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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Will I Ever Work Again?

When I talk with people in transition this is the question they are asking: will I ever work again?

We are in a unique but interesting economic time. There's the recession, of course. Even more important, however, is the confluence of advances in applying technology, coming of age of automation, and the New Normal of how we now do work – all hitting after two decades of rightsizing in the private sector and a shift to a global marketplace. Things are simply not the same now!

In the '70s and '80s, while with a couple of major consulting firms, I observed a practice I called 'Retire in Place' – in deference to their past contribution, former rainmakers who relied on 50,000 hours of experience rather than keeping current with new rules, practices, and technology were shunted off to a special project instead of continuing to consult. Often, the project was writing a history of the organization, and when it was completed, or abandoned, they would disappear from from the firm.

As individuals in transition today provide more detail about their past work, many had roles as 'hoppers', 'conveyor-belts', and 'shippers'. The hoppers collected information, data, lists, counts, and other elements and packaged it together for someone else to use. The conveyor-belts would move collections of responses, reports, archives, and other elements from one location to another, perhaps with a manifest of what's included. The shippers packaged the various inputs into reports of summaries, statistics, ratios, charts, and comparisons of current and historical data, then deliver these reports to the specified recipients.

The roles of hoppers, conveyor-belts, and shippers have been automated with computers, software, and systems – the need in the labor market for individuals to do these functions continues to diminish rapidly.

Organizations are continuing to reorganize, consolidate, and merge in the private sector and are beginning an era of making similar changes in the public sector as well. When entities shift duties and eliminate positions, responsibilities change and people try to adapt. Funny thing about change is at some point it becomes increasingly less effective leading the individual to want to return to a non-existent status quo. This forces them to redefine the norm quietly to a new set of operating parameters – the Nuvo Quo. The results may be a forward-thinking approach or it may become a close model of the old ways.

The conflict which has evolved is between a class of experienced workers – 'while I've been working, the world has changed'- slow to adapt and the rapid advancement of automation – whether robotics on the assembly line or electronic data collection and analysis in the office.

Employees who seek out projects or training which expands their knowledge, experience, and exposure to new technology, software, systems, and processes of value to their organization are better positioned to advance, or relocate, as the responsibilities change. The Doer's Theorem suggests a major change in the individual's skill-set every three years.

The alternative may be to chase after a role which is disappearing and, even when found elsewhere, requires additional skills and experience to work at a significantly faster pace.

What have you observed?

Join us February 22nd for Sales Lab’s Rainmaker 12 - WhatHave I Done for You Lately? at the Capital Technology Management Hub on Wednesday, February 22nd. The featured CTMH speaker will be Sean Crowley on the topic of The Open Source Web Content Management Platform, Drupal, and its Momentum. Get details here.


Thoughthebrowser said...

When I was a lad coming up in the construction trades,forward progress was either start your own firm, risky and capital intensive, or get promoted so you could "stop working with the tools."
As a Master Carpenter for E. I. Dupont, I was told supervisors were not allowed to touch tools, or even point with their hands. Sadly, this second category are the people who are now trying to find a way back into the world of work. You are either a doer or there is not much demand for your skills.

Unknown said...


Right on point. Old school was to be 'promoted' from being a doer to a watcher (called a supervisor or manager). If mentoring or pitching in when needed, this role has obvious value to getting the job done.

If not, when it's time to cut, the hard question to answer is 'what have you done for me lately?' - see ya!

Thanks for the story.