The World is Changing. Scratch That. The World Has Changed.
According to Karie Willyerd, Workplace Futurist and co-author of the book Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace (January, 2016), trends already in motion that will affect the future of work are:
- Climate change
- Demographic shifts
- Explosion of data
- Emerging technologies
- Redefinition of jobs
In his 2014 popular YouTube video, Humans Need Not Apply (8.8 million views as of this writing), CGP Grey espouses technology will take over nearly every job currently performed by humans, rendering them nearly extinct in the workplace as we know it today. Much like what happened to the work that horses performed before the invention of cars.
Both Willyerd and Grey have valid perspectives, and to an extent, I agree with their views. However, the future they describe wherein human jobs are replaced by technology, including but not limited to – robots, software, algorithms, artificial intelligence and the like — is not a point somewhere in the misty halls of tomorrow; rather, that future is now.
The trends Willyerd identified and the vision of technology performing the work of humans IS the modern world of work and very representative of the current workplace. You may even be wondering, “Am I obsolete?” Or, “Is my job on the verge of becoming obsolete?”
Chances are you can probably relate to the shrinking human workforce in certain industries and occupations. In Florida, over the past decade, tollbooths converted to unmanned gantries.
In local retail stores like Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Costco, to name a few, there are now self-checkout lanes.
Over the past few years, Chase bank closed locations and ceased certain services, like drive-up banking.
These examples are taken right out of current affairs, but this isn’t the end of the story for those willing to reshape their career path.
Am I Obsolete?
Having worked in the learning and development (L&D) field for more than a decade, I’ve often wondered at different points in my career, “Am I becoming obsolete?”
At one point, as a software instructor for the world’s largest privately owned software training company, I thought my job might be obsolete since YouTube was fast becoming a competitor of mine.
“Am I obsolete?” is a valid question for all of us to ask ourselves, regardless of the industry we serve. No one wants to become an obsolete employee.
Are You An Obsolete Employee?
Yes! If you refuse to do the things we’ll discuss soon.
So far, I have touched on two broad ideas:
- Technology displacing workers by making some jobs and skill sets obsolete
- Workers have the ability to thwart becoming obsolete
Both are valuable topics. This article focuses on how one can prevent becoming an obsolete employee.
Now, this is not a Pollyanna approach to career advice. I’m not the type of person who paints pictures of cotton candy and carousels.
That various forms of technology are gobbling up jobs like Pac-Man is a fact we must all maneuver in the workplace. We must be proactive, not reactive. We must be aware and not live with our heads buried in the sand.
Yes, you are obsolete if you don’t embrace the following ideas and bring them to the workplace:
- Be comfortable in your skin
- Own your brand
- Track your brags
- Activate a network of peers in your industry
- Remember the word “AND”
- Bring value to your company
Idea #1 – Be Comfortable in Your Skin
To be comfortable in your skin means knowing yourself:
- What you like and dislike
- What helps you to work well
- What causes you to falter at work
When you know yourself, you know what value you bring to your company and that knowledge opens ways for you to consider how, as an employee, you can bring even more value to the company. Just as importantly, knowing yourself means you can identify what brings you fulfillment, or what type of work you find satisfying.
Idea #2 – Own Your Brand
You may have once thought brands were for enterprises like Apple, Zappos, Chick-Fil-A and Big Brothers Big Sisters. But in the modern world of work, that’s no longer true. YOU are your brand, and as such, you must own your brand.
Developing, maintaining and refining your brand is beyond the scope of this article. But to give you an idea of what a brand is, think of it as your professional reputation and how it is broadcasted – but imagine that the reputation is clear and polished, and the way it is broadcast throughout the business world is executed intentionally. A simple example might be maneuvering to be the project manager when a high-profile project comes up at your company. Successful completion of the project means your name is mentioned to the right executives.
Without knowing yourself, owning your brand is impossible.
Idea #3 – Track Your Brags
Once you’ve become comfortable in your skin and learned to own your brand, begin tracking your brags. Amanda Augustine at The Ladder wrote an article on this concept.
My take on this is simple. Record your accomplishments.
What was the outcome of the project you led? As Amanda writes, “be results-oriented”. This way, when changes like an organizational restructure are planned because the company’s new automation streamlined work processes and managers are doling out positions, you have documented evidence to present when you get a chance to make your case.
I’ve been “tracking my brags” since early in my professional career.
Knowing yourself, building your brand and tracking your accomplishments on the job are “I” events. It’s about you. What you do and how you do it. Demonstrate what you know. Your networking, though, is about what you don’t know.
Idea #4 – Activate a Network of Peers in Your Industry
Are you an executive assistant, a programmer, an accountant, a graphic designer? Your job role, frankly, is irrelevant. Employees bring value to their companies through learning and growing. Networking within your professional space with like-minded individuals allows you to stretch and grow deeper skill sets or learn how others in your role have morphed to stay relevant.
