Who’s missing the mark?


Help me understand please!

I read an article in a recent International Business Times, U.S. edition, reporting that 3.2 million jobs are going begging because perfect candidates aren’t available within the 15 million unemployed. And, apparently, they aren’t available internally, either.

[Note: I am generalizing and lumping all employers together...I acknowledge that there are exceptions!]

As the author of a book that places career development responsibility squarely in the employee’s lap (Career Ownership: Creating ‘Job Security’ in Any Economy), I still find it stupefying that employers don’t consider growing that perfect candidate–whether from the inside or outside. American employers as a whole look at investment in their greatest assets as an expense to be trimmed or eliminated.

Organizations think nothing of property, building and equipment improvements to extend the value of those physical assets, yet they find it a waste of dollars to maintain or improve the value of the assets that count most in today’s economy: workers’ brains. And, this says nothing of the value of workers who bring their hearts as well, motivated to go over and above to ensure the success of the business.

How did organizations get to the place where an operating assumption is that assets must be “perfect” in order to be a “fit,” to be of value? Or that maintaining the value of capital assets is a dispensable expense? Yet, these assumptions seem to drive many organizations in today’s economy. It’s the same thinking that organizations use to terminate workers who finish a project and hire different workers for the next–even if training or another learning solution would bridge the gap quite nicely.

Why is it that:

>Employers require experience, yet ignore slope of a learning curve?

>They downsize a workforce to reach quarterly financial goals while shelling out big bucks for outplacement to assuage guilt and appear socially sensitive in “hard times”?

>So many employers consider improving and “re-purposing” human assets to be an unwarranted expense while ignoring the expense associated with turnover, lost productivity, low morale and disappearing customer loyalty?

If a position can go unfilled for months while a search for the perfect candidate occurs, how important can it be to fill it in the first place? Do the accolades managers receive for coming in “under budget” outweigh the costs (much more difficult to track) of filling a position with less-than-perfect? What numbers would organizations discover if they weighed the ROI between bringing an internal candidate up to speed and recruiting for the perfect fit? How is the lost productivity measured and tracked? The lower efficiency and missed opportunities? Customers who go with a more responsive competitor while the search drags on for a qualified candidate?

How about measuring the real costs of doing business?

Organizations purport that they must “make the numbers;” so it is time for organizations to take responsibility for tracking all the numbers—not just the ones that make a quick short-term impact. In any economy, sacrificing smart, solid longer term business practice in the interests of meeting outdated stability measures results in a false sense of security for the bankers and the stockholders, especially when it’s the assets that are sacrificed.

In the May issue of Fast Company, authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath make a compelling case for growing talent internally rather than recruiting from the outside. It’s high time business people review outdated activities that fall under the guise of “sound business practice” and upgrade those principles to align with the needs of the 2010 economy.

Why not weigh in?

What will it take for employers to put workers on the “asset” side of the ledger instead of the “expense” side? How can workers help this happen?

If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them…


Human beings really get in ruts. We love to do things that are comfortable, even when it’s to our disadvantage. Case in point: employment.

News is telling us that the economy is improving, although employment is called a lagging indicator meaning any uptick in employment will come along later, way later. In other words, hiring isn’t going to pick up any time soon. That means many people will continue to be out of work, for a lot longer than they ever expected. So their job searches will continue for a lot longer, too.running in circles

People will continue to do the same job search things they’ve always done and expect that–eventually–the outcome will be a job. One that lasts. One where they won’t have to go through job search hell ever again. And for some that may happen.

But for most, it won’t.

“Permanent” employment is a thing of the past, but human beliefs and behaviors haven’t changed to deal with it, let alone get ahead of it. Organizations perpetuate this with outdated human resourcesdancing practices that are the ‘way things have always been done’; and people continue to buy into this dance because it’s comfortable and they know how.

