Taking Control of Your Own Future
Paranoid or Proactive – Some spend their workdays in quiet desperation, hoping they will never be found out, while others have gained confidence in using uncertainty as a challenge to help their company – and themselves – to move forward. It’s not always easy, but it does make your days interesting. You either know from first-hand experience or heard that companies aren’t hiring like they used to; and, in fact, are slimming down. It’s not just in your neighborhood, your country, it’s a global shift. In the five major economies, the hiring outlook is “steady” … meaning flat! In 24 offices of the placement firm Manpower and 41 country labor departments, they report that job-seekers are finding a tougher marketplace.
Emerging economies including China, India and Brazil are slowing because exports to other countries are slowing. Well, slowing is perhaps an overstatement because in every country, there are organizations hungry to find qualified people to fill open positions. The problem is, people aren’t educated or trained for the jobs that need to be filled. That isn’t going to change. We recently read that that following graduation, 70 percent of the youth now entering high school will be working in industries and jobs that don’t even exist yet. The factory dominated the 19th Century. Everything evolved around it. People spent their lives working for “the man.”
Today, less than 15 percent of U.S. employees work in production or manufacturing. In Europe and Japan, the picture is much the same. The 20th Century was dominated by the office. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, by the end of last year, at least 44 percent of the employees were gathering, processing, retrieving and analyzing information … in the office. The first half of 21st Century was dubbed the Internet and Knowledge Era. The Internet is about competition, growth and reaching out to customers. Real time access to information is the key business differentiator. Now we’ve entered the Big Data Era where it’s all about harvesting information from the masses of data companies collect minute by minute, click by click.
A few years ago, Will Hutton, chief executive of Britain’s The Industrial Society, stated that while we don’t yet fully understand the rules and dynamics of the new era we do know it is turning the workplace inside out. He explained that we are firmly implanted in a network economy that is driven by information and communications technologies. The network is – and will increasingly be – made up of independent workers who will change the employer/employee relationship.
The Empowered Worker
Already more than 40 million U.S. workers are free agent contract workers. Over the next few years, Charles Handy, author of The Age of Unreason, estimates that less than one-half of the industrial world’s workforce will hold conventional full-time jobs in companies. Every year, more and more people around the globe will be self-employed. Full-time insiders will be the minority.
Demanding Jobs – No country, no company, no individuals have been left untouched by the economy. Companies have become accustomed to operating lean, leaving many to feel the system has let them down; while others have found new freedom, new challenges in controlling their own destinies, making their own opportunities. In the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century, there was a real or implied promise that the corporation would provide employees with job security and career progression in return for loyalty and commitment. But in today’s competitive environment, firms have to constantly restructure, outsource, downsize, subcontract and form new alliances to survive and take advantage of opportunities they can’t foresee, can’t plan for. To maintain their competitive edge, companies are travelling lighter, changing course rapidly, covering ground/ reinventing themselves more quickly. The managers that survive have found that the organization has to constantly accelerate or die. The company that is lean, agile and quick to respond has the edge. Those who can kill/replace even their own pet products/projects and move on without hesitation succeed. Those who hesitate or look back with remorse get passed or worse, trampled. Competition, technology, recession and increased stakeholder value are driving firms to the point where corporate commitment and employee loyalty are rapidly disappearing. Given this environment, it is little wonder that the new free agent worker is becoming the mainstay of the workforce and is doing what is important for his or her career. Far from being “me” oriented, this growing workforce understands that the best way to enhance their intellectual, social and professional capital is to network, educate/reeducate themselves and constantly move forward. Just as the changing world deals ruthlessly with organizations that don’t change, the new breed of self-sustaining employee is quickly learning that the blur of ambiguity, uncertainty is good for their career.
Dealing with the Legacy
New View – Industrial and emerging countries have experienced employment pressure as demand shifts from physical to knowledge labor. Rather than expecting others to make positions available to them, a growing number of people are expanding their expertise and capabilities in new areas of knowledge that didn’t exist even a few years ago. They are exploiting the flexibility, capacity and capability of the Internet to enable them to work in totally different ways with the “legacy” parts of the economy. They watch others with their personal ideas and personal goals compete on reality shows like Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den and realize that there are tens of thousands of others out there with the same “fire in the gut,” the willingness, need and desire to pursue their goals despite the obstacles. Because of this, firms are going to great lengths to recruit, pay and keep employees happy.
A new class of job brokers and talent scouts has emerged with employee search firms growing twice as fast as the economy. Check any print, online publication you receive. There will always be two to three articles on recruiting and job enhancement; and it isn’t just because firms are trying to figure out, hire and use millennials profitably. These companies are trying to win and retain the best freethinkers who want to be constantly challenged and aren’t looking for jobs. Look at the on-line and print classifieds. Listen to what companies and search firms are offering. The attention is on a stimulating work environment, relaxed dress codes, attention to work/life issues and a fun place to work. Firms that fall short in these areas know they will lose the best people … the people they need to survive and grow.
Short Ladder – The corporate ladder has become extremely short as people put more of their trust in developing themselves rather than expecting companies to make room for them to climb the corporate ladder. The self-empowered independent worker knows the ground rules have changed in the employer/employee relationship. They have learned how easy it is to network in much the same fashion as the trade guilds of the 18th Century. Forget unions. The new contract worker has a better infrastructure – the web. A growing number of portals are available for them to share job and company work experience information, buy goods and services and control their own growth and destiny. Sites like Kickstarter offers a place where people can post their business ideas and offer the opportunity for people to crowdsource – back the project. Another location, Quirky, takes innovation and collaboration to an even higher plane. People submit their ideas to Quirky and a community of members picks the best ideas and helps take it to market and financially share in the results. It may be one person’s idea, but it is a collaborative success.
Today’s global communication technology is radically changing the speed, direction and amount of information flow, even as it alters people’s roles/work across all organizations. The new free agent worker is creating role clarity for himself/herself. They figure out the top priorities and point themselves in that direction. They don’t pull back. They don’t wait for someone to give them details or marching orders. They give themselves permission to attach to the job that needs to be done. They feel their way to the future. They have reduced improvising to an art form. They accept the fact that work life is fuzzy around the edges. They are comfortable with the fact that organizations can’t and aren’t going to look out for people’s careers as they did in the past. That’s why it is important to behave like you’re in business for yourself … you are. Today’s “employees” have to build emotional muscle. As Lily Tomlin once said, “we’re all in this alone.”
Given the working world shift, people have to continuously practice Kaizen – the relentless quest for a better way, higher-quality craftsmanship, the daily pursuit of perfection. Kaizen keeps you reaching, stretching to outdo yesterday. The incremental changes yield a valuable competitive advantage. You need to assume personal responsibility for upgrading your performance. Your productivity, response time, quality, cost control and customer service should show steady gains. The era of entitlement is past. People aren’t automatically entitled to pay increases, promotions or their job … even if they perform well. The empowered free agent worker is taking responsibility for his/her own career … and future. These guild workers are forcing companies to personalize contracts as firms bid for their knowledge. With employment viewed as uncertain at best and flexible/flattened, organizations a key to corporate agility, the free agent workforce isn’t an anomaly. Practice, Practice – While people still like to beat their own drum, many have found it more productive, more satisfying to practice Kaizen and constantly improve and perfect themselves so they can perform at their best, even in uncertain situations. It’s the environment organizations and companies will work in tomorrow. There have to be good reasons to hire, and this is reflective of the global markets each of us must become comfortable with in the years ahead. In case you didn’t notice, it’s here today.