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From Tom Peters' Fast Forward newsletter
[Note from Nick: When people say they want a new
job or more responsibility or "growth", what they really mean is they wish
opportunity would walk up and bite them in the pants. But new, better jobs don't come
looking for you. Employers don't sit around thinking up new ways to use your skills and
motivation. It's up to you to demonstrate your value and to grow. On Ask The Headhunter I
talk a lot about "doing the job to win the job". It's a radical concept, fraught
with risk and rich with possibilities. Here are some stories about people and companies
that stood up, took charge of change, did the job and moved "fast forward".
Enjoy. Special thanks to the good folks at The Tom Peters Group for sharing.]
An online search for 1996 news stories that mentioned the
term job security resulted in 15,850 articles. Seems like a lot of people were sweating
about their jobs last year. (We didn't even try to quantify the downsizing news.) Wasn't
it just last year, with a five-year low unemployment rate (only 5.5 percent), that job
security vanished from the economy?
Joseph Schumpeter, a Harvard economist during the '30s,
who described capitalism as the process of "creative destruction," said this
about job security: "Most firms are founded with an idea and for a definite purpose.
The life goes out of them when that idea or purpose has been fulfilled or has become
obsolete or even if, without having become obsolete, it has ceased to be new. That is the
fundamental reason why firms do not exist forever." Holy smokes: Was he saying this
gig ain't going to last forever? Yes.
Unless we reinvent ourselves. And that's happening every
day. It's true the U.S. economy has lost about 14 million jobs a year since 1991. But
we've created about 15.5 million jobs annually, for a net gain of about 10 million jobs in
the past six years. That's something we can feel secure about.
Security doesn't attach to a job title, or a desk space,
or even a company name. It comes from our individual and collective efforts to find the
new ideas and definite purposes that Schumpeter has identified as the source of any
organization's strength. Job security-no, life security-means each one of us getting up in
the morning and asking, "How can I make better use of my time?" Heck, maybe that
means taking the day off to read a novel, or volunteering in your kid's school-whatever it
takes to break with routine. Because it's habit that is the enemy of creativity. Ralph
Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
Perhaps we should celebrate the newly discovered
"insecurity," if that's the spur of innovation. The point is to make our lives
richer, to learn and to seek improvement constantly. So let's forget the myth of a
lifetime employment guarantee and look at some ways individuals and companies have latched
on to the creative part of Schumpeter's "creative destruction."
Adding value to a company's work process is not enough to guarantee employment,
says Simms Gaston. In 1992, while working as a design associate at a San Francisco
printing company, she realized much of her job producing business cards and announcements
could be automated. So, with a colleague, she developed a software program that cut her
workload in half. Her boss was delighted-and promptly cut Gaston's hours to part time. Her
colleague, who had more technical expertise, was promoted.
Gaston quit, but she'd learned a valuable lesson: She
would continue to hunt for hidden innovations, but she had to turn her solutions into
opportunities to learn new skills.
Her break came in March 1996 when she accepted a sales
support job at bicycle manufacturer Ritchey Design in Redwood City, Calif. "I knew I
was overqualified for the job," she says, "but I wanted to work for Ritchey, and
I knew I'd find a lot of things to improve." She started out small, volunteering to
solve minor computer problems for her fellow employees. Within two months, she was
tinkering with improvements to the phone system. And, just before her 90-day review, she
wrote a program allowing employees to tell callers where the nearest Ritchey bike
distributor was-a project the company had been fumbling for ages.
Her initiative paid off. The COO asked her to help on
projects he was struggling with, giving her the chance to work directly with the boss.
Gaston continued to do her job in the sales department and worked overtime on the
company's information systems.
"I made mistakes, but I learned," says Gaston.
"My safety valve was that I had volunteered to do this stuff. And a lot of it, they
didn't yet know they needed."
Gaston signed up for programming courses to enhance her
skills. She points out that the training was useful to her only because she'd already
identified problems she wanted to solve. "When I went to the classes, I was armed. I
knew what I needed to learn."
Then, in October, she wrote a letter to the COO comparing
her stated job responsibilities with the tasks she actually performed, and asking to talk
about formally changing her duties. A month passed without an answer, and Gaston worried
she may have overstepped. "But I thought, 'No, I've created a larger role for myself
here, and I ought to be recognized for it.'" With no word from the top, Gaston
started to look for a new job, rewriting her résumé to include all the skills she'd
learned in the past year.
