When I went to university, we were told that management is the art of getting work done through people. A passport to laziness and exploitation!
Today, we say management is developing people through work.
Work should be fun. It is fun for some of us.
And work should be fair. Not only should we receive a fair day’s pay for a fair days work. We should be growing as a person and capable of doing more with each hour of work that we put in.
Rewriting the training manuals for jobs and careers
In 20th century management manuals, Stage 1 of work was doing. For about 10 years, roughly from 16 to 26, we learned a trade and built breadth & depth through education and exposure. Our job was to cultivate a deep knowledge of our materials and tools, appreciate our customers, and adapt what we did for their needs. We wanted to learn enough about the wide range of situations that we might encounter in the future so that we could go with the flow and make a living as the years went by.
Sadly, of course, markets change and revolutions happen in technology. With very little notice, customers defect to other products and markets, competitors outrun us, or the technology changes sufficiently to require another 10 year apprenticeship.
In the ‘olden days’, HR departments were responsible for seeing ahead and retraining staff ahead of any abrupt changes. By definition, the HR Director’s job was to spot changes on the horizon and get everyone retrained in new ways without disrupting today’s operations. There was a reason for that high salary!
You are now your own HR Director
Today’s management theorists and leadership coaches counsel another approach. They recommend that each of us scan the horizon for changes and retrain ourselves in good time.
This is quite hard to do. As noobes, we barely understand the business. We don’t have data to see ahead. Indeed it might be kept from us. And training tends to focus on skill rather than the ‘sweet spot’ where are skills are deeply valued by our customers.
The sweet spot where your skills are deeply valued by your customers
I know that there has been a lot of research on how to train people on the sweet spot.
- I recall attempts to train doctors by introducing them to patients from day one. The conclusion, I recall, was that the pre-clinical training was necessary to speed up communication between noobes and experienced doctors and the experiment was abandoned.
- Cognitive psychologists have developed computer games to test whether it is better to learn the market before we learn the underlying technology of our business. They concluded no. First, learn the technology, then try to make money.
- Military psychologists have found that youngsters trained to manage their attention on computer games performed better as fighter pilots. In the game, the recruits played the part of captains of de-mining vessels. Each ‘month’, or game cycle, they would concentrate on the overall outcome of running the ship and concentrate on learning one of the functions only ~ navigation, finance, HR, etc. The limitation known with this approach is that under pressure we often go back to the “level” that we first learned, requiring, once again, that we can see into the future and pick our “level” correctly.
It seems easy to mess up our mental models of the sweet spot and what we need to do to manage it. We can overemphasize the money end and underemphasize the skill. We can also learn to manage situations that are too small to sustain a living.
More research needed on managing our own training for 21st century jobs and careers
None of these experiments have focused though on developing a sense of the sweet spot and organizing skills and commercial acumen around a sweet spot that morphs, ebbs and flows. I know no experiment where “subjects” were explicitly trained to monitor what is happening around them, to think of their own skills (and the skills of their team) and bring those together into a rewarding balance.
I wonder what would happen if we learned to think that way from the get-go?
Organize your own thinking about vibrant, interesting & lucrative jobs and careers in the 21st century
If you want to try, to organize your thinking about the sweet spot between your skills and the needs of customers, this is what I recommend.
Pick on anything you did today that you enjoyed and draw out 3 spokes
- name the key technical skill that you used to provide your customer with value
- name the customer and describe his or her needs
- name the sweet spot and try describe it in one sentence
These three spokes correspond logically to three factors associated with successful business teams:
- The teams ask questions more often than the give answers
- They concentrate on the outside world a little more than on themselves
- The look for what is going well and are positive 5x more than they are negative
Become your own HR Director
I think it will take quite a few lots of 10 to 15 minutes jotting down notes for this way of thinking to come easily. But when it does you will be your own HR Director
- Looking ahead
- Retraining on time
- Finding the sweet spot where you feel vital, involved, entertained, valued AND rewarded!
Do let me know how it works out!