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Monday, August 1, 2011

What Am I to You? Part 1: Asking the Question

Love this song. (1)  Norah's stuff is on my regular rotation of songs to sing to - they're sultry, earthy, and just plain fun!  So, this afternoon I was listening to this as I was trying to do Yoga (2) and musing over some of the things we talked about at #TNL:  relational networks, communities, talent, relationships... and that led to some word associations:  Purpose, Association, Opportunity, and Intent. And then for some reason?  That took me back to a conversation I had during the conference  with a really bright guy in my Industry on the subject of employment.

For years, those of us in Talent Acquisition/Recruiting have counseled candidates that unless they were 'career contractors' to beware frequent job changes.  Companies look for longevity when hiring for many reasons, not the least of which is the financial investment that comes with bringing on a new employee.  So, if you were one of those that had a new job every year or two; there'd reach a point where you were likely doing your career more harm than good:  it might look like you can't find something you enjoy doing, or can't work with a team, or just are not capable of success.  Prior to the economic downturn, that definitely made sense. But the question that he & I were discussing was, "What about now??"  With the average length of unemployment running between 6-12 months & layoffs/continual re-"right-sizing" being more of a commonplace event for employers... has the "JOB" become more of a "Project-Based Investment" rather than a long-term one?  And, does that then fundamentally shift what an Employee IS to their Company and vice-versa?

Obviously, there's not a universal answer for this one.  I don't want to see the Doctor who is joining a different practice every year; and the guys designing the planes I'm slightly afraid to fly in? It gives me some peace of mind to know they've been with their employers for a period longer than the training program they started off in.  But I can also see other areas where this perception shift to 'project employment' might make more sense for both the employee & the employer; especially in program creation roles where you might need a power-house to get things created/running; but not for the ongoing  'maintenance phase.'  So, I concede, when he introduced me to the concept, I was definitely intrigued at the possibilities. 

And while I still am; I see a lot of questions that raise some concerns from the HR perspective in the areas of Training & Culture.  I can see how it can be done; but I think that maybe the question "What am I to you?" has to be answered first.  How does the Company view employment?  For some, long-term tenure is a major part of their cultural environment & so this shift might be counter-productive to their Cultural goals & team environment.  For others, the training programs & ramp-ups are so time intensive that unless they hire someone planning to stick around for at least 5 years?  They're not going to get the full value they need out of the employee. (4)  If the Employee knew up front that their days were numbered, what would that do to Loyalty?  Would they end up being seen as more of an 'external stakeholder' rather than an invested, valued employee & could that impact perceived decision-making authority?

So, there's the initial questions I saw on the employer side; but what about the employee?  In some lines of work, we could argue we're doing this already without calling the spade a spade.  In HR/Recruiting/Talent Marketing/Social Media Communications?  I can certainly see how this could be a true statement.  Hiring is often cyclical, the person you need to create your programs often require more horsepower than those you need maintain them.  As an Employee, the opportunity to move to a 'project-based' role rather than a 'career role' could keep things fresh and exciting... allow for more overall skills development & experiential exposure.  Major pluses, to be sure.  But, realistically, not everyone is wired to be able to psychologically hang with such a status; there are still many that want the perceived security that comes along with the belief of "permanent employment." (5)  They want to "belong" and if they see themselves as transient then the fear is that they might not have that sense of being 'part of the family' and won't function on the same level in terms of engagement, productivity, and loyalty.  This isn't just an employer concern; I talk with "perm employees" that are hesitant to consider contract roles for the same reasons; you'd never hear those folks verbalize:

Either way, we all, on some level, want to know the answer to the question "What Am I to You?" as it relates to our value to & where we stand with our Team, Boss, Company, Relationships.. all of it.  I'm okay with that because once we know the answer; we can deal, make a game-plan, and forge ahead. The guy I had the conversation with?  Said this is the way things are going; and maybe he's right.   I can't help but wonder if we really know the answer to the question, though.. and if Employees and Employers would answer in the same way.  

(1) My apologies is there's an advertisement on the front side of this song; YouTube is being finicky so I had to pull from AOL Music.
(2) But as my heels started to literally bleed during various flexion/extension movements? I decided it was time to stop for now.
(3) credit goes to Bill Boorman for that - I love it & had to work it in. :p
(4) That actually was a viewpoint shared by my Father, who has a fairly large team of engineers & department that he manages/hires for.  When I broached this topic with him, he said that'd be horrible for his work environment. The time & money it takes to get an employee fully productive could be a couple of years; so, it just doesn't make sense for  his group.  But, he works in a "Career Company" where they often hire out of college & retire there, even still today.
(5) TxMQ
(6) Which I subscribe is a total myth but it doesn't change that it is "perceived truth" for many employees

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