American management has a tendency to latch onto fads, most of which are labeled “fundamental shifts in how businesses operate.” These fundamental shifts rarely last long, but while they do they can make life miserable for employees trying to advance their careers by doing their jobs well.

A case in point: the “De-jobbing of America” (aren’t you glad IS folks aren’t the only wreckers of English on the landscape?) According to this theory, the company of the future will be virtual, employing nearly nobody while contracting for skills as it needs them.

While this is a valid enough idea in small doses, many businesses, ignoring the Greek philosophers’ advice of moderation in all things, drive it right off a cliff.

Implicit in this approach to human resource mismanagement is a perspective that employees are bags of skills. Company executives know what has to get done and the skills needed to do it. Hire those skills when you need them; get rid of them when they’re not needed anymore.

Not all companies buy into this approach, of course. Many distinguish between short-term and long-term needs, and some understand the importance of less definable character traits such as loyalty, morale, commitment, and other traditional virtues. Regardless, prudence dictates you view your employer in these terms – at best you’ll be pleasantly surprised, at worst you won’t be caught off-guard, and in all cases you’ll do a far better job of managing your career than you will be relying on your employer to enhance your career.

In fact, whether or not the “de-jobbing” philosophy turns out to be good business or not, it promotes a healthy attitude toward career management. That is, you’re responsible for it. The best companies will provide you with education and opportunity. That’s the limit of their role in the process.

Last week’s column presented the 70% Rule – if you don’t deliver at least 70% more in value than you accept in salary, your employer does better by putting your salary into mutual funds. While the 70% Rule provides a guide for job security, it doesn’t help your career advance at all. You advance your career by treating yourself as a product, and managing that product as professionally as you can.

Product managers talk about the “4 P’s,” yet another annoying encapsulation of perfectly useful ideas. The 4 P’s are Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. (“Place” really should be “Marketplace” – the definition of who you sell to and how to reach them – but “3 P’s and an M” doesn’t have as much pizazz.)

At least once a year, and probably more often, take some time to analyze yourself in these terms.
Start by defining yourself as a product. What functionality do you provide? Do you write code? Analyze requirements and define specifications? Troubleshoot thorny network problems? Work with company management to link technology and organizational strategy?

What differentiates you from your competitors – everyone else looking for the same job title. Are you exceptionally reliable? Hard working? Innovative and ingenious?

What bugs need fixing? Do you have a tendency to procrastinate? Drop the ball on critical tasks? Misunderstand ambiguous assignments without helping clarify them? Remember, there’s no such thing as a bug-free human.

What enhancements do you want to incorporate into the next release? Do you want to become more diplomatic? Delegate more effectively, or at all? Use object-oriented programming tools? Manage time better?

Your temptation will be to choose your skill enhancements based on what you want to do next. That’s fine. Keep one thing in mind – you don’t define the value of these new skills. From a career-planning perspective you’re better off striking a balance between the skills you want to acquire and the skills your market – everyone who can help your career advance – values most.

Product, however, is just one fourth of the mix you have to attend to. More on this next week.