Jan

Of Earth Quakes and Careers

The part of the U.S. where I live was roused from its collective sleep in the wee hours of Friday’s pre-dawn morning by an earthquake that measured 5.2 on the Richter scale The Richter Magnitude Scale and lasted for more than 30 seconds. What was so different from this one and previous others was the intensity — and the fact that there was time to wonder whether it was going to stop, get worse or maybe even escalate into the “big one” that is long overdue here in the Midwest.

It was a little unsettling. But amazingly, there were no personal injuries, though some people narrowly escaped harm at the epicenter, a small community that is about an hour north of where I live.

As one of our local TV stations was already doing its morning news run, coverage was immediate – and calls and e-mails from throughout the region quickly pored in to the media. All had a common theme. People were reporting that their loved ones from nearby or far away had felt and heard it, too. Aside from the realization that a single phenomenon could be experienced simultaneously hundreds of miles away, such events are unique in other ways. Instantaneously, they capture and define a moment in time. They also evoke an immediate and unchallenged awareness of whom you need to call, whose well-being you hold dearest, and whose voice and frame-of-reference you most need and want at that moment.

These are “strong” ties.

You might wonder what this has to do with careers or career theory — and you would be justified in asking. Strong and weak ties are concepts that have been defined and studied — and proposed for further study to help us understand how careers unfold and advance. They are particularly meaningful in considering networking and job-finding.

Emotionally, you and I might think of strong ties as those that we hold with the people who are most important to us – families, best friends, even pets. But in the career world, we can think of strong ties as the connections we have with the people who are most like us, who are part of our world day-in and day-out. An example of a strong tie might be the editorial staff of a newspaper. Reporters and editors work late into the night under pressure to get the facts right and out there on time, night after night, week after week, year after year. At the end of the evening, they meet at a local pub to chill and recount a post mortem on what it took to get the job done.

On the other hand, weak ties are different.

An example of a weak tie might be someone you worked with 10 years ago and now e-mail once a year just to stay in touch. Both of you now work in different occupational sectors than the one that you once had in common. Another example could be two people who serve on the board of directors of a local not-for-profit organization. One is a banker, the other a hospital administrator. Except for regular board meetings, the two have little outside contact; but they’re well-enough acquainted to stop and chat if they meet by chance in public.

Which kind of tie do you think might be of greater benefit to your career?

Think of “strong” ties as “redundant” ties, and you can see where an argument for the diversity suggested by “weak” ties comes from. Ibarra & Deshpande (2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007) write, “weak ties are argued to be more valuable since they act as bridges among diverse networks and bring new information not available through redundant ties in close objective networks.”

They go on to report that the empirical support for the value of weak career ties is strongest for “finding a job” versus “other outcomes such as promotion and salary. (e.g. Boxman, et al., 1991; in Ibarra & Deshpande, 2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007).”

Notice the mention of “networks.”

Ibarra & Deshpande say that “networks of relationships” are the “social resources as well as social contexts in which careers take shape.” So let’s think about this for a minute… You’ve just been downsized and need to find new employment. Your first thought might be to query the people you work with every day (strong ties) about possible opportunities elsewhere. But the “weak ties” argument mentioned above suggests that you might get better results by mobilizing your weak-tie network — if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can ask your strong ties to approach their strong and weak ties on your behalf, but that can get tricky… because it requests third parties to spend their social capital on people whose skills and work ethic they can’t actually vouch for. (We need to talk about this in a future column).

But I digress… so back to the point.

Job seekers: Get your own network – and make sure it includes plenty of weak ties. If you don’t have a network, you can start building one through short-term volunteer projects that involve team work and meeting groups of people — people whose jobs, interests and abilities are very different from yours. There are also organized networking opportunities; but I have to wonder how much good it really does, for example, when women go to a networking group luncheon and sit at the same table with people they already know.

Yes, I know, we are talking about moving beyond one’s comfort zone here — but will a little anxiety really be all that bad? And don’t take your best friend with you because it will be too easy to cling to him in retreat. The idea is to forge new acquaintances, so get out there and dance.

A couple of other points need to be brought in here:

One is a term – “homophily” – that I was unfamiliar with until reading about it earlier this week – before the earthquake, actually. “Homophily” refers to the degree of demographic and identity similarity of individuals who regularly interact with one another. (Ibarra, 1993; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007). Mayrhofer, Meyer & Steyrer (2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007) report that “homophilic reproduction” and “reduction of opportunities” have a tendency to be linked. In other words, if we continue to associate only with people we know, people who are like ourselves, people we feel comfortable with… then we are reducing the possibilities (career and otherwise) that may be open to us in the future.

