upstart thoughts on talent and leadership

We Are All Self Employed

In ! Kristy, Branding, Careers, Development, Employee Tips, Leaders, Learn, Listen on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 7:09 am
This quote floated by me recently and stuck with me. I’ve been re-quoting it to people, but I’ve completely forgotten who said it to me originally. (If it was you, please take credit!) While moodling over the concept for this post, I googled the phrase and found that it’s the title of a book by Cliff Hakim, who coined this phrase back in 1994. I’m going to read the book to see how Cliff defines this phrase, but in the meantime here’s how I’ve been thinking about this concept of self-employment and what it means in 2009.
 
Loyalty is dead
The era of lifetime employment has been over for years, but our thinking about careers and jobs still reflects this outdated mindset. We still worry about being seen as a job-hopper, and we still hang on for as long as we can in a terrible job because we’re waiting to be vested in the retirement plan. Here’s a hard question to ponder: Your organization does not have YOU as its top priority; why would you have the organization as YOUR top priority?  Fitness center and holiday luncheon aside, your organization would lay you off if it made financial sense, and many of us have now experienced the effects of that decision first-hand.
 
I’m not proposing that we all slack off and surf Monster at work. Integrity demands that we earn our paycheck and give our employer our best efforts. I’m also not saying that we should treat the organization as The Man who is out to get us at every turn. It’s great to work for a thriving company that values its employees and treats them well, and it’s great to feel that you are having a “great run,” as a good colleague of mine puts it.  I will go Zen for a moment and remind you that the bad times don’t last forever… and neither do the good times.
 
Being self-employed means proactively shaping the environment at your current employer, and not being afraid to move on if you’re not getting what you need.
 
Branding is Imperative
“And what do YOU do?” The quintessential cocktail party question reveals a great deal about a person’s professional self-concept.  Inevitably, a certain percentage of partygoers will respond to this question with the statement, “I work for Company X” — especially if Company X has a well-known, respected, sexy brand. 
 
A primary identification with an employer can work against you in two ways. First, when managing your career within the organization, it doesn’t differentiate you. Everyone around you can use the exact same line. You’ve got to be able to clearly articulate how you add value in order to market yourself for current and future opportunities. Second, when managing your career over the course of your working life, it limits your thinking about your career to a list of employers and positions.
 
Branding, on the other hand, is about what you decided to be when you grew up. It’s about your personal niche, your calling, your strengths, and how what you do brings measurable, differentiated value to your customers. Being self-employed involves growing your brand. It means being engaged in a constant process of evolving your unique skillset and applying it to a variety of customers, one of whom happens to be your current employer.
   
What this means for you as a professional
If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, take some time to figure that out. If you don’t want to decide that right now, at least decide what you want to give back to the world in the next 3-5 years. Create a statement of professional value that helps others understand what it is you bring to the table. 
 
Mine is in process, and it’s way too conceptual, but here it is in draft form: I am passionate about blowing up outdated notions about working and leading, and creating new ways to get good work done by good people. My next step is to take Judy Murdoch’s advice and articulate what this means in very practical, concrete terms. I welcome your feedback and I’ll post revisions as they happen.
 
What this means for you if you manage people or lead a function or business 
Become OK with being your employees’ current customer. Odds are they won’t retire from your company and they’ll have a long and satisfying career with several employers. So relax a little and do everything you can to help them have a “great run” at your company for as long as it’s mutually beneficial. Don’t throw the Loyalty Card if they decide to move on; instead, add them to your professional network and create a new post-employment relationship where you can support each others’ long-term success.
 
Branding resources & articles
Brett L. Simmons has created a set of videos that I’m currently working my way through
 
How about you?  Have you articulated your brand?  How has your professional identity changed over the past 1o years? 
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  1. Kristy,
    1) I think loyalty is not dead, just changed. It is in a company’s best interests to be viewed as a solid, stable employer if they want to attract the best and brightest employees. If a company gets a reputation as being an awful place to work, it gets more expensive to attract and retain talent. I do think, though, that there is less resistance to cutting sub-par employees loose, especially under the guise of a layoff.
    2) I like your comments about branding. It’s true even within a company where employees compete with each other for assignments and promotions.
    Good luck on the blog.
    Jeff

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