It’s Not Them0
By Frank J. Rich
If the average work life is fifty years and the average life of a company is thirty, the image of a lifelong job (in America) is no longer a young man in a “gray flannel suit.” So what is it? What is today’s image? The reality is that we don’t know if we will be working in a private office, a classroom, at home, or in a garage. Simply, we’ve got to take responsibility for ourselves.
Ours is a time of great change, where everything about who we are and what we do is changing more rapidly than at any time in the past. The critical path under such circumstances as we live and work today requires more of us than ever. Simply, today’s image of the worker is one who takes individual responsibility, not depending on any particular company or organization. We must know ourselves better, the essentials of the best work for us as we develop professionally, and the balance we manage between personal and professional life goals.
Significantly, very few workers have prepared for this most important decision process. The reason? We have been lulled into the mistaken belief that “employeeship” transfers the responsibility for our work, and to some extent our life decisions to others, not least the organization. We seldom know our strengths and how they are evidenced in the workplace. Questions over our weaknesses produce a blank stare. Both views are motivated of the fear in confronting frankly the growth in us still ahead.
The solution, an optimal art form, is found in risk-based entrepreneurial environments and in those whose sense of internal security has already been accomplished. This approach requires that we see our work as the accomplishment of assignments and not as a job or career path. The objective criteria that define jobs and careers, an anachronism that subjugates the enterprise in us in favor of playing it safe behind the wall of a job description, must evolve into competencies that are revealed in our performance. This is the meritocracy that informs growth and opportunity in all organizations. Anything short of it is the artifice of a legacy system that has lost its footing in a world of rapid change and disruptive innovations.
Each must take responsibility for what s/he leads and achieves, independent of the obstacles and attitudinal roadblocks that are all too common to most organizations. We must see opportunity in others and all things, growing the inner strength and competency to navigate all traffic. This is the demand on performance that grows with the speed and complexity of the marketplace.
The elements of performance count a unique focus on individual contribution to team and agreed-upon goals, the courage to take necessary risks, the security to make mistakes or measured failures, and the open commitment to purpose that reveals one’s limitations and strengths to better prepare the path to optimal results. It is not the view that others, management in particular, have constrained individual opportunity, making it impossible to satisfy agreed-upon goals. This view is the delusion of the desultory—those who are in search of a workplace that has packed up and left town on the last stagecoach. In short, it’s not them; it’s you who makes the difference.
During “The Great Recession” the market lost 43 percent of its equity (14,000 to 8,000 of the Dow Jones Composite Average), 25 percent (effectively) of its employed, 45 percent of its real estate value, 25-50 percent of the dollar’s value against most currencies, and roughly 18 percent of its GDP in the months following the Fall of 2007. There can be no mistaking this reality but by the delusion of successive political administrations. Nor can workers cling desperately to government, unions, or laurels. Instead, they must join together as though preparing the foxhole they occupy as the temporary digs from which to launch the next initiative. The final question is not how to know when to stop attacking the marketplace, but rather in finding the answer: “ … We will never stop attacking it.” By the strength of those who have thrown off the shackles of a bygone security, each must take up his staff to improve his individual contribution to the whole. This alone is the Occam’s Razor* of a marketplace bereft of patience.
* Occam’s Razor—logical concept that postulates: all other things being equal, the simplest answer is probably the best.