The second point comes from Weick (1996; Thomas & Inkson, 2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007), and it has to do with context. Think of “context” as the circumstances you begin to explain when starting an answer with, “Well, it depends.” Weick describes strong and weak “situations,” rather than strong and weak “ties;” but there may be a caveat for us here. A “strong” situation is one that is highly constrained. The careerist doesn’t perceive a great deal of freedom to choose her actions. A “weak” situation has few constraints. The “actor” is free to move about at will. An example: You work for a rigidly bureaucratic organization in which it would likely be a career-ending move to bypass your supervisor and request an appointment with the company president to tell him about a great idea that you have for a new product. However, if both you and the president of the company get downsized, the constraints are off. You can approach her without fear of anything more than embarrassing yourself. This is a “weak” situation.

Thomas & Inkson interpret Weick as stating that “career outcomes can be powerfully enacted by their career holders in an environment relatively free of constraints…” but in strong situations, “perspectives encouraging individual enactment may be limited.”

So the lessons put forth for your consideration today are:
1) If you don’t have a network of weak ties, please get busy and start building one.
2) Before you start using those ties, pay attention to the degree of constraint in your environment – i.e. whether you are acting in a weak or strong situation.

And, I guess, if there’s a third piece of advice this week, it is this: Get under a doorway or a desk if there’s an earthquake.

Jan

Want to know more?

Primary ReferencesGunz, H, Peiperl, M. (2007). Handbook of Career Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Ibarra, H, Deshpande. (2007). Networks and identities. H. Gunz & M. Peiperl (Eds.) Handbook of Career Studies: Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Mayrhofer, W, Meyer, M, Steyrer, J. (2007). Handbook of Career Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Secondary References
Boxman, E, De Graaf, P, & Flap, H. (1991) The impact of social and human capital on the income attainment of Dutch managers. Social Networks, 13: 51-73.

Ibarra, H. (1993). Personal networks of women and minorities in management. A conceptual framework. Academy of Management Review, 18 (1), 57-87.

U.S. Geological Survey. (Accessed April 20, 2008). The Richter Magnitude Scale. U.S. Government Printing Office. Abridged from The Severity of an Earthquake, a U.S. Geological Survey General Interest Publication.
The Richter Magnitude Scale

Weick, K. (1996). Enactment and the boundaryless career: Organizing as we work. In M.B. Arthur & D.M. Rousseau (Eds.), The boundaryless career: A new employment principle of a new organizational era (pp. 40-77). New York: Oxford University P

Careers and Common Sense

Still in the interest of trying to get something going from those of you who may be viewing out there, let’s approach the topic of careers and common sense. More specifically, I’m talking to parents, students, school-leavers, high school guidance counselors, dissatisfied employees and others facing a difficult career decision. I would like to hear about your personal experience and how “common-sense” has guided your decisions. Hopefully, this will provide a bridge for introducing theory and illustrating its value. Really, theory is very cool. Stephanie, I would imagine that you are cringing at the term “common-sense,” but hold on. I’m going to address in a minute.

Common sense and careers: Questions to get us started:1) When you were a child, did you ever have a dream occupation that people discouraged you from because it wasn’t right for you — i.e. because of your gender, personality, etc? For example: “No you can’t be a doctor because you are a girl; everyone knows women can only be teachers or nurses.”
2) If you are a parent, are you absolutely convinced that your child is making a right or wrong career choice? Example: “Jimmy is a decent basketball player; but he has no hope of going pro, so he needs to finish college.”
3) If you are a prospective graduate or new hire, have you received career advice from someone who told you that you were absolutely making the wrong decision? Example: “You can’t hope to rise through the ranks of management if you are a woman and intend to start a family within the next few years.”
4) If you are already-careered, can you look back on your career decisions and see one or more “obvious” places where you were either wrong or right? Example: “I never should have majored in computer science because all of the jobs in my area are now being outsourced.”

The above statements in quotes may or may not seem like common sense, but it’s much more interesting and useful if we examine them with theory – so maybe someone out there will give us a personal example to work with for subsequent posts.

