It’s tough out there. The economy is still struggling, which means that businesses are still struggling, which means people are still worrying about getting or keeping their jobs. If you happen to be one of these people, I have a few things, well, really only ONE THING you should know this year.
Okay, so let me explain. I was eating lunch today, alone, in my kitchen. Since I work from home, this is a common occurrence. I was ruminating on two particular friend events that had happened around breakfast: 1) A San Fran friend who is ridiculously intelligent, has a PhD, a JD, and a killer resume is without a job. And she’s confused as to what to do next. She was texting me all of this, of course, which takes some serious thumb time. 2) A college friend on Facebook posts that she was let go from her job yesterday. She is a comedian by nature, so the post was funny, and at first I “liked” it because I hadn’t been reading carefully the part about her losing her job. Yes, I clicked “unlike” the moment I realized my mistake. I’m sure there are a few people who are still thinking I’m a jerk for the few moments they witnessed my liking her status, but hey, I’m only human. So, two friends in the space of a couple of hours both openly discussing career concerns.
And then I thought about dinner the other night with a couple my husband and I think are pretty fun people. At some point we asked the husband in the other couple what he was up to in his job. He told us he quit a few days earlier. We were stunned. Of course we had to hear the story. He’s a senior mucky muck in the company, and they LOVE him, so it was bound to be a juicy story. It was. Turns out the CEO of the global company he worked in set a mandate to cut millions out of the expense side of the business—so they focused on the “human resources” expenses first. Without prior warning, our friend was asked to sit around a table with all of the other mucky mucks and offer up the names of people who work for him that he would fire. They would be gone within a week. Once around the table, twice around the table, again and again for hours until millions in salaried dollars could be recouped. Instead of this process, he told them to take his salary and he would quit. They were shocked and refused his resignation. They had big plans for him! But our friend was resolute. He felt that their decision to treat people so callously was a strategic error. So, here he sat: jobless.
That is three people in my immediate world discussing career transitions in less than a week. I guess it is a new year, and big changes often occur in January. But still. I know these three are not alone. Because YOU are still reading this. So it occurs to me to tell you that YOU are not alone, then, either.
But back to the ONE THING nugget…
All this got me thinking about my advice to my friends, what I would suggest, given my work (I am completing a PhD focused on identity and occupational aspirations, choice, persistence and organizational use of human talent. I also have a company that operationalizes these concepts in the real world. Here is a shameless plug for my company: www.ventuscareers.com ). I would ask them to be reevaluating where THEY wanted to be, what THEY wanted to be doing; reassessing their values given where they are in their career lifecycle. And yes, I know how counter intuitive that seems, since these people feel like their employment stock has just lost some major value.
You see, in these scenarios when we are in a tough spot, we begin to doubt ourselves. We begin to think that the worst about us is actually true. We forget about the context that surrounded the reasons for the employment shift and remember only that we are out of a job while everyone else—who must be better than we are—went to work this morning. We tell ourselves that this is because of some personal defect. We start the comparisons with those both brighter and much, much dumber than ourselves who are all employed and being valued for their contributions if only by the sheer fact that they have a job. How is this possible? Why them and not us? And thus, we return to the flawed concept that this is about how the worst about us is true. Clearly, we are replaceable. We are interchangeable. We are not unique. We are just another brick in the wall.
But here is your ONE THING to know this year:
YOU are NOT a COMMODITY.
Commodity thinking reflects a work culture familiar to most of us: efficiency. This model reinforces that we are just cogs in a big machine and we are just there to meet some productivity standards. We may have nicer office digs than the dreary factories of olden days (if you consider cubicles to be nicer), but the idea is pretty much the same: Time is money. Chop-chop. If you can’t do it they will find someone else who can. Faster, cheaper, leaner. Commodity approaches to people in companies tell us as employees that we ARE interchangeable and that there is nothing really special about us. And if we lose the job it is because there was a “defect” in us…just like any other bad product that gets discarded. But this is a faulty way of approaching people in an ever changing, highly competitive marketplace.
