Not so long ago, engineers and other knowledge workers characterized themselves within one of two broad classifications. They were either "locals," or they were "cosmopolitans."
The locals perceived their career as a path that traveled within their company. Employees who took this approach usually got involved in some office politics and perhaps deviated significantly from their chosen specialty as they climbed the organizational ladder. This local approach became increasingly attractive as the half-life of a technical education continued to shrink, requiring more effort just to keep up. Additionally, the myth that a psychological contract existed between employee and the company (to the degree that the contract met mutual expectations) contributed to this view.
When cosmopolitans considered their career path, they anticipated becoming gurus in their technical field. They would move to a different firm when necessary, so that they could increase their knowledge and experience while they practiced their specialty.
The popular choice. As you might guess, most employees followed the "local" route. Especially in those firms with numerous management layers, it seemed the logical and less risky path, as long as the psychological contract was believed to be valid.
However, starting in the turbulent '80s, and continuing through today, the business environment began to undergo drastic change. Such changes included greater competition on a worldwide basis; continually improving technology for communications and data processing; re-engineering; and flatter, more responsive organizations. For many employees, these changes erode the myth of long-term employment security, because it seems less relevant.
In addition, as the '90s brought a seemingly insatiable demand for qualified workers, many employers and employees have adopted a professional sports "free-agency" employment model, without the formal contracts and financial managers. However, contracts and managers could become the next step! Using this model, employees feel perfectly free to change employers as long as such change is in line with their personal goals. It is not uncommon for a well-qualified employee to resign from one firm and go to work for another. Higher salaries, signing bonuses, shares of stock or stock options, and job opportunities within rapidly growing organizations may attract them, especially if such new firms soon expect to go public.
One alternative. As we approach the 21st century, perhaps both the psychological contract, with its local and cosmopolitan aspects, and the highly competitive free-agency model, should be replaced. A more satisfying model might allow both employer and employee to view employees as important investors, rather than as manageable assets. Just as shareholders invest money in companies, employees invest their time, energy, and intelligence in the company that employs them. They should expect a reasonable financial return from their investment, as do the shareholders that only invest their money in the enterprise.
This perspective does create an interesting problem. How can the returns be divided equitably between shareholders, who risk their financial resources, and workers, who invest their time and brain power?
Ask the Manager
Q Is there a barometer that will give some indication of how innovative our organization can be?Yes, according to ENTOVATION Int'l. Answer seven of the following questions yes, and you have a good handle on the innovative process.
1. Has one person been chartered with the overall responsibility to manage the corporate-wide innovation process?
2. Are there performance measures, both tangible and intangible, to assess the quality of your innovation practices?
3. Do your educational training programs have provisions to incubate and spin-out new products and businesses?
4. Does your local, regional, or international presence operate as a distributed network of expertise which learns from as well as distributes to customers?
5. Is there a formal intelligence- gathering strategy to monitor the positioning of both current and potential competitors?
6. Does the production rate of new products and services exceed the norms of your industry and create new markets in which you can excel?
7. Has a strategic alliance manager been designated to create and manage the network of partnerships and joint ventures to leverage your firm?
8. Does your marketing image portray an organization with the capacity to create and move ideas into the marketplace to make your customers successful?
9. Have resources been allocated to articulate a compelling vision internally and share company expertise externally through publications and participation in major forums?
10. Is your computer communications capability treated as a learning tool for internal conferencing and external business leverage on the Internet?