2010 – The end of the fairy tale employment

Dan Pink talked about the rise of the free agent nation a few years ago. While the trend is in full force, the majority of people opt to work for companies (small to large) and for a foreseeable future that is going to remain the same.

Stages of Career Growth

The stages were simple:


Stage 1: Fairy Tale

The first few years of employment where everything goes. You can be a cog in the wheel and survive. You will get a raise every year. The raise is a function of pure market reality and less about your performance and contribution. It is almost like a ritual for companies to give a customary raise for everyone.

You are at the bottom of the pyramid. This is typically where the company gets the highest leverage. The company is looking for efficiency here. If you can get the commodity work efficiently, you are golden for the company.

Stage 2: Skirmish

You cooperate and compete. You cooperate with your team members but you also have to compete with them to get into one of the slots in the next stage. Remember that there are far fewer slots in the next stage than you can imagine. These slots are opened either because of the company growth or because some people in the next group have moved on.

You are at the next level in the pyramid. Your goal is to extract maximum leverage from the people at the bottom of the pyramid. You are the chosen one for that job and the more you can get out of them, the better you are.

Stage 3: Street Fight

These are tough times for anyone who has not worked on distinguishing themselves. The slots in the next stage are far fewer than you can imagine. You have to show to your employer (and whoever matters) that you are “special” and not “one among the crowd.” In simple terms, you should clearly not part of the commodity crowd.

Stage 4: Combat

This is where you compete for even fewer slots available on the top. You need skills (e.g: dealing with office politics, uncommon influence, charisma) beyond what is in the job description. These skills, unfortunately, cannot be developed overnight. There is no contest for you with someone who has built these skills over the years.

I have taken the first two decades of your career. The larger the company, the more levels there are.

What has changed today?

Outsourcing, Open Source, Globalization, Free Agents and other such trends are eating the commodity layer of the pyramid. There are too many options to get the commodity work done. If you are part of the commodity layer, you are in trouble now or you will soon be in trouble.

The experience you gain from doing commodity work is no longer considered “experience” as the organization can get this experience from anywhere.

You are not competing just with your colleagues but from commodity crowd everywhere in the world. Remember that elsewhere in the world, an equivalent of minimum wage here is “good money” so they will happily compete with you.

Your option is to just ignore this trend or wake up now and do something about it.

If you didn’t get the notice, the fairy tale of engaging in commodity work has ended forever.

What can you do in 2010?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you are engaged in commodity work, get it redefined and walk the extra mile to build on skills that won’t fall into the commodity category.

2. Really take a serious look at what is the cost of your salary?

3. Avoid the CSS (Continuous Spiral Syndrome) trap

4. Check if you are being overcompensated for commodity work. That is a catch-22 situation. You can’t leave because nobody outside will match the salary. If you stay, you will become a vegetable.

[ Tech folks, please read: Why do I think many software engineers are on drugs?]

5. Take the fantasy test and see how you score.

6. Remember that even if you are employed by a market leader, your career is your responsibility. Nobody but you can take responsibility for where you are going.

7. Lastly look back at your entire life. What is the best year so far? Now fast forward 20 years to 2030. What should you do in 2010 so that when you look back at this year you consider this the best year of your life?

You got your work cut out!