Those are the most confusing words that a new young employee hears.
First, I just got here. I don’t know my way around here.
Second, you (management) recently employed me and I know you have the powers.
Third, how do I navigate the system? How do I earn a promotion?
Fourth, what does an opportunity look like in this system?
Fifth, can I speak up when I see what I think is an issue? In fact what is an issue, in this system?
Sixth, how do I combine these issues above to make it in the corporate world?
Do you see why our topic is confusing to a young person just entering the workforce?
Most young people are coming out of the academe, and they are used to producing results based on their effort. However, the concept of a team might be foreign to a number of them. Not because they do not know the definition of a team but because a team is an abnormality to them. Where they are coming from, you sink or swim based on your personal effort. What they call project teams are, at their best groups with everyone trying their best to ensure that get the required grades.
In a sense, the project team is a team where everyone tries to make the corporate goal but also actively looks out for themselves. The ability to navigate both in the corporate world is daunting. With the above, you can see that the phrase “your career is in your hands” is an oxymoron.
I remember one of my superiors at work in my early days admonishing me to “go for it when an opportunity rises”. It was good advice. But this was the problem. I had to work under two heads — one functional and the other administrative. When both give me an assignment, it was hard to turn them down because I did not know how I would be perceived as. So I did my best to serve two masters — going against what Jesus said — no one can serve two masters. It was daunting.
In the scenario that I found myself in, I did not know what was supposed to be an opportunity. I remember doing a job for one and copying the other one and I was told, I was crossing lines. I am saying this to show how confusing “taking your careers in your hands” might mean for a new young employee. In trying to put your best foot forward, you might be crossing some sacred grounds. Some gods may not like that 😉😂👀
Again, I am trying to show how taking your career in your hands in the ears of a new young employee, can be a paradox.
If you have not noticed, I am just letting thee know that I still remember my figure of speech….oxymoron, paradox. Very soon I will progress to simile, metaphor, pun and ultimately personification. After all, the greatest fear of man is the personification of the unknown. In the words of my son, Colourful, “Hayaya”
Now to serious matters……
The main aim of being a worker is to solve problems.
The problems are different. In small companies and/or start-ups, the problems are diverse and varied. Today, you are the logistic coordinator, tomorrow you are the product manager. The next day, you are the usher at the product launch. It is difficult to stick to a single role in small companies because you are trying to make it happen with limited resources.
Your career is a sum total of the type of problems you solve.
If you are employed in a big company with defined roles, you may have the luxury to be a Human Resource, Business Development, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Engineering, Legal etc personnel. You kind of have some defined path to tread on. There is a tarmac to run and land…and take off if need be.
On the shop floor level, you are the foot soldier; your work function is defined. You prepare a legal draft or you check the quality of products that leaves the company. But as you progress through the ranks, you will become a generalist. Meaning, your technical skills are required for vetting decisions to be made and not implementation. Implementation and execution is for the foot soldiers. At times, some of us have been foot soldiers for so long that we find it hard to function at executive and strategic levels.
You are still solving problems but of a different type. Your career, is in your hands. Again, you see why it can be confusing.
As a young employee, you need to know what you are getting into. You are disadvantaged in the area of experience, for no fault of yours. As such, you need something to give you a competitive edge as you venture. This is where mentorship and an inquisitive mind comes in.
Asking pertinent question as it relates to your work and career is important. There are “ladder folks” in the office. Scan the environment and find one that you can learn the ropes of the technical part and organizational culture from. If you have seen the movie, Men of Honour, you would understand what I am talking about.
I’ll tell you what happened. It is a real-life story. One of my best movies (I mostly do biopics and rom-com). A young negro recruit, Carl Brashear, gets into a naval academy. He is an ambitious young man whose background is that of a sharecropper. As he works through diving training, he meets predictable obstacles, especially racism. The bitter and racist Master Chief Billy Sunday sets out to make Carl’s journey as difficult and unbearable as possible. Despite the entire Navy doubting his potential and sabotaging his training, the determined Carl proved his mettle. Upon seeing the discrimination and ill-treatment meted out to Carl, his adversary, Billy Sunday, becomes his ally and helps him despite the damage it does to his (Billy Sunday) career. With the help of Billy Sunday, Carl overcomes personal loss, discrimination, and organizational hypocrisy to become the first black Master diver in the US Navy.
Without an ally and mentor like Billy Sunday, Carl would have not made it in the navy. Billy Sunday was Carl’s ladder.
Dear senior leader, do you see why when you tell the employee “Your career is in your hands”, it leads to more chaos than favourable outcomes? Young new employees need direction. They need mentors. They need ladders, without which they find it hard to navigate circumstances that they may be witnessing for the first time in their lives.
Whose hands are the career path of the “youngens” in the organization?
I do not have an answer. But I can question your answers.
In all you do, never forget that you are employed to solve problems.
“The main aim of being a worker is to solve problems.”
You are not employed to demonstrate how great you are.
You are not employed to show you are better than others.
You are not employed to show us that you are a walking calculator.
You are employed to solve the problem that the company wants to solve in order to extract economic value from the process.
You are not employed to solve the problem that you think you can solve.
You are employed to solve the problem at hand.
In the month of November 2022, I and a few fellas would be handling career sessions and sharing what we know, have seen, and have lived out. The aim will be to give you a headstart or enable thee to course correct, if necessary.
Topics would include extensive conversations on :
Starting Your Career
Stages of Career
The changing face of work
Managing Up & Down — Bosses, Peers & Subordinates
Office Politics & Me
The Knowledge Economy
Remote Work, Flexiwork & Me
Transiting to Entrepreneurship
I will be holding a weekly seminar on the topic — “Managing Your Career In The Digital & Knowledge Economy”. Would you want to be a part of it?