Organizations still look to fill “jobs” even though what they really have is “work” and “projects.” Work is always there–it’s permanent. Projects are temporary and everybody knows it. Jobs are (believed to be) permanent although most are only around until the global marketplace changes the competitive direction once again. And, that happens frequently. So a job filled today can be unnecessary in 12 months, and that results in lay-off, outplacement, and hiring in another, newly-competitive area.

And guess what? Because the jobs are different, the same person can’t move from one to the other! And, apparently, neither the organization or the person has thought to have the individual learn the new job’s skills and move from the unneeded job to the new one!

Remember the movieSo, what’s wrong with this picture? Everything!

1. the organization is wasting the skilled individual who is already on top of the learning curve, and adds the expense of outplacement or severance pay, as well as the expense of hiring and subsidizing the learning curve for someone who doesn’t know the company. Dumb.

2. the individual is stuck in a vicious cycle: looking for another job that matches the old one, along with thousands of others doing the same thing. No additional skills or competencies because the organization didn’t provide them. Dumber.

Who will blink first?

Will organizations figure out that there are more intelligent and effective ways (to say nothing of economical) to deal with a changing competitive marketplace than by throwing out the old and buying new? Will they figure out that people can be ‘recycled’ and learn the skills to flex from one area of work to another? Will they figure out that tossing out the brains that bring success to the business is condemning it to failure?

Or, will individuals–you!–figure out that you are more employable and more attractive to buyers when you become highly skilled and flexible with your (current and new) competencies? Will you figure out that only you create your own work security–because there is none in the employment market today? And will you figure out that you can take responsibility for your own improvement and development by carving a learning path that makes you highly adaptable to an organization’s needs?

My money’s on you.

When you own your career, you are the owner of your fate. You depend upon yourself to be flexible and skilled and adaptive to marketplace and customer needs. self-efficacyYou create your work opportunities to stay ahead of your organization’s decisions to change direction. You avoid the downsizing rolls, the job search chaos, the repetitive outplacement systems, the depression and desperation that come with a difficult employment market.

And what’s that worth?

An incredible peace of mind, confidence in your own efficacy, increased capacity to navigate an uncertain economy, and alignment with business reality!

Labor Day Musings


A macro concept that underpins a lot of my thinking is “work,” most specifically how our definitions of work are drastically changed, yet apparently unrecognized by both the work ‘giver’ and the ‘doer.’

job boxes

job boxes

Employers (the ‘giver’) continue to look at work as segmented pieces or ‘job boxes’ that can be put together into an integrated whole by someone looking down from on high. While organizations continue to define “jobs,” what they really need is flexible project workers who use their brains to readily move from one work area to another.

Employees (the ‘doer’) continue to look at work as jobs defined by a description with a defined beginning and end. While workers continue to say, “It’s not my job,” what they really need is work that they recognize as a contribution and that engages their mind and spirit.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I see the employer-employee relationship as–at the very least, dysfunctional, and maybe–at the most–irreparably broken. It is, in many (maybe most) organizations, a lose-lose relationship.

Employers continue to consider employees as commodities, and employees continue to see employers as economic lifelines. Employers see employees as interchangeable and as expenses… a ludicrous view in an economy driven by knowledge and service. Employees continue to see employers as their lifeline with only high-risk options for economic security. There is no joy, enjoyment or even much satisfaction in most work and workplaces.

intrinsic value

intrinsic value

What’s ignored by both parties is work’s intrinsic value: the value that drives the engagement and contribution of the worker. Without this, the enterprise “success” suffers–however that success is defined.

In the agrarian economy, work’s intrinsic value is continuity and contribution to the earth: tending to the growing cycles that foster abundance and replenish life stores.

In the trade / craft economy, work’s intrinsic value is using one’s talents and skill, contributing to the bigger needs of the community.