But now… to common sense:

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, it would not be surprising to hear that, at some point, someone has told you, “That’s just common-sense.” And don’t we all feel a little stupid when we hear that – like it’s something that everyone else knows but we’re not smart enough to have been endowed with such a fundamental, creator-given basis of knowledge.

Really Now, What is Common Sense?
But what is common sense really? We can turn to the academic literature for some interesting takes on that question.

In an article examining common sense in relation to management, Albanese (1970) offers that people believe that common sense: 1) Implies that “no additional study is required,” 2) is “the intelligence expected of adult persons in practical affairs,” 2) is “obvious knowledge that everyone seems to possess as a result of being alive and having gone through some experiences.” Consistent with that description, Allyn & Bacon (2000) say it’s what people perceive as “It just makes sense.”

If Albanese and Allyn and Bacon are correct, this doesn’t cast a great deal of credibility on the term common sense – and doesn’t suggest much hope of acquiring it for those who don’t have it.

But let’s try to get closer to what it really is or isn’t – and that’s something we can actually look at. Liefooghe (2003) tells us that common sense is not an evidence-based approach. Allyn & Bacon (2000) say that it’s an alternative to research in learning about the social world.

Common Sense Unmasked
An interpretive study by Fearfull (2001) actually looked at clerical workers in an attempt to understand what managers and workers meant when they said some workers had common sense, but others didn’t. What she found is pretty interesting. Turns out that no one could actually define what he or she meant by “common-sense;” however, everyone seemed to be able to identify those who had it versus those who did not based on job competence.

After analyzing interviews with subjects, Fearfull discovered that what was being called common sense was actually knowledge distilled from hands-on experience. Older workers who seemed to perform instinctively had knowledge gained when certain clerical tasks requiring customer interaction were still performed manually. When these activities were transitioned to use of a computer system, the older workers didn’t miss a beat. They weathered the change flawlessly because they understood the reason behind the methods they were still using. However, the new-hires who had not had the benefit of doing things “the old way,” were basically dazed and confused – and they knew it. They lacked the underlying knowledge gained from the experience that seemed to be second-nature to their colleagues. So here, common sense turned out to be “a depth of understanding arrived at through experience.”

Albanese (1970) has a similar view. He says that common sense “comes from knowledge gained through experience and that developing it takes time.” (It’s worth noting here as a brief digression, that this appears to have some similarity to “thin-slicing” or “rapid cognition” described by popular writer Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling but not peer-reviewed “Blink.” I add this here in case this connection should pop into the minds of “Blink” readers as it’s a popular book and a fun read. But, after taking an admittedly quick look through the academic literature, I couldn’t find any peer-reviewed writings that used the terms “thin-slicing” or “rapid cognition.”).

The Perils of Common Sense
Back to common sense: If the perils of it are not becoming clear by this time, then let’s look at them head on and ask, “What’s wrong with common sense?”

Well, here’s “what.”
● Although it may be useful in daily life, common sense can allow logical fallacies to slip into one’s thinking. Though it’s sometimes correct, “it can also contain errors, misinformation, contradiction and prejudice.” (Allyn & Bacon, 2000).

● Different parties may have different but equally valid and legitimate opinions of what constitutes common senses. Au (2006) pointed this out with regard to environment impact assessment policy in Hong Kong. So, this begs the question: “Whose common sense are we talking about: Yours or mine?”

● Finally, and I love this one, Albanese (1970) quotes Kant (1968) who says that common sense is “one of the subtlest inventions of modern times by which the emptiest talker may coolly confront the profoundest thinker and hold out against him.”

I hope that we have by now cast doubt on the validity of common sense (in the form of well-meaning advice) to tell you what you should do with your life – and that we can now move on to what science can do for you. On this, Liefooghe (2003) quotes the delightfully acerbic personality and trait theory researcher/writer Gordon Allport (1985) who says, “science has the aims of understanding, prediction and control above the levels achieved by unaided common sense.” Paraphrasing, science seeks to do better than common sense in helping us understand, predict and control our world. (Note: I’m attaching a list of readings by Gordon Allport because his writing is as clever and entertaining as his research is enlightening.)

Dear reader, if you have made it this far, then maybe you have an ill-advised common-sense-grounded career experience to share. If not, we’re running out of lead-ins, and I may have to start introducing theory by talking about my own career.

