Home / Columns and Features / New era requires employees
to think like entrepreneurs

New era requires employees
to think like entrepreneurs

Eleven thousand days of our lives– roughly speaking, that’s the number of days we spend on the job between the ages of 21 and 65. It used to be that we could count on our employers to take care of us if we were halfway decent workers. But nowadays, we have to count on ourselves to do the caring. No more Mr. Nice Guy to recognize and reward good work. With the service sector employing two-thirds of the work force and knowledge being that sector’s most important product, what workers know is what makes them valuable. This late 20th century phenomenon calls for a new attitude about careers and begs a new work ethic. The new attitude is essentially that workers must perceive career advancement as being up to them, not the employer. And the new work ethic reflects the behavior of an entrepreneur rather than that of a traditional, compliant employee.
An employer today needs workers who care enough about the business to behave like part-owners. Part-owners don’t wait until problems become catastrophes. The valuable worker anticipates problems, then takes responsibility for preventing or solving them. The valuable worker also will figure a way to be more productive and to ensure that his productivity adds to the bottom line before asking for more pay or suggesting a bonus. Ownership assumes risk and commitment, no longer the sole obligation of the CEO.
Taking ownership for the success of the company also means workers must move fast to be first. It is common knowledge that a popular microprocessor, the 486, is built on a tiny piece of silicon about the size of a dime, weighs less than a packet of Sweet N’ Low, and uses less than two watts of electricity. Yet this small wonder can carry out 54 million instructions per second. Further, we know that microchips now double in performance every 18 months.
Writes Richard Wurman, author of “Information Anxiety”: “There has been more information produced in the last 30 years than during the previous 5,000. A weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime during 17th century England, and the information supply available to us doubles every five years.”
Workers today do not have the luxury of resisting change. If they do resist, they will be replaced by those who move faster to invent, discover and innovate. Brand name and reputation don’t keep a company in business these days. During the 1980s, 230 companies, or 46 percent, disappeared from the Fortune 500 list. Companies with employees who don’t run will get run over.
Once in the race, new-age employees have to take responsibility for building their own knowledge and skill base to stay marketable for future jobs. Quite suddenly a college degree can be outdated by an unknown technician’s discovery in a small lab across the world. So the valuable worker must commit to a lifetime of learning in both traditional and non-traditional settings. He will take classes, serve as an apprentice, ask co-workers for advice, and experience and observe wherever he can learn. The lifelong learner is not too proud to learn from someone younger, to admit lack of knowledge, nor to be critiqued.
The ignorant worker is one who does not recognize the need and opportunity to learn and is destined to have his career managed, or mismanaged, by others.
In addition to acquiring knowledge and skills, the smart worker will share her knowledge and skills so the team benefits. Contributing to the team effort builds alliances and becomes a learning opportunity in itself since others, in turn, share what they know. Most managers would prefer an employee capable of learning and respectful of others, over one who adds knowledge but subtracts from the overall good through lack of respect for others.
In addition to solving problems, moving and thinking fast, and learning over a lifetime, today’s and tomorrow’s workers will have to balance their own lives and develop an identity that transcends their worker role. Employers will ask for and get as much time as the worker is willing to give. But we all know from experience and research that those who give everything to the workplace come away empty. Productive, fulfilled employees take charge of their time, making sure they spend it on a balanced set of roles. Rather than allowing their lives to be gutted by fast-paced, relentless workplace demands, they protect and nurture interests and relationships outside work.
Taking charge of one’s own career is a lot like being a leader. Leaders take risks, challenge the status quo, follow their own advice and respect others.
However, most workers don’t have a title that sanctions them as “official” leaders. They must, therefore, assume power over their own lives whether that power is supported by the boss or not. An independent, confident employee can sometimes threaten an insecure boss who is long on talk but short on commitment to empowerment. Self-empowered employees can deal with insecure bosses by doing a good job, speaking up and acting openly, and solving problems or making suggestions that move the company forward. If the boss still feels upstaged, that’s her problem.
Finally, here’s some good advice from an anonymous business leader:
–Do something you enjoy.
–Don’t expect or ask for something for nothing.
–Give more than you get.
–Never be satisfied.
–Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
–Learn your liabilities and limitations.
Eleven thousand days: a lot of time to waste or plenty of time to grow.
(Germaine Knapp is president of Wordsmart Inc., a communications skills training company.)

x

Check Also

Jim and Jill Kelly

Jim Kelly announces URMC as Leukodystrophy Care Network Center (access required)

On Aug. 5, 2005, Hunter Kelly, the son of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, lost the battle against globoid-cell ...

Michael McRae

Rochester has many options for seniors who need varying levels of clinical care

As the “silver tsunami” approaches, numerous industries are preparing for the waves of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age, ...