In the industrial economy, work’s intrinsic value is contributing the “piece” that makes the “whole,” and knowing the end result is better for the contribution. [Really? What happens when you can't see your contribution because the "whole" changes so often?]

contributions

contributions

In the knowledge/service economy, work’s intrinsic value is knowing that one’s contribution makes a difference…through a creative approach, a new product that better cements customer loyalty, or a superior level of service that outshines the competition. In today’s organizations, there’s lots of talk about these things but the approvals and the second guessing and the need for control and the short-term focus on the next quarter’s financials prevent most workers from having any sense of their work’s value.

In today’s world of global competition and global economics, this lack of contribution is destroying the only assets that can compete in these arenas. As Earl Pitts used to say, “Wake up, America!”

Here’s my question for you: what does it take to move Givers and Doers toward a truly realistic expression of “work” in the 21st century? To let up on the antiquated management and control practices that may have worked in the assembly line environment but that truly smother and destroy workers today? To give up on the antiquated because-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way and it’s-our-policy-service mentality that reduces productivity to ruinous levels?

How will you make a difference?

How will you make a difference?

And here’s a personal question for you: What will you do, when you return to work after this holiday, to show the intrinsic value in your work contributions? Just one thing? How will you make a difference?

So how about adding to these Labor Day musings? What will it take to redefine “work” so it works for both employers and employees? Please leave a comment to further this conversation, and maybe by Labor Day 2010, we’ll see a shift that re-energizes “Labor Day!”

Back-to-School


Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be.

This quote by Judith Groch resonates strongly with me because the classrooms of my youth required memorization and lots of it: students at desks high school 50s history, geography, trig functions, English prepositions, Latin root words, etc. The Dominican sisters who taught at St. Mary’s made sure of that!

We did memorize the world as it was then: and the boundaries were pretty sound. The literal “word view” was stable, defined by wars, separated by oceans and social or economic milestones. Even with the mind-numbing memorization, I liked learning.

Back-to-school time brings up wonderful memories, mostly because of new school supplies, a new book bag, and new teachers. Even in college, there was something enticing about new notebooks and pens and beginning again: the start of a new opportunity. Learning things that adds to or makes sense of stuff already in my brain.

I may be fortunate in that “Learning” is one of my talents (or ‘themes’ according to Gallup author Tom Rath), and I’ve developed it into a strength. I use that strength in my current work and leverage it so that I am able to look at new situations as challenges and view “change”–so scary for many–as just another puzzle to tackle.

How do you look at learning?

It’s not just for kids!

While our kids are heading back to school, I’m wondering if you are heading back as well. You may have a high school diploma, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, an MBA or a PhD. Whatever education you have, much of it is out-of-date. Whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago, the world is changing quickly enough that whatever content you have is, literally, so last year.

The phrase “lifelong learning” is one we hear bandied about, and often when we hear it we think, “Oh, I have a degree;” “No more back-to-school for me…don’t have the time!” Or, “I can’t afford it.” But ernestinelearning is no longer contained: in a classroom, or during certain ages, or even within a degree program. The truth is that whatever your age, you must continue to learn to avoid becoming a throw-back that employers see as outdated and provincial, unwilling to keep up with business reality.


What will you choose to learn before year’s end?

The beauty of being adults is that we can choose how we’ll learn: it may be in a classroom or it may not! When you consider options, make sure you include these:

*continuing education: computer programs, communication programs, or specific skills through local colleges or community learning programs;
*degree programs: through universities across the world; e-learning programs are available through hundreds of colleges and may be 2 or 4 year programs, even MBA work;
*mentoring and workplace options: what can you learn by asking someone more experienced to teach you? Or by shadowing them for a few days or weeks; Or by volunteering for a project as an observer or extra pair of hands?
*design-your-own professional development program by working with a coach: career coaches can guide you in figuring out what new directions and/or learning will best help you stay relevant or move in your desired direction.

Now, take action.

Whatever direction you decide to investigate, start small. Define one person you can talk to, or one program you can investigate and write it on your to-do list for this week. Don’t put it off, or wait until you get around to it. Better yet, find an Accountability Partner who will support your investigation and ask that person to check-in with you in a week to see how you accomplished the first step. In fact, if you’ll drop me a note with your first task, I’ll hold you accountable for completing it within a week. This is how you’ll most easily move forward: take small steps and be accountable to someone for doing so.

