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by Steve Todd | March 23, 2010


One of the long-held stereotypes of high-tech engineering jobs is that of a cave troll typing away in a basement cubicle, sacrificing personal time in order to hit impossible deadlines. This image extends to the large corporations that value productivity, obedience, diligence, and intellect above all else.

Contrast this stereotype with the 21st century view of how to stimulate innovation in large corporations: passion, creativity, and initiative. According to Gary Hamel, these traits do not necessarily replace obedience, diligence, and intellect; they complement them.

One of the logical conclusions of Innovate With Influence is that high-tech job seekers should place a high priority on finding employment at large, multi-national corporations. These types of companies have better potential to innovate on a global scale. The key word here is “potential”, because not all traditional corporations have crossed the chasm when it comes to implementing 21st century management techniques for their global employee base.

When interviewing for a high-tech position, you would do well to uncover how far your potential employer has come in the practice of stimulating employee initiative. Keep in mind that when you speak with a corporate representative (e.g. someone in Human Resources), they will likely present a rosy view. They may claim that employees are encouraged to take initiative. They may highlight real examples of employee passion and creativity.

Focus your line of questioning on your potential boss and co-workers instead.

Realistically you are looking for the following type of answer:

“Deadlines and productivity are a big part of what we do around here, but initiative plus productivity is prized above all else”.

Corporations need productive employees to generate revenue. They also need creative employees that take the initiative to guide their teams into the future while simultaneously delivering upon their commitments. There are two lines of questioning that will help you assess the culture of your potential new team.

Question the manager. Fully understand the product, the deadlines, and the revenue levels of his or her group. Follow up with questions about initiative: How do your direct reports show initiative? What are they working on? How do you specifically encourage them to take initiative?

Question the direct reports. Do they work on anything else besides the product that they are responsible for? How specifically does their manager, and their corporation, encourage initiative?

I work for a large, multi-national corporation (EMC) that is currently in the midst of a shift to a 21st century management style. My company sponsors global idea contests for all employees. I am also starting to see contests held within individual business units. Coding challenges are a part of the corporate experience. Knowledge transfer across geographies is emphasized. Employees and local universities are also encouraged to lecture on their area of expertise.

Beware the answer that rings of “we work hard, all day, all the time”, and/or “we don’t have time for that stuff”. If you have your mind set on the practice of innovation, this particular company may not be the one for you.

However, if you find ready answers to your questions, you have likely found a corporation that “gets it”. There’s a good chance that accepting a job offer will result in the opportunity to combine productivity and initiative.

Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur


Filed Under: Technology

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