Learn and Earn

Feb 6th, 2011 | By | Category: abundance, application, aptitude, Career advice, career choice, confidence, self confidence, skills, strategy

PracticaL Mentor

The main reason we go to work is to make money. One of the primary goals of most workers is to increase their income. In most jobs pay increases come from raises and promotions. In theory the better we become at our jobs the more valuable we are to the organization. This especially true of entry-level positions where the first several months or years are focused on learning and improving our skill set.

Most jobs seem to have plateaus where after a time there are fewer and fewer things to learn. Once you learn the core job, it becomes routine. This is where most people reach their “Peter Principle Position” The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology”, “inadvertently founded” by L. J. Peter (deceased 12.1.1990). It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity for simulations.[1] Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle)

In reality it seems employee advance as long as they are learning and increasing their skills. Once they reach a point where they are no longer learning new things their careers seem to stagnate. Many jobs are designed with a journeyman level. After a few years on the job, an employee can handle most of the work that comes their way with little or no supervision. Although the employee is very productive, there is little or no room for increasing responsibility or skill levels and the pay curve flattens. When this occurs the only option to get a salary increase is to go into management. However the middle management positions continue to disappear, and there are lot of employees who do not want to be managers.

The key to increasing your value to the company or in your career field is to keep learning. In many career fields there are formal courses available to learn new skills. Formal course have the advantage of providing official documentation of achievement. It also makes your skills easy to list on your resume or CV. Although taking classes and training courses improves your skill level, it may not be a skill that your company needs. In addition, not everyone has the time or desire to attend class after work. Even though there are on line courses now available, it can be expensive and time consuming to complete a course only to find it does not help your career.

In most organizations there are a few employees who seem to find a career path that enables them to climb to the top of the organization. What enabled these few individuals to climb from the entry rung to the top of the corporate ladder? One of the most common traits among these individuals is drive and attitude to seek new assignments and to stretch to fill the requirements of the next rung of the ladder. Their willingness to learn new skills and to take the risk of moving outside of their comfort zone is one the primary traits that sets these individuals apart from their peers. Many of us get the same opportunities, but fail to recognize them or take advantage. When someone asks if you would be interested in handling a new account, processing some extra cases, etc, is your first inclination is to say no. I am as guilty as anyone. When opportunity knocks, it is not always easy to recognize. Even late in my career when I knew better, I passed up opportunities that may have provided lucrative post retirement employment. At the time, I thought once I retired that I would not want to work anymore. Now that I have been retired for a few awhile, I find that I miss working, and would like to have a part time professional job. As luck would have it, as soon as I declined the opportunity, my job changed and all of my industry contacts were severed. My stepping-stone turned into a brick wall. Even though I had long ago observed that it was always advantageous to accept any offer of a new position or assignment, I did not follow my own advice when my the time arrived. Unlike in the movies or books where upper management begs the hero to take the difficult assignment, in real life it is often as subtle as someone casually asking if you would be interested in working on a special project. My thinking at the time was I was enjoying what I was doing, there was no promotion potential, and it would be a lot of effort to learn all that was necessary to complete the new project. In that instant I declined. Perhaps I had reached my own Peter Principle Position.

Now I tell everyone who will listen, when an opportunity presents itself to learn new skills take it. If management didn’t think you could do it, they wouldn’t ask. If they have confidence in you, so should you. Even if the new skills do not pay off immediately chances are they will someday.

Good luck – The PracticaL Mentor.

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