Anyone?
Jan

Want to know more?
Albanese, R. (1970). Management and common sense. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal. 35:77-81.

Allyn & Bacon. (2000). Science and Research. In W.L. Neuman (ed), Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Needham Heights, MA.

Au, E. (2006). ‘Common sense’ means different tings to different people. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal. 24: 14-15.

Fearfull, A. Using interpretive sociology to explore workplace skill and knowledge. International Journal of Social Research Methocology. 8: 137-150.

Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink, The Power of Thinking without Thinking. Little, Brown & Company: New York, Boston.

Liefooghe, A. (2003). Organizational analysis subject guide. University of London Press: London.

Secondary References
Allport, G.W. (1985). The historical background of social psychology. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (eds), Handbook of Social Psychology. New York: Random House.

Kant, I. (1968). Philosophy of Common Sense. Encyclopedia Britannica. 6: 66-67.

Additional Readings by Gordon Allport
Allport, G. (1921). Personality and character. The Psychological Bulletin. 18: 441-455.

Allport, G. (1924.) The study of the undivided personality. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology. 19:132-141.

Allport, G. (1927). Concepts of trait and personality. Psychological Bulletin. 24: 284-293.

Allport, G. (1931). What is a trait of personality. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 25: 368-372.

Allport, G. (1966). Traits revisited. American Psychologist. 21:1-10.

Copywriting

Copywriting a very odd term; and there are quite a variety of jobs that it can pertain to, but the most common probably refers to someone who writes “copy” for an advertising agency. Generally, that’s not what I do, though I have written advertising copy. The term “copy” refers to the text as a design element, so I’m not much of a fan of the term – but there doesn’t seem to be a better one available at the moment. Usually, the people I work for just refer to me as “our writer” or “one of our writers,” which is just fine.

What I do is kind of function as a Jan-of-all trades when it comes to whatever needs to be professionally written for a business. This might include image brochures, internal articles, executive speeches and letters, press releases, Website content and scripts for internal videos. I also do quite a bit of editing and consulting for punctuation, grammar and syntax urgencies and sometimes get to do some public relations strategizing. I don’t get a byline and, in fact, don’t always see the finished product because most of the time, what the people I work for really want is something that’s about 90 to 95 percent there. We might go back and forth several times as the drafts progress; but ultimately, my role is finished and the project is theirs to tweak further as they wish and disseminate.

As for how I approach the work that I do, it varies greatly from project to project – but it’s almost always very collaborative – with the people who assign the work, the stakeholders who are interviewed, and sometimes graphic designers and video producers. Usually, I’m given a verbal briefing on what the message is supposed to be and who is the target audience along with background materials to pull from. Sometimes, additional telephone interviews are necessary. But eventually, there’s no choice but to sit down in front of that blank screen and just hope that something comes. That’s because copywriting requires that you write in a voice other than your own. The posts that I do in the career counselling thread just flow naturally because that’s me talking to you. But when you’re writing an article, similar to a feature article in a magazine or newspaper, or an image brochure, you have to almost conjure an entity and listen to what it’s telling you. It’s difficult. You know the idea you want to communicate, you try to imagine the persona that’s speaking through you… and just hope something comes. So far, it has.

As for how I got interested, it was really a matter of survival and of declining opportunities to do anything else that I might have done. My background is in journalism; but I have an autonomous career anchor (see this week’s career counselling post) – and after five years’ covering health and social services for one of our city’s former newspapers, it became obvious that it was time to move on. A year spent as editor of my college newspaper was more than sufficient to reveal that I didn’t want to manage; and reporting the same events year after year was getting old. There were also some other workplace issues that defied attempts at resolution and had, in fact, escalated into a situation that felt like “learned helplessness;” so one day – I calmly walked in, wrote a resignation letter, handed it to my editor – and left.

One of the businesses that I covered, a hospital, offered a position it its public affairs department; but I thought it would be more interesting to free-lance and see what kind of business could be generated on my own. I really liked the idea of working from home. So, over the next five years, I called on local businesses and acquired free-lance projects writing various kinds of communications materials. It was financially challenging and somewhat frustrating having to write on a typewriter; but eventually, I had a portfolio that was sufficient to secure a “copywriting” position with a large and very well-respected organization in our city. After two and a half years, my position was there was eliminated. It was my good fortune that the organization offered many opportunities for me to write as a consultant, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so.

