Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Executive development in the 21st century.

In the emerging economy, every institution in society - business, government, unions, educational institutions, the media, each of us - has to change. Long-term business strategy can only be planned if each business action has a limited number of predictable outcomes. Most strategies fail, not because they‘re ill-conceived or poorly implemented, but because in today’s world, the outcome of many actions are unpredictable. Tiny events can lead to fundamental changes. A double-glazing company installed patio doors for the editor of a national newspaper. The doors didn’t fit and the company refused to remedy the defect. The editor publicized the situation in his newspaper and his article triggered hundreds of letters from other dissatisfied customers. As a result, the company’s business collapsed.

For much of the 20th century, the workplace was the last bastion of feudalism, a medieval system where each layer of society served the one above it and protected the one below it. Feudalism collapsed with the rise of the nation states because while feudal lords could protect their subjects from roving bands of brigands and marauders, they couldn’t protect then from national armies. Similarly, today’s organizations can no longer protect their employees from global market forces and the lightening speed of technological change. They no longer provide protection and they no longer expect loyalty. There’s little demand for faithful retainers anymore. The most difficult positions to fill are global program managers who coordinate products and services across international subsidiaries. Global companies are searching for ways to develop and grow these people.

Vicky Farrow, who was in charge of executive development at Sun Microsystems, gave the following advice conceerning career self-reliance: “Think of yourself as a business and be clear about your area of expertise. Define your product or service and know who you’re going to sell it to. Understand the value you add for your customers and invest in your own growth. Know where your field of expertise is headed, and be willing to change. Be prepared to start a new business when it looks like your current one is becoming obsolete.”

The new employer-employee contract goes something like this: You’re responsible for your own career. Your employer will help provide you with experience and training that can keep you marketable, but not necessarily give you a job forever. If you work smarter and produce high quality goods and services, in return, the company will give you personal recognition, continuous training, and a good living. For both production workers and professionals, staying competitive is the only real job guarantee in the global economy.

When everything, everywhere happens simultaneously, there’s no clear order or sequence. We're leaving behind many of the human institutions and stable power relationships which gave us security in the past. We're plunging down a river that has no banks to rest on. Returning upstream isn’t an option. You can row hard to stay in the same place, but you’ll eventually go broke there. The future is downstream, like it or not. Change is no longer a choice. As pitcher Nolan Ryan says, “There’s no off-season anymore.”


NT said...

Fantastic post

john cotter said...

Glad you liked it