Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and cannot swim against a current. They are a crucial food source for many small and large aquatic organisms. The term comes from the Greek planktos for “wandering” or “drifting.” The question this week’s Thursday thought provokes is: Am I wandering throughout my career (life) or am I forging my own path by challenging defaults?
Some of us grew up with the social programming that we get a college degree, get a stable job with a solid company, and over the course of a few decades we can climb the corporate ladder. That was once the well-trodden career path, when the business environment was stable. However, whereas we might once measure tenure for workers in decades, today we can measure them by the year, month, week and even hour.
Organisations are shifting towards a more transient approach to hiring. This approach will become increasingly commonplace, as we will see an uplift in project-based work. In this new reality, internal staff will orchestrate a mix of temporary staff, consultants, freelancers and artificial intelligence.
While some organisations continue to upskill their existing workforces to manage change cycles, these are the outliers. Many organisations will not invest in the career development of people, because company loyalty has become a thing of the past. Organisations once determined the career path for many, but today, we must determine the path of our careers. This means a shift in mindset. We can no longer sit in the backseat driving our careers, (or sometimes even the trunk), we need to take charge of the steering wheel and not be plankton. An interesting study shows the value of challenging our default settings.
Wharton professor, Adam Grant shared a study conducted by economist Michael Housman. Housman was leading a project to figure out why some customer service agents stayed in their jobs longer than others. His team examined employment data from 30,000 employees who handled calls for banks, airlines, and cell-phone companies,
Like Housman, you might predict that people with a history of job-hopping would quit sooner. As it transpired, this was not the case.
Housman noticed that his team had randomly captured information about which internet browser employees had used when they logged in to apply for their jobs. Curious, he looked for a correlation between their individual browser choice and quitting. The results revealed more than he had ever expected:
- Employees who used Firefox or Chrome to browse the web remained in their jobs 15 percent longer than those who used internet Explorer or Safari.
- The Firefox and Chrome group was also 19 percent less likely to miss work than internet Explorer and Safari fans.
- The Firefox and Chrome users had significantly higher sales, and their call times were shorter and their customers were happier
Was the browser causing them to stick around, show up dependably, and succeed?
Of course not. Their browser itself had nothing to do with their success. However, their browser choice said a lot about their habits.
When one buys a new PC, Internet Explorer comes pre-installed on the device. If you purchase a Mac, your Apple comes with the Safari browser as standard. Therefore, if you want Firefox, Chrome or any other non-standard browser, you must proactively seek them out. You do not accept the default; you show some initiative; you explore alternatives: you are not plankton.
As disruption becomes increasingly common, it becomes even more important for workers to consider their own destiny. The established organisation has been the dominant career vehicle for many people over the last century. Early signs show this will not be the case for the coming decade. If our organisations are not offering new capabilities to operate in a changing business world, then we must not be career plankton and seek new skills before they become necessary.
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