Jan

Careers: Hors d’oeuvres & Referent Others

This week’s career counselling post starts with a party – a party that was over years ago but left me with a nagging career-related anecdote that I hoped could be made sense of one day. And now, years later, organizational psychology suggests a place for it.

Here’s the tale:

A recently retired manager was telling of a conflict with employee A. It seems that employee A had negotiated a raise with the manager and received one. Both were satisfied until employee A learned that employee B, who was newly hired and less experienced, was already making a higher salary than employee B, in spite of employee A’s recent raise. Employee A protested to the manager, claiming that, regardless of just having received a raise, it was unfair that he should be earning less than employee B. The manager was clearly indignant. His response to employee A was that he negotiated and received what he asked for and should be happy with it. Employee B’s salary was irrelevant.

No one challenged him because, after all, it was a party – not a courtroom. But still, I remember inwardly trying to put myself on all sides of the issue but not really being able to decide what seemed right in terms of the big picture. However, I knew one thing: In employee A’s position, I would have felt slighted. I would still have tried to perform the job to the best of my abilities but invest beyond the actual requirements of the job? Probably – but maybe not always.

The preceding paragraph sets us up nicely to talk about psychological contract renegotiation and organizational commitment – but that’s not where we are heading.

This week, we go to equity theory (Adams, 1965; in Stephens & Feldman, 1997).

Equity theory is a motivational theory, one of many, in fact. Basically, motivational theories address three issues: 1) What motivates people to choose to behave in one way versus another, 2) What motivates someone to stop a particular behavior, 3) What causes an individual to increase his or her investment in a behavior. (Stephens & Feldman, 1997).

Two ideas are central to equity theory, specifically: 1) How people compare their inputs (what they invest) with what they receive, 2) The ratio of the inputs and outcomes to that of others – specifically “comparable” others. The idea of “comparable” others is what we take note of here. The manager above apparently didn’t think much about it, but Employee A certainly did. Clearly, he felt under-rewarded compared with employee B.

It wasn’t fair. But is it healthy? And what might the costs be to the organization?

Using the term “referent” others instead of “comparable” others but with similar meaning, Beard and Edwards 1995 cite a long list of negative outcomes that are associated with an individual’s perception of being disadvantaged compared with another person. On the list:

— “Increased sickness and accident compensation costs” (Sashkin & Williams, 1990).
— “Reduced job satisfaction and feelings of justice” (e.g. Martin, 1986).
— “Lower employee performance” (Summers & Hendrix, 1991).
— “Increased absenteeism and turnover” (e.g. Telly, French & Scott, 1971).

Information from a couple of other studies:
— Williams (1995) studied factors that preceded employee benefit satisfaction. The variables that were most strongly and positively associated with benefit level satisfaction were benefits administration and benefit comparisons made versus “referent” others.
— Shore (2006) researched how employees compare their pay levels with three different referent groups: 1) groups other employees within the organization 2) groups persons employed outside the organizations 3) specific “other” individuals.

They found partial support for their hypothesis that “work attitudes would be impacted more strongly when individuals made pay comparisons with a group referent than with an individual referent other.” They also found a couple of other interesting results. Perceptions of internal equity predicted work motivation and perceived organizational support. However, external equity predicted intent to leave the organization.

This isn’t exactly party talk if you want to be invited back the next time your friends get together; but it’s an entree that companies and the parties that comprise them should keep on their menus of organizational life.

Till next week, all my best,
Jan

Primary References
Shore, T, Tashchian, A & Jourdan, L. (2006). Effects of internal and external pay comparison on work attitudes, 36: 2578-2598.

Stephens, G, Feldman, D. (1997). A motivational approach for understanding career versus personal life investments. In G. Ferris (Ed.) Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management (Vol. 15): London: JAI Press.

Williams, M. (1995). Antecedents of employee benefit level satisfaction: a test of a model. 21: 1097-1128.

Secondary References
Adams, J.S. (1965). Injustice in social exchange. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. New York: Academic Press.

Martin, J. (1986) When expectations and justice do not coincide. In H. Bierhoff, R, L. Cohen & J. Greenberg (Eds). Justice in Social Relations. New York: Plenum.

Sashkin, M. & Williams, R. (1990). Does fairness make a difference? Organizational Dynamics, 19: 56-71.

Summers, T & Hendrix, W. (1991). Modelling the role of pay equity perceptions: A field study. Journal of Occupational Psychology. 64: 145-157.

