In March 2008, Tom Stewart, then editor of the Harvard Business Review, posted nine trends that he believed would influence the future of business in the coming years. Stewart focused chiefly on big ideas such as multiculturalism, financial regulation, and intellectual property. Inspired by Tom’s fine example, I would like to offer my suggestions for human factors that will shape the workplace in the coming years.
– Managers will talk strategy but act tactically.
– Initiatives from on high will falter on the shoals of poor execution.
– Companies will say that people are their most important resource, but profits will dictate decisions about headcount.
– Bosses who make the numbers will be rewarded more than bosses who “make” people, e.g. develop them.
– Connections to the top will trump competency when it comes to getting promoted.
– People with no interpersonal skills will be promoted into management.
– Your boss will not listen to you.
No doubt as you can tell, none of these are future trends. They are a collection of actions and behaviors that we see every day in the workplace. They are the things that Scott Adams has used to great effect in his Dilbert strip as well as the creators of The Office have used in their series. Readers can certainly add many more. The challenge is what to do about it?
To me it comes down to a simple proposition: exert your ownership. If your boss is not giving you feedback, ask for it. If your teammates are driving you crazy, talk to them. If you are struggling with an impossible workload, find ways to lighten it. Proceeding as you are is inefficient; failing to address the problem may be even worse. Bottom line, you have a responsibility to do the job for which you are paid. Do it.
Part of the ownership proposition demands that you continue to learn. Once upon a time, hierarchies made decisions for people; they told you what to do and how to do it. In return, you were compensated and developed. That social contract began to erode at least a generation ago with the rise of emerging global competitors; downsizing became a way of life. Smart employees realized that they must fend for themselves, or at least develop their own skills. Whether you work for a small company or a large one, you are responsible for your career development. Insist on it.
All of the factors listed above are with us. We are human after all, and humans continue to do silly and stupid things. But there is an advantage we humans have over other sentient beings. We can think and we can decide. Look inside yourself first. Are you part of the problem? Are you doing what you can be doing to improve the situation? If not, then consider making a change. Nothing will ever improve unless you make a decision to act.
Sometimes what you do can make a difference in how a company thinks and acts. You can exert a positive influence on your peers and your boss. And if the frustration becomes too much, consider other options. You may be happier working in another part of the company, or for another company, or even for yourself.
First posted on HBR.org on 6/04/2009