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Reengineering Q&A on employee success, career growth

Members of the MIT community have many questions about what they can expect from reeengineering. The Community Involvement Team will offer answers in this space from time to time.

Q: How were the "criteria for successful employment," mentioned in the last Q&A, developed? Are they standard criteria that apply to any organization undergoing reengineering, or were they developed by the MIT reengineering core team? Does MIT currently have a list of criteria for successful employment?

A: The criteria are not unique to MIT, but they did not come entirely from outside either. They are consistent with employment criteria developed from reengineering experiences at other places, but also reflect current thinking by the Steering Committee about desirable characteristics of our administrative employees in the future.

MIT does not now have an explicit specification of what constitutes a successful employee. That determination is usually a matter of the individual adapting to unspoken but commonly accepted norms for carrying out the mission of the office or group. That approach, which has worked well for MIT, tends to put a premium on expert knowledge and individual achievement. One's reputation and the widespread trust that accompanies it, are often directly related to his/her expertise about MIT and ability to get things done in the context of existing administrative operations.

However, the future suggests a somewhat different model. Knowledge and achievement will continue to be valued, but an equally valuable quality will be the ease with which employees relate to one another in smaller administrative organizations in order to be effective.

With fewer layers of management, teams, in which individual employees are accountable to one another for work, will assume more importance. Several other kinds of skills will be of value, including: negotiation skills, more popularly called "political acumen" or "diplomacy;" planning and organizational skills, especially for resource allocation and project management; the ability to define and evaluate clearly individual roles on a team, and communication and listening skills.

Individual expertise will have its place but so will the ability to work cooperatively, emphasizing personal interactions. The concept of "quality circles" in the manufacturing arena, in which mutual accountability and support are objectives, is a reasonable analogy.

Finally, the successful employee will increasingly be the one who develops broad knowledge of MIT across a number of areas, becoming more of an administrative generalist as opposed to a more narrowly defined specialist.

Q: How can I expect to get broad experience and career development if there will be limited room for growth in a flatter organization?

A: Traditionally, employees have looked for upward mobility as the route for career growth. Thus, those who have or could get the relevant experience-either within MIT or elsewhere-were more likely to advance to "more responsible" positions. For many, the experience requirement has presented the frustrating problem of having the potential but not the opportunity to demonstrate the skills for for an upward move.

As we envision the future for administrative work at MIT, lateral moves will be more common avenues for broadening experience, developing new professional skills and demonstrating the flexibility and leadership required for increasingly responsible administrative roles.

Determining which possibilities make the most sense for a person's career development will be a joint responsibility of the individual and MIT. We expect to provide a mechanism to assist employees in analyzing and managing their career options and needs, but cannot yet say precisely how that will happen. The Steering Committee is considering a range of options and is working out general principles and operating strategies relating to people and jobs that will be put in place as reengineering moves forward.

A version of this article appeared in the November 9, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 11).

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