The Corporate Employee as Entrepreneur
Thursday, 07 October 2010 11:43
Synopsis:
Managers are busy and overwhelmed – especially senior decision makers. Successful efforts on the part of individual employees and small groups of employees to solve practical or interpersonal issues go a long way toward leveraging employee security and promotability.

Adding Value for Security, Promotability, and Personal Growth

Today, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, what is needed from employees lies in urgent contrast to what is written in tidy job descriptions. In fact, during the economic and market uncertainty of the last four years, and continuing into a still complex and transitional national and global economy, the difference between what an employee does and what an employee is supposed to do is a key factor in the modern reality of job security and promotion.

Boardroom pundits will tell you that given the high-paced and high stakes dynamic among senior managers, employees rarely intrude into their airspace. Furthermore, with management preoccupation a given, the unprecedentedly fast pace of changing circumstances and demands throughout organizations means that the traditionally limited face time between employees and senior management has gone the way of leisurely lunches and automatic pay raises. Even indirect communication, via middle management, is rare if not extinct. However, employees need not feel either stuck or faceless. The way to come to the attention of management and senior management is as old as the hills, but much more potent in its effect.

By doing more, by thinking more, and by resolving problems and issues in a widened sphere of (employee) influence, employees do stand out, and eventually reap the rewards that are still to be had in the corporate structure. By going well beyond what used to be referred to as “the call of duty”, to taking responsibility and ownership of a wider purview of tasks and relevant procedures, employees reduce the concerns and stresses of management and start to develop the intellectual and emotional skills sets of entrepreneurs. They also reap the satisfaction of being more.

The average, large corporation (as well as some government departments) is ever angling and bending to accommodate accelerated mini-restructuring to ascertain and maintain fluctuating market positions. In what this author and behavioral consultant refers to as defensive-competitive or responsive-competitive contemporary organizations, the once fleetingly voiced concept and now important principle of shared responsibility has become a call to action and an exciting opportunity for employees who want to increase their value and profile. The traditional employee mindset has left most employees feeling both insecure and insignificant. They sense the need for individual growth in the work place, but cannot see beyond their positions to take action. In addition, and understandably, employees have long been self-confined by not knowing or being unaware of the heat at the top. Now, senior decision makers live 14 hour days in a psychic pressure cooker. Upper management is under siege, and, at the peak of their earning and position power, more vulnerable to demanding corporate boards than any period since the worst months of the Great Depression. While the average employee may be worried about his bunk being flooded in the high seas, upper management lies awake hoping they can both save the ship, and captain it from one disappearing port to a prospective new and distant one – without nautical maps. Needless to say, in these waters, management is not scanning the deck and checking the bowels of the ship to see who is in place, doing what. However, if a problem occurs that affects buoyancy, direction, and speed, and a smart crew member figures out what’s wrong and gets the ship back on track without panic or fanfare, and without interrupting the supervising crew to do so, his industriousness will be addressed in calmer waters.

From the Perspective of Management

Back on land - and to the corporate organization – a similar industriousness pays off. Just as employees have played traditional roles that must be challenged, so has senior management. Tacitly, senior management has asserted (more like, radiated) a new policy with respect to employee recognition. It translates into a way of working that a small minority of employees-come-senior managers have long known to be the assurance of recognition and financial security. In an organization, as is the case with the ship in the nautical analogy, if an employee has a problem, say, with a supplier, or the performance of others on the front line, or with errors made at the levels of production or shipping, she is well-advised to fix it. More specifically, an employee benefits from doing a quick study of the cause of a problem, discussing the glitches and solution with a few other responsible employees, a sufficient number to get a loose consensus, and implementing and then documenting the why and how of the simple changes in procedure. Employees cannot unilaterally get rid of expensive equipment or technology, but they can work within their own units or divisions to improve or eliminate simple but potentially expensive knots in production or operations. This is a sure-fire way to be perceived or pegged as a creative problem-solver and responsible, valuable employee. The fact that, at a critical time when resources are or were spread thin, an employee widened his sphere of influence and problem-solved, is immeasurably impressive.

Employee Initiative and People Problems

There is little senior managers like less than, when listening to the typical 7:30 a.m. rendition of daily duties, he is reminded of an employee problem. The vast majority would prefer to chew tacks with their coffee. However, for small groups of employees, solving people problems that are the result of personality differences, uneven distribution of effort, and so on, is at the highest end of the spectrum of noteworthy employee problem-solving. They are also, not coincidentally, the problems middle managers hear about most, and subsequently bring to the next level of management.

Conclusion

The employee who takes more responsibility for and ownership of his area of concern, or sphere of influence1, and who sees problems and unites others to address how to fix them, without counting hours or needing immediate applause, is, in essence, an entrepreneur, and he will be recognized. He also develops a business acumen that one can only learn with exactly this kind of experience, thus potentially accelerating his career. However, even before the inevitable recognition, the employee (and, ideally those in his widened area of concern), reaps the psychological rewards of a widened sense of effective responsibility, increased self-confidence, and renewed job satisfaction.

When most well-meaning employees are fretfully appreciative of having a place to go on Monday morning, the employee who has taken ownership of his position, and of the effect he has on his place and the people in it, is more than just thankful. He feels useful, is pumped for a challenge, and is quietly conscious of the ring of a distant or not so distant pay-off.

Summary

Job security and opportunities for promotion have not gone the way of the gas-guzzling monster car. However, pay raises and promotions are no longer either automatic or bestowed on employees for just showing up. To increase one’s chance of satisfaction and success in contemporary organizations employees can:

1. Increase their area or sphere of concern, influence, and “active investment” (activity).
2. Problem-solve by uniting other “old school” employees to study, try solutions, and ultimately fix operational glitches.
3. “People problem-solve” where light, inter-personal or personnel issues are concerned. Don’t bring to management what you can fix yourself (or yourselves).
4. Dishonor the limited, eight-hour day. Own, invest, and get involved - and you, and time, will fly.

 

1 “area of concern”: "sphere of influence” refers to that space and those people and processes in a generally widened circle around and in relation to one’s “positional duties” that affect the quality of work and productivity of oneself and others, and that affect the working state of machinery, office equipment, lighting…etc. in the larger environment. From the Collaborative Leaders Program: ©Dr. Lauren Enterprises, 2010

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