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January 18, 2007

Corporate Hat Rack

Hats are always used as metaphor for roles we play at the office, but I never thought it was apt because many hats are one-size-fits-all, and most jobs aren't. Reading applications for our Top 125 ranking, I noticed how many companies offer career counseling designed to cross-train employees so they can easily move into a co-worker's job if the company's in a bind, or if another role just seems more interesting. This intra-corporate mobility is great, but there's another side to it:

If you're eager to change careers within the same company over the course of, say, a decade, how invested are you in any job role in particular?  The versatility is great, but it makes me think of a person who's kind of wishy-washy---"Throw me here, send me there, whatever." Or, "I'm so bored after a year or two, I definitely need to start doing something else, or I'm outta here." 

It's great to have interchangeable employees, like interchangeable bits of machinery, that can be screwed in tight regardless of make or model. But, encouraging intra-company career switching makes it less likely you'll end up with those corporate dinosaurs who've been with the company 20 years, and serve as witnesses to the evolution that got you were you are now, business line extinctions and all. And, more importantly, when you jump out of one role and into another after a few years, you miss out on acquiring that much more knowledge in whatever your specialty is (was). So, you end up with fewer employees who are in-depth specialists. Everybody's suddenly a generalist who, as they say, knows a little bit about everything, and not a whole lot about anything in particular.

But, the good part is, bitterness may become less likely. As admirable as it is to be committed to one specialty for 10 years or more, it's kind of depressing constantly doing the same thing. It's even demoralizing if you think you have no alternative if you want to stay with your company.

What you could do is pinpoint certain job roles that ideally are more long-term, and not offer job-swapping career counseling as an option to those employees.

Certain people are removable, easily replaceable carburetors, and other people are one-of-a-kinds


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Bryant Nielson

Your article addresses a number of different issues regarding career management. While no one wishes to become the corporate dinosaur, the cross-trained (generalist) employee has some short-term advantages. It is however, the staff memeber that has stayed focused and developed an expertise, in their field, that remains the go-to staff member and often the revenue creator or maintainer.

What is missing from your arguement is that indviduals must seek their own water-line in their career managmenet.

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