In late November, her immediate supervisor and the COO
called her in to a surprise meeting. They gave her a written job offer based largely on
the list she had written almost two months before. They also assigned her new projects
with due dates a year from the meeting-a clear sign she had a future at Ritchey Design.
And they gave her a hefty raise.
"I wrote my own ticket," Gaston says with
satisfaction. "I identified areas of improvement that others hadn't seen, and I went
to work on them. When I accomplished something, I made sure the right people knew."
But Gaston is most pleased about the skills and
experience she's picked up in the past year. "I ask people how I'm doing all the
time, and I keep track of what I've learned and what I have the opportunity to learn.
That's my job security."
Federal Express Canada
Everybody knows job security is tied to overall business performance; when the
profits disappear, the jobs go, too. So, in addition to finding new roles for yourself
within your organization, you might think about new purposes the whole organization can
serve. That's what Federal Express Canada Ltd. did in 1992 to turn a failing expansion
into one of the company's most profitable units.
When FedEx entered the Canadian market in 1987, it knew
gaining market share would not be easy or cheap. When Jon Slangerup stepped in as general
manager of the Canadian division to stop the bleeding, FedEx was losing millions annually.
He could have slashed jobs and settled for a more limited presence, as it was forced to do
in Europe in the early '90s, but he wasn't ready to ditch FedEx's no-layoff philosophy
(it's not a policy, but no company is perfect).
Slangerup assembled a team of 15 employees from
throughout the organization, with no members from the executive level. After laying his
cards on the table-that the division was in critical condition-he gave them six weeks,
full time, to look at everything and anything about the Canadian operations. The team came
up with a list of recommendations that included everything from new products to new
measurement systems and better ways to deploy FedEx's vast fleet of planes and trucks.
Executive management accepted all of the team's proposals, and, within weeks, went on the
road to sell them to the rest of the organization. By 1993, the division was in the black.
And by 1996, jobs had grown by 75 percent to 3,500. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Then try
it at your place!
Jeanne Golly has the best protection against downsizing anyone could hope for:
self-employment. But she discovered her entrepreneurial independence the hard way-getting
downsized three times in the past 10 years.
In 1987, she was vice president of corporate
communications at American Standard, receiving all the conventional signs of
security-excellent performance reviews, raises, and bonuses. Then, out of nowhere, the ax
fell. "I was totally unconscious of what was going on in the world," she says.
"I knew downsizing was growing, but I never once thought they'd do it to me."
After 20 years in the safety of the corporate world, her job loss was a powerful emotional
shock. "I free-lanced for a couple of years, which I found quite painful,"
recalls Golly. "Finally, I got over the trauma."
She was recruited by Kmart in 1991 and downsized in 1993.
She moved to Electronic Arts, then left to take a job with Dutch conglomerate ING in
Atlanta in August 1994. But within a year, ING cut back its new U.S. operations and
offered her a job in Denver, but Golly had enough of corporate irresponsibility. She took
a buyout. "It was a relief because I felt so much dysfunction and confusion
Golly moved to New York and started planning her next
move. "I was 54 years old, and I was at a very high earning level. Because of my age,
I knew I wouldn't be found suitable for job candidacies. I thought, 'It's better to start
something when I'm 54 than when I'm 64.'"
She spent the next few months thinking over her
experiences, skills, and, most importantly, her interests. In January, she founded The
Bridging Institute, an educational institution designed to help non-U.S. executives build
bridges with U.S. investors, media, and special interests. As news of her new venture
spread, former colleagues jumped at the idea. In January, she and four partners-including
her former boss at American Standard-founded a limited liability company with $100,000
raised through friends and family.
The new team is hard at work building clientele through a
newsletter and seminars. Golly's taken a steep cut in income, but she's gotten control of
her work life. "I'm earning a pittance, but I'm making my own way," she says.
And her institute differentiates her from the millions of other consultants working off
the kitchen table. "I have a unique vehicle through which to market myself."
Asked about job security, Golly laughs. "We should
be trained from kindergarten to be much more entrepreneurial about earning a living.
People need to wipe the cobwebs out of their eyes. Nothing is stable."
This article is reprinted from Tom Peters' Fast
Forward by kind permission of The Tom Peters Group. For more information about the
newsletter e-mail TPGFAST@aol.com, or call
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