Telly, C, French, W & Scott, W. (1971). The relationship of inequity to turnover among hourly workers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 16: 164-172

Careers: No Ladder to Climb?

The most traditional of all career forms is the bureaucratic, hierarchical career. (Kanter, 1989). You know the model. The only way to go is up, and promotions with concurrent pay raises represent career advancement for the most part. This may be fine for the individual who desires to manage at ever-increasing levels of responsibility… and who also accepts the inherent idea that competition intensifies as advancement continues because there are fewer and fewer slots at the top.

Standard bureaucratic organizations are said to be best-suited for times of stability rather than change. And while nature loves a hierarchy, it’s an emergent hierarchy — not an imposed one that can be implemented solely by creating a new organizational chart. (Morgan, 1997)

Working within bureaucratic organizations can pose special challenges for individuals who: 1) Do not wish to manage or lead. 2) Pursue professional careers. These two groups may not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

Let’s look at each briefly.

Those Who Don’t Want to Manage
Not everyone wants to manage. I don’t think we’ve addressed career anchors yet in much detail yet, so this is a good opportunity to do that. Edgar Schein (1980), one of the leading figures in the development of organizational psychology, originally proposed that there are five distinct career anchors. These are “technical/functional competence,” “managerial competence,” “creativity,” “security or stability” and “autonomy.” He later added three more: “service/dedication to a cause,” “pure challenge” and “lifestyle.” You can read more here: Schein’s Career Anchors

Now, you might look at that list and think that all of them – or maybe two or three – are your anchors; but Schein says that one is dominant; and you only know what it is in retrospect by reviewing your career decisions thus far.

Our “autonomous” anchor is a good match for someone who doesn’t want to manage. This group, Schein says, wants to determine its own hours, working patterns and lifestyle. Individuals with this anchor are most likely to drop out of “conventional business organizations, though their consulting or teaching activities continue to be related to business and management.”

You can see where an individual with an autonomous career anchor might not be a good fit in a bureaucratic organization. Yet there’s no reason to assume that this individual is any less desirous of career advancement than someone whose anchor is managerial competence. But where are this careerist’s opportunities for advancement within a bureaucratic organization?

Those with Professional Careers
Our second group is represented generously in the academic literature by engineers, for example. However, physicians, attorneys, artists and actors also have professional careers. The distinction is that the identity affiliation with one’s profession, rather than one’s organization may be stronger. So let’s go with an engineer example, using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers, 1980). We’ll look at what might be the case when a very talented engineer is promoted to a position that requires business development or marketing skills.

According to Myers, “among research scientists and design engineers, introverted (I) intuitives (N) stand at the top.” Among engineers, INTJs and INFJs are common types. For starters, these are people who are energized more from what’s going on inside their own heads versus what’s happening in the external environment, which is where new business comes from.

One of Myers’ key ideas behind types is that we can all become more balanced and capable of dealing with others if we understand and work at developing our auxiliary types – i.e. the non-dominant ones. An INTJ or INFJ who has not done this is not well-suited for a job that requires a great deal of interaction with the external environment or viewing issues from a customer perspective. Myers writes: “They will have little or no development of an outer personality and equally limited use of the gifts,” and “even when well-balanced, they have a tendency to ignore the view and feelings of other people.” So, we have an engineer who doesn’t get to do what he enjoys and is good at, and in fact, may be painfully aware that he’s in a bad-fit situation. Conversely, it doesn’t seem all that realistic for the organization to expect this change to generate much new business.

So, then, where are the opportunities for career advancement for an talented engineer in a bureaucratic organization?

Guest & Sturges (in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007) suggest that individuals who do not fit the traditional upward path respond in variety of ways. Not all of them are looked upon with favor by management.

Methods of Responding
#1
They become stars within their organizations, and even though they may have topped out at a salary level, their talent and expertise built over time have earned them a reputation based on achievement, a reputation that brings a measure of satisfaction. The work of Zabusky and Barley (1996) is cited.

#2
They seek variety and control. This illustrates the concept of resistance, which we addressed last week. However, the ways in which individuals may seek greater variety in their jobs and greater control in their workplace may be frustrating to those who hold legitimate power in a bureaucratic organization.

#3
They disengage. They settle in where they are and do what the job requires without investing emotionally in it.