For me, this tenet manifests through my membership in the local chapter and nation organization of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the South Florida Organization Development Network (SFLODN). And I’m open to being a part of other groups.
Industry or job role associations can also guide you to certifications that will enhance your skill set and make you more valuable to your company and the market place in general. Take some time to consider how you, as an employee, can bring more value to your company and then spend some time brainstorming how you can develop a network that will help you remain relevant in the workplace rather than becoming an obsolete employee.
Idea #5 – Remember the word “AND”
Daniel Burrus, author of Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and do the Impossible (January, 2011) gives us hope.
I loved this book and Dan’s keynote speech. He talks about the power of “and” in our technologically charged modern world. The advent and proliferation of technological wonders does not mean the world is coming unhinged for human workers.
Yes, there are frequently mentioned companies that ‘died’ such as Eastman Kodak and Blockbuster Video Rental Stores. These deaths were caused by the companies’ failure to adjust for tech advances.
But there are also companies in industries like music and book publishing that could have died because of technological advances, but didn’t. Instead, they changed the way they do business. Some believed traditional publications would no longer exist because of digital content, but now we have both in our world. Some believed selling and buying vinyl records would become obsolete, but you can still walk into a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Nobles bookstore and buy an album (even though Amazon exists and sells countless products). We have digitally published content to read on e-Readers (or tablets, laptops, smartphones) AND we have physical paper books.
Music can be sourced on Amazon and iTunes and downloaded as an MP3 (or streamed), AND we can purchase vinyl records.
When considering your career and how you can stop yourself from becoming an obsolete employee and when thinking about how, as an employee, you can bring more value to your company, remember the word AND. It’s so powerful. That word is filled with hope for our working todays AND tomorrows.
Technology will not gobble up all working endeavors of humans – the world needs both. A message from the book “Flash Foresight” is to consider the world and notice the trends at play. Then, empowered with that insight, make decisions for the future. As an employee who wants a thriving future, you must proactively add value to your company.
Idea #6 – Bring Value to Your Company
Will technology like robotics and artificial intelligence steal your job? It’s quite possible if,
- You’re uncomfortable in your skin
- You don’t build your brand
- You don’t document your achievements
- You don’t grow your skills and network
- You don’t see the world is filled with exceptions and “And” is everywhere
Lastly, let’s discuss how employees can bring value to their company.
There are subcategories to this topic.
- Adding value to the company in general
- Adding value, especially to your boss
These two ideas can be intertwined. Adding value to your boss automatically adds value to the company.
Be a FROG
Author Perla Sierra, in her book on the employee’s responsibility for engagement at work, asks, Are you a FROG? (March, 2016). The acronym stands for Flexible-Resource-Optimization-Growth. In the “I Am the Resource” chapter Perla writes,
“Imagine an organization where others come to you because they see you as an expert in your field and recognize you have ideas that actually make a difference. How can you help others in your field be more productive or efficient?”
Be a resource to your boss.
Ask a simple question. Something like, “What’s the biggest work-related challenge you’re dealing with currently?”
Two things happen when you ask this question. First, you differentiate yourself from every other employee your boss manages.
Why? Because most employees only think about what the company and their manager can do for them.
Second, even if your manager mentions a challenge you can’t immediately solve, you may know someone that can help you solve it. Remember that network of peers in your industry we talked about earlier and that big project you volunteered for? Reach out to those folks and brainstorm possible solutions.
Now, if your boss mentions a challenge that’s in your sphere to solve, even if it is not directly in your job description, start working on it.
Lastly, adding value to your company as an employee means that you bring something to work with you every day beyond ticking the boxes of what you were hired to do.
It means going out of your way to collaborate proactively with other departments on projects that may be at the fringe of your responsibilities but are important to the company meeting its objectives.
It means growing your skills through learning, even if your company doesn’t have a formal learning function (now you can take Lynda.com courses via your Premium LinkedIn subscription). When you learn more, you’re able to bring those new skills to your company, which adds value.
There are almost unlimited ways employees can add value to their company, these examples only scratch the surface. If you’re unsure how you can add more value to your company from your role within the organization, just ask.
Ask your manager. Ask other managers and other team members. Listen to what your executives communicate and take those things to heart. The simple act of asking sets you apart.
In your day-to-day work routine, look for areas to streamline, processes that don’t quite work. Develop new processes and channels while collaborating with team members to implement fresh ideas in interesting ways.
In our modern world of work, becoming an obsolete employee with an obsolete skill set is possible. But only for those who bury their heads in the sand and refuse to grow and collaborate with others. The days when it was up to the company to ensure employees were ‘educated’ on the latest tools in the workplace and actively engaged in the company culture are long gone. Yes, companies do have a duty to employees, but the fact is, the lion’s share of the responsibility for NOT becoming an obsolete employee rests at the feet of the employee.
Am I obsolete? The answer to that question rests with each of us.