But you wrote that the human asset is the most precious for wealth creation and that managing its growth and income are the first steps, you said. Therefore, I had to present a personal finance argument expressed in professional advice. Readers, as always, are victims of such imaginations.
Young adults fresh out of college are brimming with confidence in their ability to change the world. They want to make the most of that thought, motivation, and drive. At the same time, they are challenged to contribute to a world driven by many others and to operate without even the slightest semblance of control.
The purpose of education is to develop the power of thinking; Be curious; know how things work; and contribute meaningfully to the community at large. We have come to assume that education must prepare someone to do a job. We strip education of all its elements to strictly define the process as one of many outcomes. Human assets starting to earn income in their first job are handicapped by a fractured education system. Learning on the job is the imperative.
But not like in school. There one studies prescribed books, memorize things or learn to solve a problem using iterations and frameworks, and write a proctored exam to get the degree. Much of student life is individual effort and excellence. Systems that encourage discussion and joint work expose them to group dynamics, but the environment is more competitive than collaborative.
Working in an organization requires immense collaboration. With real people who are diverse in knowledge, attitudes and skills. At the lowest level, individual excellence matters a little. But a spoke is of little use in a wheel that wants a different identity. The path is determined by someone; someone else is driving; someone else is browsing. It takes time to understand how collaboration works at each level. Disparaging the team and the organization is not enough.
The human asset enters the workflow with some reserves of knowledge, skill, and attitude. Building a career is about focusing on how these three elements can be enriched by the experience that a real job offers. A good proportion of that added value may be implicit and subconscious; what one controls is but a portion that a self-aware individual navigates along the way. The journey is made easier by hundreds who contribute to our growth, in ways big and small, though we recognize them and connect all the dots only much later with the benefit of hindsight.
In the first job, we recognize very easily what we don’t like. We don’t like the boss; we do not like some members of the team; we don’t like some elements of the work; we like some policies and processes; and so. All of this matters only for the impact it has on the human asset who must now establish relative merit over absolute merit. That should be the only approach when one starts. Am I learning to work better? Am I being helpful and efficient? What about me makes it difficult to work with me? And so.
It is not advocating repression and surrender. Allow time for experiences to show how one is adjusting. Feedback is the critical input to achieve this. Most young employees become obsessed with being appreciated and applauded for what they do (memories of standing on the podium to applause are fresh, parents still tell you they’re the best, and the mind seeks a position other than recognition from peers). The skill to learn is to look for verbal and other clues that show where you slip; seek feedback from peers, supervisors, and others and think about it; work with the understanding that the human asset is a work in progress that needs attention.
Building that asset for lasting value isn’t easy. Like any other asset, there are multiple factors at play, some controllable and some not. However, what is controllable must be worked on. Fixing what can be fixed is responsibility. Like a new business that can make or break, a new career presents a human asset that can make or break. The ability to look for opportunities; recognize prospects; throw them; deliver value; to keep promises; be trustworthy; be priced and positioned correctly; They are all tasks for life.
We do not live in the times of being married with a job for life. We have a set of credentials and we negotiate our price in the labor markets. The employer is the buyer and we must be clear that the speech we make represents who we are and what we can do at work. Certificates and merit ranks won’t get us very far. Lies and image making won’t help much either. Exceptions don’t make the rules, and we carve who we are.
We can only solve for ourselves and our intrinsic value. It’s hard to figure out what a potential employer is looking for and how to meet those needs. That effort is like trying to get funding for a new company based on the business plan and idea. The employer who hires someone is trying to choose stocks for her portfolio based on past performance. They need to understand the fundamentals and come up with a fair value, and see how you fit into their scheme of things. Relative merit will prevail over absolute merit.
What my friend’s daughter didn’t see is that it is a market after all. She is trying to get the best financial value for what she has to offer. There are no rights or privileges; nor is it a perfect and fair market.
Things won’t always work out. There is also no perfect route to success. Those who did well can look back and identify the decisions that worked for them. That doesn’t make it a roadmap for others. That’s why books written about success offer inspiration, not replicable strategies for everyone. There is no book on life yet, because each of our paths is unique.
We run, we fall, we make course corrections. Being aware of what one is doing and how that contributes to the collective effort in an organization or community involves being self-aware, open to feedback, willing to work on oneself, balancing self-doubt and self-confidence and much more. Neither the school nor the parents can teach any of this. Consult everyone, but make your own decision and take full charge of it, I told the young man.
(The author is president of the Center for Investment Education and Learning)