I was traveling with the CEO and several other vice presidents from our company. We were discussing how the expertise and culture at our company had not evolved over the past decade and what a terrible challenge that represented for our leadership team.
Our CEO offered, "Someone who repeats the same year of their life fifteen times doesn’t have 15 years of experience; they have one year of experience repeated fifteen times." That thought really stuck with me. We had a lot of people that fit that bill. What are leaders facing?
Many people in today’s economy have pigeon-holed themselves by what they haven’t done during their careers: evolve and grow. Many of these pigeon-holed people stayed in the same industry, primarily in the same job and feel entitled to that job for the contribution they’ve made over the years.
Today’s job contribution doesn’t ensure future job viability. I witnessed a great example of this on the news just this past week from autoworkers at NUMMI, the joint venture between Toyota and General Motors located in Fremont, California, as current employees were being interviewed about the imminent plant closing.
The people lamented that they had "given up the best years of their lives" for this company and they couldn’t accept a paltry severance package when the plant closes early next year. Many of these people face a bigger problem that just the size of the severance package—their viability in the job market given their skills should be a much bigger concern. While they want cash, they may need something else—skills development.
How do they find jobs that pay the kind of wages and benefits that they are used to when all they know is the jobs they had building cars and small trucks. Where are those skills transferrable? Many really don’t have transferrable skills.
There are no other auto manufacturers in the area for them to go to. Much of the manufacturing that once existed in California has moved out of state or overseas. These auto workers aren’t well-positioned for the change that is coming. They have little experience outside the auto industry; they each repeated the same year many, many times.
Today, I saw the following Muhammad Ali quote offered on Twitter: "The man who views the world at fifty as he has at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life."
Leaders need to instill transferrable process knowledge to their employees, not just content knowledge about the specific job or industry, so their employees can add greater value in their current jobs as well jobs they can’t even imagine out in the future.
Employees need to do more than just show up and do their jobs—they need to think ahead several moves in life—just as in chess or billiards. Leaders and employees need to jointly take responsibility for an employee’s continued viability in the marketplace, not just their current job.
The economic penalty for an employee failing to do this is great indeed. Employees need to ensure they have experience commensurate with their years of experience and not just repeat the same year of experience over and over again.
Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, author of Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. He helps companies resolve business execution problems that threaten profitability and growth. He can be reached through his website at www.gardnerandassoc.com.