What Kind of Workplace Future?

by Russell, Nan S. Tuesday, February 03, 2009
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In 1883, as soon as construction ended on the Brooklyn Bridge, the scams started. George C. Parker is credited with originating the idea of selling the Brooklyn Bridge, convincing people they could earn a fortune charging tolls for bridge access. Some erected traffic barriers even as Parker boasted he "sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for years." Eventually he was sentenced to life in prison.

Today we have our own George Parkers and Brooklyn Bridges. They come with small, medium, and large packaging. From sophisticated Ponzi schemes by vetted professionals that capture headlines, to broken promises by company leaders who cash multimillion dollar bonuses as jobs are slashed and stock prices tumble.

It makes one wonder about the future of our workplaces when entitlement mentalities permeate corner offices and shop floors; when corporate executives travel in private jets to plead for taxpayer bail-out money; when spin-masters write about job loss as "synergy-related headcount adjustments," "de-verticalization," or "actions taken to simplify;" and when companies dismiss those who their walls proclaimed "their most valuable asset" without a thank-you or a chance to say good-bye to colleagues they've worked side-by-side with for decades.

It's hard not to join the cynics, skeptics, and doubters. It's hard not to withhold discretionary efforts when our friends or family are unemployed by no fault of their own and we fear for our own jobs. And it's harder still to trust again. None of us want to be a fool, a sucker, a sap; to fall for the scam, invest in the scheme, or believe the false promises. None of us want to be that naive again.

Yet it's these angry sentiments, fears, and yesterday's dirty laundry that will clog our futures as simply as a three foot wall traps an impala. This African animal can jump upwards of ten feet and cover distances of more than thirty feet, but it doesn't unless it can see where its feet will land.

Some of us are doing the workplace equivalent. We won't trust again unless we know the trust we give won't be betrayed. We won't risk again unless we know it's risk-proof. And we won't step out to offer our talents where our talents are needed unless we're rewarded first. By doing this, we're creating self-limiting enclosures and perpetuating the workplaces of yesterday.

If we do that we'll help cripple the innovation needed for economic renewal and job prosperity; we'll make it "their" problem to figure out, not ours; and we'll stay clinging to victim mindsets instead of embracing our common wisdom. If we do, we're opting out of contribution when our contributions are needed more than ever. And we deny ourselves the hope that tomorrow's workplace can be better than today's.

You see, people who are winning at working are just as disappointed, just as angry, just as fearful for their jobs, or just as unemployed. But hope, fueled by common sense and best-self attributes, keeps them future focused.

People who are winning at working aren't the ones selling the Brooklyn Bridge; they're the ones re-building it, and building or starting or contributing to tomorrow's companies. Like one of the CNN heroes' said at their awards ceremony, "We can't wait for the world to change. We need to be out there doing it."

(c) 2009 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.