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My Ideal Employee: On Initiative

October 12th, 2009 6 comments

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with many individuals. Most have been above average, a few made me cringe (waiting for the next crisis), and a select few have never failed to delight me. Today, I thought a bit about what separates the stars from the dogs (using the BCG framework). There are a couple of traits that I value over others. The one that I will discuss in this post is initiative.

The question ‘what should I do next’ really irritates me. It reminds me of 5 years olds whining ‘I’m bored!’.

Micro-managing is something that I like about as much as going to the dentist (which is NOT one of my favorite past-times).

I much rather prefer delegating responsibility and authority, If you want to impress me, keep a vigilant eye on the priorities of the organization, and set several priority activities or areas. Occasionally meet me for coffee and discuss how things are going, and make sure that we both have the same idea about the context, the goals and the constraints. Come up with your own plan and execute it, making use of your own initiative, chasing up the required stakeholders and using the God-given faculties, abilities and resources at your disposal.

Generally, the type of projects that I work on require a high-tolerance for failure, lots of adaptability, the ability to budget time, efforts and identify milestones, and truck-loads of persistence. In industrial research and technology transfer, you are working on strategic projects, but you will most likely fail many times as hypotheses do not pan out, and you’ll need a plan B, and then a plan C (and so on). You’ve got to be a one (wo)man army, able to do the impossible. We expect miracles daily in industrial research.

You may need to get to your objectives by very unusual routes. It is absolutely critical that you need to know how to roll with the punches, set up a sustainable system that allows you to keep improving the ‘solution’ for a (most likely) not completely understood problem. The projects you are working on will probably require you to become a world-authority in a very specialized area of knowledge which hardly anyone else know about.

Nothing beats initiative, confidence, persistence and adaptability in allowing you to succeed at tasks that 90% of the other practitioners will fail at

If you cannot think, and cannot exercise initiative, you’re in the wrong corner of the organization.