessness that I believe permeates today’s workforce.

Many people are unemployed, and some have given up looking for jobs. Some are tired of the state of the union, their community, their organization and perhaps even their family life. Maybe people feel stuck where they are.

Pundits and gurus continuously predict improvement in the economy. As of this writing, economic improvement is moving at a glacier’s pace. It’s important to consider, however, what will occur when the economy eventually does improve. Will you be ready?

As individuals—and employers—what are we going to do when the dam breaks and a major churning of the workforce begins? Do you have an approach ready? Or have you been too busy lamenting your lot in life?

The current state of the economy can be viewed as a dam holding back a massive amount of human energy. But the dam will break someday, and it could happen sooner than you think. Do you have a strategy for when that happens?

Those of us who teach courses for quality practitioners—courses aimed at enhancing knowledge and skills—often wonder why more quality employees, including managers, are not making better use of this type of instruction. Admittedly, lacking money and time are major issues. Along with those obstacles, however, is the slowing down of innate motivation to better yourself. Are you losing your drive and allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity?

Set improvement goals

There are many things you can do to prepare yourself for when the dam breaks.

For starters, turn off the TV in favor of accessing the hundreds of educational opportunities that are at your fingertips. Well-known universities are making many of their courses accessible online—some of which are free. Adult education classes are inexpensive and often quite good. What about that ASQ certification you’ve had your eye on? Are you preparing to sit for one of the exams?

When you prepare your résumé in preparation for the dam break, how will you explain what you did while you waited? Putting it bluntly, there are few truly legitimate excuses for not bettering yourself.

Start by establishing two improvement goals for yourself. For example: "I am going to improve my knowledge of lean techniques and tools by the end of October 2011." Or, "I am going to create a personal project to apply appropriate lean tools to improving <blank> by Dec. 31."

After establishing the goals, structure the action items, such as the objectives, measures and processes you will use to guide you toward those goals. Some examples of action items are collecting data about available resources for lean information, selecting and learning about lean techniques and tools, and choosing a project that will help you apply the appropriate techniques and tools learned. Monitor, measure and evaluate progress and results. Document the process you followed, and add your achievement to your résumé.

And repeat

After you’ve reached your goal, do it again for a different learning experience. Don’t just hunker down—get up and do something meaningful that adds to your repertoire of skills and knowledge bank. Do something that positively impacts your family, co-workers, organization, community or country. Become a role model for others, and bask in the satisfaction that you’ve conquered the doldrums.

For those of you who are also employers, ask yourselves what you are doing to help your valued employees realize their work-life goals and their desire to stay and grow with you and your organization.

You may surprise yourself with your change of attitude and motivation to improve yourself. It’s your investment in the future, so you better be smart and ready. The dam will eventually break. Will you be prepared?


  1. Russell T. Westcott, "Fired? Tired? Mired?" Quality Progress, October 2002, pp. 105–106.

Russell T. Westcott, based in Old Saybrook, CT, consults on strategic planning, project management, quality management systems, work-life planning and career coaching. He is an ASQ fellow and a certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE) and quality auditor. Westcott is editor of the CMQ/OE Handbook, third edition; co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook; and author of Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional and Stepping Up to ISO 9004:2000. Westcott is also an instructor of the ASQ CMQ/OE refresher course, and serves on the Quality Management Division Advisory Committee and ASQ’s Thames Valley Section executive board.

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