While you’re at it, why not buy a few school supplies to have on hand while you figure out your learning direction? It may be more motivating than you think!

Does the world owe you a living?


Last week a 27-year old graduate of Monroe College in New York sued the college because in the three months following graduation she had not found a job. Her suit alleges that for $70,000 in tuition, the school’s responsibility is to find her a position. The young woman (whose name I refuse to mention, thus possibly extending her 15 minutes of fame) is angry about her position, especially since her student loans will be coming due. She is in no position to pay on them, and so her family will have to take on the additional burden. (Find the story: http://tinyurl.com/mxh3v4)

Her position on the college’s responsibility: “They have not tried hard enough to help me.” The college’s position: “[we pride ourselves] on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students.”

Sounds to me like a gross miscommunication around the concept of personal responsibility–and by everyone who has been part of this 27-year old’s long, long adolescence!

Expecting a handout?

expecting a handout?

It apparently takes a “crash and burn” event to separate many people from their “entitled” view of the world. Guess the folks at Enron were just doing what they were told, and didn’t have any responsibility in their loss of retirement dollars. Guess the people who hate their jobs don’t have a choice but to stay…have to pay the bills somehow, right? Guess those who are “victims” of this current recession are just that, with no responsibility for their ill-prepared out-of-work status. Guess the “older workers” who aren’t valued in the current workplace are just disrespected for all their Industrial Age experience. And, apparently, the younger workers coming out of college are just not responsible for finding their own jobs–they are entitled to one as an result of the money they spent on the degree they received.

How does this thinking happen?

What happened to the idea of earning what you get? Of taking responsibility to use your talents, abilities and resources (a college degree falls into this last category) to get a job or move in a new career direction? Of being completely responsible for the outcomes in your life?

The young graduate who is suing her college apparently doesn’t know about the ‘personal responsibility’ part of life. [And, whose fault is this? When does it become hers?] And while many readers may see this story and say, “How ridiculous…I would never do that!”, their comments on their current work or economic status would belie this.

Are individuals responsible for having a job or not? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to see that your industry or organization must dance to a different tune, that of a global economy or tightening market? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to make sure that you can dance to that tune…even when it entails taking dancing lessons? And you need to pay for them yourself?

Swimming in your best direction

Swimming in your best direction

I believe individuals do have this responsibility, but when was the last time you heard someone say…I should have been ready for this downturn by sharpening my skills? I should have been ready by continuing to build and take care of my network? I should have been ready by learning which industries are growing and which are dying? Or even, I should have seen this coming?

It’s much more likely that you’ve heard someone say: “they” just called me in, and let me go; or “they” don’t appreciate the last 20 years I gave them; or “they” didn’t give me any training to upgrade my skills; or even “they” just don’t care about the little guy!

Here’s what responsibility looks like.

A few weeks ago, when taking a shuttle from my hotel to the Phoenix airport, the driver asked what I spoke about (I was heading home from the National Speakers Association convention). When I replied “workforce change and development,” he began telling me about his transition 8 years ago from manufacturing employee to franchise owner. Employed by Motorola, he was downsized and in his own words said that he “should have seen it coming.”

John Maelstrom, that Super Shuttle owner, decided to deal with the set-back and find work that works for him. He went into business for himself and now has two employees. He is a great example of resilience in the face of change, of someone with a sense of responsibility that defines his character.

Why not take just a few minutes right now and test your own sense of entitlement: Does your employer owe you your job?

If yes, what kind of guarantee do you have? How sure are you?

If not, what are you doing to be sure that you’re ready and responsible for your own livelihood? When you get to this answer, and don’t know where to start–drop me an email or give me a call. I can help you learn to trust yourself and move toward a true security, one you make yourself.

PS: when you’re in Phoenix and need a ride, call Super Shuttle, 602.244-9000 and ask for John by name.

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