#4
They change employers, which falls under the concept of “tourism” and is related to the idea of boundaryless careers, which we also touched on last week.

#5
They become self-employed.

#6
They opt out and become unemployed.

So not a lot of encouragement here, especially if one is seeking to increase earnings; but it is heartening to read that key writers in academia are looking at the issue from a critical perspective.

It would be great to hear from anyone who has struggled with his or her place in a bureaucratic organization and found a satisfactory solution. Or, if anyone has a problem, we could discuss that as well.

Till next time, all my best,
Jan

References

ChangingMinds.org. (Accessed: May 2008). Schein’s Career Anchors. Schein’s Career Anchors

Guest, D, Sturges, J. (1997). Living to work – working to Live: conceptualizations of careers among contemporary workers. In Gunz, H & Peiperl, M., Handbook of Career Studies. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore: Sage.

Kanter, R. (1989). Careers and the wealth of nations: a macro-perspective on the structure and implications of career form. In M.B. Arthur, D.T. Hall & B.S. Lawrence (Eds), Handbook of Career Theory. Cambridge: CUP, 506-521.

Morgan, G. (1997). Images of organization. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Myers, I. (1980). Gifts differing: understanding personality type. Palo Alto, California: Davies-Black Publishing.

Schein, E. (1980). Organizational psychology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Secondary Reference
Zabusky, S. & Barley, S. (1996). Redefining success: Ethnographic observation on the careers of technicians. In P. Osterman (Ed.), Broken ladders: managerial careers in the new economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Which kind of tie do you think might be of greater benefit to your career?

Hello, everyone:

The part of the U.S. where I live was roused from its collective sleep in the wee hours of Friday’s pre-dawn morning by an earthquake that measured 5.2 on the Richter scale The Richter Magnitude Scale and lasted for more than 30 seconds. What was so different from this one and previous others was the intensity — and the fact that there was time to wonder whether it was going to stop, get worse or maybe even escalate into the “big one” that is long overdue here in the Midwest.

It was a little unsettling. But amazingly, there were no personal injuries, though some people narrowly escaped harm at the epicenter, a small community that is about an hour north of where I live.

As one of our local TV stations was already doing its morning news run, coverage was immediate – and calls and e-mails from throughout the region quickly pored in to the media. All had a common theme. People were reporting that their loved ones from nearby or far away had felt and heard it, too. Aside from the realization that a single phenomenon could be experienced simultaneously hundreds of miles away, such events are unique in other ways. Instantaneously, they capture and define a moment in time. They also evoke an immediate and unchallenged awareness of whom you need to call, whose well-being you hold dearest, and whose voice and frame-of-reference you most need and want at that moment.

These are “strong” ties.

You might wonder what this has to do with careers or career theory — and you would be justified in asking. Strong and weak ties are concepts that have been defined and studied — and proposed for further study to help us understand how careers unfold and advance. They are particularly meaningful in considering networking and job-finding.

Emotionally, you and I might think of strong ties as those that we hold with the people who are most important to us – families, best friends, even pets. But in the career world, we can think of strong ties as the connections we have with the people who are most like us, who are part of our world day-in and day-out. An example of a strong tie might be the editorial staff of a newspaper. Reporters and editors work late into the night under pressure to get the facts right and out there on time, night after night, week after week, year after year. At the end of the evening, they meet at a local pub to chill and recount a post mortem on what it took to get the job done.

On the other hand, weak ties are different.

An example of a weak tie might be someone you worked with 10 years ago and now e-mail once a year just to stay in touch. Both of you now work in different occupational sectors than the one that you once had in common. Another example could be two people who serve on the board of directors of a local not-for-profit organization. One is a banker, the other a hospital administrator. Except for regular board meetings, the two have little outside contact; but they’re well-enough acquainted to stop and chat if they meet by chance in public.

Which kind of tie do you think might be of greater benefit to your career?

Think of “strong” ties as “redundant” ties, and you can see where an argument for the diversity suggested by “weak” ties comes from. Ibarra & Deshpande (2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007) write, “weak ties are argued to be more valuable since they act as bridges among diverse networks and bring new information not available through redundant ties in close objective networks.”

They go on to report that the empirical support for the value of weak career ties is strongest for “finding a job” versus “other outcomes such as promotion and salary. (e.g. Boxman, et al., 1991; in Ibarra & Deshpande, 2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007).”

