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Managing your career in the new Information Age

DN Staff

April 24, 1995

4 Min Read
Managing your career in the new Information Age

A century ago, most people were totally engaged in tasks associated with producing food. In the early 1900s, the Industrial Revolution enticed workers to move from the farm to factories and factory-like offices. Dramatic increases in farm productivity and better work opportunities in the factories precipitated this move. Advancing technology created both situations, and this movement continued.

Driven by the economics associated with global competition, coupled with vast improvements in information technology and computer networks, this change is creating, in turn, the new information revolution. This revolution relies upon knowledge and information for its fundamental sources of wealth, rather than the natural resources and physical labor crucial to the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, many workers responsible for the Industrial Revolution's success may not have the skills and education to make them successful in the new Information Age.

Revolutionary change. The Industrial Revolution dramatically influenced our parent's way of life and current organizational operations, but the new Information Age's impact will be greater! Although it is too early to describe the changes to come, they will touch everyone's lifestyles, hopes, aspirations, and feelings of well-being. The kind of work we prepare for and perform and the organizations that hire us will be affected.

Downsizing, delayering, and restructuring are common in contemporary business life. Gone are the days when most organizations would consider such drastic activities only as a last resort. We must face the fact that the growing interacting pressures of competition and technological advancement result in frequent organizational reshaping. Employees, whether they be doctors, engineers, technicians, or designers, should expect and prepare for numerous employment transitions throughout their working lives. Rare will be the college graduates who stay with their first or second firm until retirement.

Adopt a new mindset. This change requires a "paradigm shift" regarding the employer-employee relationship. Both sides must now emphasize the acquisition of skills and knowledge over loyalty and longevity.

For engineers, this means continually acquiring new and up-to-date skills. This is not an easy task. As we all know, the half-life of an undergraduate engineering education is shrinking to less than four years. This has important implications for both recent and distant graduates. Graduation represents the end of the beginning of your education.

Just as baseball players operate when they become "free agents," so you too must direct your career. You must actively assume the responsibility for managing your career by acquiring the necessary skills and maintaining professional networkswith others.

The firm, in turn, should help develop its employees, which will maximize their contributions to the firm. This policy is best, even if the employee leaves the firm.

Such change will require forethought and planning, but in a dynamic competitive global environment, companies that link individual and organizational needs will have the edge over those that do not.

Ask the Manager

Q: Recently I was assigned to be the leader of a product development team. How should this role differ from my previous position as a functional section supervisor?

A: As a supervisor, you probably focused on command-and-control-type activities and operated as the functional technical guru. These were likely the factors that formed the basis for your being made a supervisor, and perhaps even the team leader.

In contrast, team leaders must rely upon a separate set of skills. Team leaders focus on activities like coaching, motivating, and empowering. Generally, their technical skills are deep but not very wide. The team, however, usually has technical responsibilities that are both deep and wide. Consequently, leadership skills are required to enable the various team members to make their optimal contributions to accomplish the team goals, both on time and in response to customer's needs.

Not everyone is born to be a team leader, but most of us can acquire the skills to become one if that is what we really want to do.

Q: From time to time, I hear the term "empty suit." What exactly does it mean?

A: "Empty suit" is used to characterize the person who has much form, style, and perhaps dresses for success, but has little substance, skill, or accomplishment. The empty suit is in essence a facade. Empty suits are more likely to be found in large organizations. Because there is a tenuous relationship between what they do and any actual business results, their lack of accomplishment may go undetected for a long time. Also, if they are rotated every 18 months, the effect of their decisions may not be evident for perhaps two to three years, and then someone else is stuck with the results.

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