A recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover story on The Disposable Worker featured mind-blowing statistics that would make any employee nervous about job security. For instance, the number of people aged 16 to 24 who have jobs has dropped by 13% since the beginning of 2000. Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton University economist, noted that 22% to 29% of all U.S. jobs will be outsourced in the next two decades. The entire world is your competition now, from China and India to everywhere else. Having a blog or a presence on Facebook or even a flash Web site doesn't differentiate you anymore, either. You're disposable unless you prove yourself otherwise. You need to be excellent.
What is excellence, anyway? It was something of a generic term until the best-seller In Search of Excellence "branded" it back in 1982. Excellence happens "when the outcome is something that goes way beyond the norm," says management consultant Tom Peters, one of the authors of that iconic book. For example, excellence is achieving and beating your sales goals six weeks before the end of the quarter or building an online community of consumers begging to hear what you have to say. Just getting the job done isn't excellent. There's no such thing as a nine-to-five job if you want to achieve excellence and there's no single path to getting there.
If someone looks at you and doesn't know what you do, your job is in jeopardy. "No longer can you just be badge #127 in the purchasing department," says Peters, also author of the new book The Little Big Things (HarperStudio, 2010). Within an organization, you have to make your accomplishments visible to senior management—but in a nonegocentric way. For example, excellence can mean taking the focus off "me" at your organization and putting it on the customers, your manager, and your peers. Do right by everyone and senior management will begin to notice you.
Social network to establish your niche
What do you want to be known for? When a vice-president is looking for someone to trust with a new project, will he or she always think of your name first? These are questions to consider if you're serious about becoming indispensable—the executive that the company has to compensate well for fear that he or she will jump ship. Surely your employer understands that excellence is a commodity that comes with a price tag.
Regardless of the company you work for or the job you're applying for, you need relevant skills and a network of your own if you want to have a chance at a successful future. Decades ago the marketplace would take care of you if you had a bachelor's degree. Now a college diploma equals little more than the cost of entry. Your network is the most important form of currency and social media tools make it easier to establish connections. The problem, of course, is that because everyone has free access to these tools, "the definition for standout is more important than ever and different than it was 10 years ago," says Peters. With a few hundred million blogs and 400 million people on Facebook, separating yourself from everyone else is challenging. You'll have to be creative. Excellence means using social media to establish a niche for yourself instead of being viewed as just another real estate agent or just another physician.
You're also going to have to work harder, faster, and smarter than everyone else vying for the same opportunities. Talk about excellence. Coming into work early and leaving late is a requirement. Face time is critical if you want to be viewed as someone who cares about work. "A good attitude is more important than ever, no matter how many punches you've taken," says Peters. You will face obstacles, but that's part of learning and what it takes to become an excellent brand. Do you think Coca Cola (KO) became a global brand by making all the right moves? No.
Branding is everything. If you build your brand on excellence during this recession, you can position yourself to come out on top when it's over.