Notice the mention of “networks.”

Ibarra & Deshpande say that “networks of relationships” are the “social resources as well as social contexts in which careers take shape.” So let’s think about this for a minute… You’ve just been downsized and need to find new employment. Your first thought might be to query the people you work with every day (strong ties) about possible opportunities elsewhere. But the “weak ties” argument mentioned above suggests that you might get better results by mobilizing your weak-tie network — if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can ask your strong ties to approach their strong and weak ties on your behalf, but that can get tricky… because it requests third parties to spend their social capital on people whose skills and work ethic they can’t actually vouch for. (We need to talk about this in a future column).

But I digress… so back to the point.

Job seekers: Get your own network – and make sure it includes plenty of weak ties. If you don’t have a network, you can start building one through short-term volunteer projects that involve team work and meeting groups of people — people whose jobs, interests and abilities are very different from yours. There are also organized networking opportunities; but I have to wonder how much good it really does, for example, when women go to a networking group luncheon and sit at the same table with people they already know.

Yes, I know, we are talking about moving beyond one’s comfort zone here — but will a little anxiety really be all that bad? And don’t take your best friend with you because it will be too easy to cling to him in retreat. The idea is to forge new acquaintances, so get out there and dance.

A couple of other points need to be brought in here:

One is a term – “homophily” – that I was unfamiliar with until reading about it earlier this week – before the earthquake, actually. “Homophily” refers to the degree of demographic and identity similarity of individuals who regularly interact with one another. (Ibarra, 1993; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007). Mayrhofer, Meyer & Steyrer (2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007) report that “homophilic reproduction” and “reduction of opportunities” have a tendency to be linked. In other words, if we continue to associate only with people we know, people who are like ourselves, people we feel comfortable with… then we are reducing the possibilities (career and otherwise) that may be open to us in the future.

The second point comes from Weick (1996; Thomas & Inkson, 2007; in Gunz & Peiperl, 2007), and it has to do with context. Think of “context” as the circumstances you begin to explain when starting an answer with, “Well, it depends.” Weick describes strong and weak “situations,” rather than strong and weak “ties;” but there may be a caveat for us here. A “strong” situation is one that is highly constrained. The careerist doesn’t perceive a great deal of freedom to choose her actions. A “weak” situation has few constraints. The “actor” is free to move about at will. An example: You work for a rigidly bureaucratic organization in which it would likely be a career-ending move to bypass your supervisor and request an appointment with the company president to tell him about a great idea that you have for a new product. However, if both you and the president of the company get downsized, the constraints are off. You can approach her without fear of anything more than embarrassing yourself. This is a “weak” situation.

Thomas & Inkson interpret Weick as stating that “career outcomes can be powerfully enacted by their career holders in an environment relatively free of constraints…” but in strong situations, “perspectives encouraging individual enactment may be limited.”

So the lessons put forth for your consideration today are:
1) If you don’t have a network of weak ties, please get busy and start building one.
2) Before you start using those ties, pay attention to the degree of constraint in your environment – i.e. whether you are acting in a weak or strong situation.

And, I guess, if there’s a third piece of advice this week, it is this: Get under a doorway or a desk if there’s an earthquake.

Till next week… All my best,
Jan

References

Primary ReferencesGunz, H, Peiperl, M. (2007). Handbook of Career Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Ibarra, H, Deshpande. (2007). Networks and identities. H. Gunz & M. Peiperl (Eds.) Handbook of Career Studies: Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Mayrhofer, W, Meyer, M, Steyrer, J. (2007). Handbook of Career Studies. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage.

Secondary References
Boxman, E, De Graaf, P, & Flap, H. (1991) The impact of social and human capital on the income attainment of Dutch managers. Social Networks, 13: 51-73.

Ibarra, H. (1993). Personal networks of women and minorities in management. A conceptual framework. Academy of Management Review, 18 (1), 57-87.

U.S. Geological Survey. (Accessed April 20, 2008). The Richter Magnitude Scale. U.S. Government Printing Office. Abridged from The Severity of an Earthquake, a U.S. Geological Survey General Interest Publication.
The Richter Magnitude Scale

Weick, K. (1996). Enactment and the boundaryless career: Organizing as we work. In M.B. Arthur & D.M. Rousseau (Eds.), The boundaryless career: A new employment principle of a new organizational era (pp. 40-77). New York: Oxford University P