Taking Responsibility

During President Obama’s inaugural address, these words struck a chord:

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly.”

While his words reference our responsibilities as U.S. and world citizens, they also speak broadly to us as human beings perhaps more sharply during this challenging economy.  We are not in “normal” times, however we define it; the world is not the same one any of us older than 10 was born into; what once worked no longer does…in many cases through no fault of our own. Nevertheless, we are stuck with the results, the fallout, the upside-down events.  We need to pull out the old adage:  “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But I don’t think we have much “tough” anymore. We have expectations that no longer mirror the world we live in.

We’re in the midst of a crisis: many of you reading this won’t admit that you really want things to be just like they were. You want the comfort of how things used to be, how they’re supposed to be. You refuse to recognize that the changes are permanent and that unless you adapt, you’ll die. You’re living in a fantasy world playing a victim.

Maybe our comfort with how things have been for any number of years is what’s in our way of being “tough.” Many of you reading this work for employers who tell you what to do, how to do it, when to show up, when to leave, and what you’ll be paid.  And, unless you really mess up, your paycheck comes like clockwork…whether you show up or not, whether you show up 100% or 75% or even 30%. You get a paycheck. Man, how comfortable is that?

That’s a pretty accurate view of how a lot of you see work, and a 180 from what today’s business needs. We decry the loss of the old employment compact while we don’t really keep up our end of things.  Many workers spend their days looking for a better job, a better place, one that pays more and has more perks.  Few spend their days making the current job better, developing new efficiencies and greater productivity, or pulling co-workers together to create a better customer experience.

And why? “My boss won’t let me.” “I’m afraid to make suggestions.” “I’m not appreciated.”  “I just do what I’m told.” And my personal favorite: “It’s not my job.” Irresponsible, victim language if ever I’ve heard it.

Wake up, People…it IS your job. It’s your job to see where and how and how much you can contribute to make sure your employer is still in business this time next year, or even next month. It’s your responsibility to know what’s happening in your industry and among your company’s competitors. It’s up to you to investigate what will keep your customers not only happy, but returning. It’s up to you to do everything you can to get expenses down and revenues up. How you align with what your organization needs is your security–your only security. It’s also career ownership.

In our current economy, to think this responsibility falls to someone else–the leaders, your boss, anybody else–is foolhardy at best, and suicidal at least. You’re a victim as long as you shirk your responsibility; a contributing partner when you take it on.

Who are you choosing to be?

Making it Happen

For the last 7 years, in partnership with Execunet (http://execunet.com), I have hosted a monthly networking breakfast for mid- and late-career  professionals looking for their next position . I have a hand shake agreement with the founder, Dave Opton, to provide this opportunity for local transitioners to expand their business connections.  Not surprisingly, people take something of value with them from every meeting and sometimes that take-away changes the course of their lives.

Such is the case with Rick, an operations executive, who reconnected with us mid-2008…for the second time. We first connected about 3 years before, and after attending for months, Rick landed a position that fit his skills and experience level. The economy being what it is,  that came to an end and Rick found himself back in the search.

This time around, though, was a more frustrating experience for him. He had too much experience for one opportunity and not exactly the right kind for another. His search turned into a “never quite enough” journey that always ended in, well, never a good enough fit.  During one meeting, the discussion turned to what Rick really wanted to do…how he really wanted to use his expertise and who really needed it.  The thinking that he did from that brief discussion led him to his current place, one where he is “making it happen.”

Rick’s value is to a multitude of business owners, as his operations experience is broad and deep. He knows business inside and out and recognizes that the best of operations are those that value the people who run them…where people are respected, treated as partners and encouraged to contribute their best work.  He also recognizes that this economy is more than a little challenging for many businesses, especially smaller organizations with less fat and perhaps less operational savvy. He knows that laying off workers is a usual first response to money concerns, and he also knows that it may not be the best let alone the only response.

So, partnering with a professional legal firm, Rick is holding an open seminar to provide information on “Advanced RIF Strategies” for employers. And while the content will cover risk assessment and strategy,  it will also cover alternatives to RIF and the short-sightedness of failing to consider the fall-out to both those RIF’d and those survivors left behind. And, from an operations perspective, Rick is at expert at the fall-out.

Although Rick has incorporated his business, he may still interview for opportunities that come calling…his options are open. The point is that he is taking responsibility for his own career direction, and making decisions that fit his strengths and expertise. He is making it happen and not just sitting around and “waiting to be picked.”  This “waiting to be picked” strategy, by the way, is  deadly and way outdated in today’s economy with its flat employment market.

Whether you’re searching for something new or are lying low hoping that you’re not a number for the next RIF, my question to you is this: how are you taking responsibility for making your career direction happen? How are you stabilizing and growing your value within your current organization? And if you’re looking to make a transition, how are you describing your value to potential employers?

Either situation (staying or leaving) is one where knowing your value and letting the right people know it are critical to your success and, ultimately, your security. Are you making it happen?

About Learning

What a great week! I’ve spent half of the last 4 days in professional development events–a real treat. And my clients, my friends and I are all better for it…I truly love to hear other perspectives that challenge and expand my own. How else will I get myself unstuck from the past?

On Sunday I was in the Ohio National Speaker’s Association audience to hear a legend in the business, Jeanne Robertson.  Jeanne is a humorist and has been speaking for almost 40 years… and she’s a hoot! (For an enjoyable break in your day, check her out on youtube.)  What I really learned from Jeanne is that she continues to improve her work every single day. She is wildly successful and she chooses to learn…because staying current is so critical to that success.

Following Jeanne’s session, Fred Gleeck, an information product expert, gave us more about using the internet in a couple of hours that I would have thought possible. Did you know that at http://JustDropped.com you can find good domain names? And that http://SpyFu.com does competitive analysis? Fred provided great information and also left me with a couple of significant learnings: “Done is better than perfect.” and “A confused mind always says no.” Both important reminders for those of us whose business depends upon our marketing savvy.

Yesterday I spent the morning with Jim Canterucci and a host of great panelists at the Personal Brilliance seminar hosted at the OSU Leadership Center.  How easy it is to forget that we are all OK just like we are–we don’t need to be fixed; and that cultivating creativity to produce innovation is a process…it’s the focus and repetition that retrain our brain connections so the process becomes more natural. Great reminders about how learning isn’t about “fixing” us, it’s about growing and becoming more comfortable with our talents—so we recognize and use them!

One thing Jim said really started my thinking about this post: he noted that some in attendance were taking great notes to share with their co- workers…almost like the small investment ($89) in the seminar made by their employer would only provide a return if the information could be shared with 5 or 10 others. I know that sharing learning is wonderful, yet minimizing the importance of learning’s value to an individual is still an incredibly short-sighted view! I’ve spent enough of my life inside organizations to know that this is not an unusual perspective, and that learning dollars are spent sparingly and grudgingly: “Man, I hate to spend it here because we have 17 more important budget lines.”

I simply don’t get it: in an economy that demands brains and innovation and connection with customers, how do organizations continue to see learning as extraneous to their success?

I’m also befuddled as to why every employee doesn’t develop a clear path for their own learning, their own growth, especially knowing that organizations seldom do.

Help me out, please! Here’s my question to you: do you have a learning path for yourself? If so, how did you decide to create one and how are you pursuing it? And if not, what’s holding you back? I’d love to have your thoughts on your learning…and of course it feeds my own!