I teach classes on social media to businesses, specifically social media and human resources. The first slide of any consequence tells companies that their world is shifting and that the shift is outside of their control. My presentation tells companies that their process of treating people like cogs in wheels is costly, and a losing proposition, because their world is shifting beyond their control. And what is causing this shift? Three things: a new generation of workers who don’t give a flying flip about efficiency models of work, greater global competition and social technologies. These three things are forcing companies to reevaluate how they view “resources”. My suggestion is that they reimagine people as TALENT and not resources. And this is why: human talent is what keeps every company in every country in the world in business. It isn’t the machines. It’s us. Humans.
Companies that operate on the efficiency model actually limit their productivity even while trying to increase it because their approach doesn’t take into account human potential. This ultimately hampers their ability to sustain competitive advantages and they eventually find themselves in a frustrated situation which often results in reducing their “inefficient” workforce to save money to remain in the game. Companies that recognize the value of human talent approach work with an appreciation of the human dynamic and motivate contributions to the company goals by fostering environments in which people are working from a place of their greatest strengths each day. This approach helps maximize what each individual contributes to the whole, often with a great sense of pride and commitment on the part of the individual, and often with results that leave their efficiency-oriented competitors in the dust.
Remember my friend who quit his job as a senior mucky muck? Well, it turns out that he has now crafted a consulting job with his previous employer in which he will help fill the gaps the company has created by letting go of people with key institutional knowledge. Our friend knows that institutional knowledge is more than big data and standard operating procedures: it’s the relationships with customers fostered by the talented people they just got rid of; it’s the ability of trained and talented employees to recognize problems and to synthesize information into creative solutions to those problems. He will be laughing all the way to the bank as he now creates his own little consulting firm (probably hiring many of the same people the company fired) to solve the problems his old employer created for themselves by firing the human talent they saw only as cost centers. That company will now pay a premium for the talent they violently hacked out of their organization like a disease.
Late last fall I attended a conference with some of the top CEO’s globally who meet once a quarter to discuss their industry and their challenges. I was only a guest, so not privy to much of the inner dealings of the group, but I attended dinner one night where a top executive from Thomas Reuters presented while we ate. Over salmon and a nice pinot, he told the large room of top brass in key industries that one of the largest global challenges facing companies was talent…and that there is a huge war going on for talent. He isn’t the first to say it, and it has been repeated again and again. Talent wars. This will be one of the key phrases for 2013.
So, if you are reading this and wondering how there could be a war for talent at the same time people are being let go from their jobs, I want you to think about this not as a business problem for you to solve, but as a personal opportunity. What the war for talent implies is that companies need talent. Human talent. Like yours.
And let’s talk about yours for a moment. In all of history there has never been anyone with your exact genetics, experiences, ideas, talents and skills. Ever. Nor can you be reproduced–which makes you really awful for a commodity driven business. Because you are unique, so is what you bring to the table…and that means you are a true talent find.
Companies who are vying for talent—who understand the value of talent to the sustainability of their business in the shifting culture of work—aren’t looking for a cog in a wheel, or a brick in a wall. They are looking for a unique person with talent and skills and experiences. They realize that you won’t be perfect. They will work with human, because they know that human talent is prized by lots of other companies who need you. They know that a cog in a wheel, efficiency approach to their work will not move them to the next level, will not give them out of the box thinking, and will not produce the next Facebook or iPhone app, brownie brittle (Google it. It’s crazy good.) or whatever other product, technology, marketing idea or way to do something better that they want and need. They know that people do that, in companies that foster their potential. Humans. Talented, non-commodity, humans. Companies need that talent to foster. They need YOU.
SO NOW IT’S YOUR JOB* to remember your own value, to remember your unique approach to your work and your skills, to stand a bit taller in what you know and how you do things. Take some pride in being different, revel in not approaching problems and solutions like everyone else. It may just be those things that fit exactly with the next opportunity with a company in a real war for individual, non-commodity, human talent. YOUR TALENT.
It’s 2013: Here’s to YOU, TALENTED HUMAN.
*and if you need some exercises to help you connect with the truth of this in relation to your skills and experiences, just post a comment below or send me a message.