Training for the future

Employability

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

Though things have continued to improve, there are precious few among the unemployed who are upbeat about their job potentials. There are also few of those who are still gainfully employed that feel their positions are secure. And while there are many who are paying attention to making themselves employable, most seem not to be putting in the effort. On the company side, things aren’t much better. As technology continues to obviate more jobs and professional positions, the challenges will continue to grow.

Companies are making (some might say they are being forced to make) short sighted decisions. They are working employees to the point of burn-out, investing little to nothing in long-term employee relationships and are providing few incentives for employee engagement. There are exceptions of course and we know who they are purported to be. Some companies make sure that their employees work in an environment which encourages full engagement. Some employees go out of their way to make themselves employable.

Like everything else in our business and personal lives, the pace of change has greatly affected our employee-employer relationship model. There is no longer an agreement for long term employment in return for employee loyalty. Things are moving much too quickly for that old model to remain viable. Instead, the relationship and trust is built around the company investing in the employability of the employee in return for full engagement in the company on the employee’s part.

Back in the early 80’s I remember a fairly in depth and scintillating conversation with a colleague in the semiconductor industry. At the time, I was managing sales engineers and field application engineers and he was in the Human Resources department. He maintained that there was “no loyalty” in these new employees. They changed companies every two, three or four years. I took the stand that he was not seeing the whole picture. It is true that the loyalty was not to one manufacturer, but there was loyalty, it was to a particular product architecture or process. We went over some of the excellent employees that I had been following as they left for other manufacturers. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that I was able to pretty much demonstrate that we lost those employees to a competitor because that competitor had advanced a particular architecture to which the person was dedicated. For example, we lost several good employees to a competitor who was dedicated to the Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC). Our company had chosen to focus largely on the Complex Instruction Set Computer (CISC) architecture. So there was definitely loyalty, but it was to an architecture not a particular company.

Companies have long proven that their loyalty to employees is situational. When it comes down to the viability of the company, employees are expendable. I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong, it is simply a fact proven by actions taken, not the words spoken. Companies don’t tell the truth when they intimate that they are planning on hiring someone who, if they work hard, will be kept on the payroll. And employees who indicate that they will stay as long as the company wants them are also not being truthful. If they can enhance their career by making a move to another opportunity they will do so. And I maintain should do so. The company should also protect the entity for long term viability.

Here’s the challenge. Companies need to move faster than ever to keep up with markets and competitors. Employees must be ruthless about continuous learning, networking and their own employability. There is common ground here if both the employer and the employee are honest with each other and support each other in their goals. It is not an adversarial relationship, there is a mutual benefit to helping each other reach those goals. But it requires being honest up front and being willing to change the model.

This is not a new idea, of course, and much ink has been spilled trying to get employers and employees on the same page. Back in 2000, Daniel Pink wrote Free Agent Nation where he indicated that a large contingency of the work force would be independent agents. That has come to be true. Many folks have written about making the workplace more attractive and entrepreneurial to engage employees. And just this month, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh published an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review titled Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact. It is an excellent point of view with which I very much agree. I see signs of tours of duty already at work in companies that have accepted the marketplace as it is instead of wishing for the “good old days.” I also note that employees, especially the so called “Millenials,” are much more willing to pursue careers that are fully rewarding and allow them to manage their time. The new employee is more connected, integrated and networked and that makes them much more valuable to their companies.

So the question is,”What are you doing to encourage your employees to connect outside the company? How are you helping them to be more employable? What are you demanding in return? Are you being honest when you hire people and telling them that they are really here for a ‘tour of duty’ and not lifetime employment? How will you make your company fast moving, innovative and entrepreneurial?”