Posted in: Bloggery

A recent article in the “Australian Financial review’ got me thinking more about the transience of employment generally.  We are reminded of this during down-turns. We are reminded as well when new CEO’s are appointed and then act to quickly bring in their own team ( usually at some cost to those already in senior roles in a firm).  Sometimes it seems that careers can be cut short a lot more abruptly and casually than they are built.

Writing in the August 10, 2010 edition of the paper, on page 58, Fiona Smith observed that:

”The modern corporation is slimming down to the point where it may soon be a shadow of its former self.  Wasting away are those very qualities that usually help us identify leading employers: a large workforce, back-office support services, and skyscrapers emblazoned with their names.”

“For some time organisations have been busy shedding employees like so many unwanted kilos, shifting work on to temporary staff.

“About 25% of working Australians can now be classed as ‘contingent’ – contractors, consultants, temporary workers, interim executives and freelancers.”  “…more of the organisational functions are being outsourced..”

This need to depend less and less on corporate loyalty was identified by Charles Handy over fifteen years ago. Independent capability in managing careers, regrouping in the face of unexpected change, and re- creating employability in new markets are becoming more and more important.

In his book Job Shift, William Bridges (1994) coined the phrase “dejobbing” to describe this trend to non-standard employment. He says that workers are going to be more like independent business people (or one-person businesses) than conventional employees. They are likely to work for more than one client at a time and to move back and forth across organisational boundaries – being employed full-time for a period of time, then hired to do contract work, then hired to consult, and then brought back in-house (perhaps part-time this time) on a long-term assignment. He concludes that, although there will always be enormous amounts of work to do in our economy, the work will not be contained in that old familiar employment form of standard full-time, full-year jobs.

One of our areas of work at Macfarlan Lane is in working with senior people in re-invention.  These are often people who have given a huge amount of themselves to their former employer.  Some are shaken, and angry with the event. Usually there is little point in spending too much time on the unfairness felt or the sudden shift in reciprocated loyalty.

We work with people to move fairly quickly through to a positive mind-set, looking at the event of their displacement as one of opportunity.  Independent capability in addressing changes – or resilience – is a function of a series of practices and competencies.

Some of these practices and competencies become a bit rusty and are not often articulated in the pressures of senior roles.  They include:

  • Staying on top of evolving professional knowledge and skills in one’s chosen field(s).
  • Investing time in gathering intelligence about the wider environment, especially about changes in business contexts, markets and the factors which achieve competitive advantage in organisations of interest.
  • Delivering strong performance: gaining clarity on what is needed, how success will be measured and setting out to excel.
  • Understanding the “markets” served by your role, or of future roles, whether internal or external markets.  Work needs to meet clear needs and not just your own interests. It is critical to understand how those you work for measure success or usefulness in your appointment.
  • Building broad personal competencies in emotional intelligence.  This includes setting out to build self-control, empathy, initiative and pro-activity, and effectiveness with people.
  • Building valuable networks, alliances, and associations across one’s profession, and in a broader sense as well.
  • Achieving self-insight (knowing yourself) and achieving balance in the way you invest energy, between work, family, and wider interests.
  • Having a focus on future growth, and some personal goals. Being able to define what success in a few years time looks like in a broad (rather than simply a financial) sense.
  • Having a few basic career transition skills – in exploration of opportunities, in the articulation of capabilities (including via a strong resume), being able to interview and negotiate.  (These are built typically with some coaching or external support – but they are not the sole, or even the most important tools in the career resilience kitbag.)

Some of our work entails a focus on neglected areas in those listed above.  But the underlying theme is one of building independent capability in career management.

It is sometimes captured by seeing yourself as a “business of one”.  It is a better perspective than one with regular “employment” as the goal. It evens up the power imbalance. This is one reason we like to see some degree of focus on self-employment (starting a business, buying a business, building a portfolio of directorships etc) in the canvas of alternatives to be given some attention. As Bridges observed, the pattern of alternate bouts of intense labour and of quieter periods is similar to work patterns among 19th century English artisans who had not yet given in to the demands of an industrial job. In fact, he goes to great lengths to remind us that “the job” is a social artifact, not a timeless fact of human existence.