One of my favorite TV shows is Star Trek: The Next Generation. For those who haven’t seen it, you have really missed an iconic TV series. Yes, you saved yourself from the puffy hair styles, horrible special effects, and the shoulder pads that plagued the 1980s and 1990s, but you also missed Captain Jean-Luc Picard leading the Enterprise through some rough, (sometimes hokey) epic adventures.
At first glance, one of the recurring villains, the Borg, presents the ideal functionality of a company. They are completely unified and work as a collective—there are no individuals. Rather they absorb every culture, strength, and talent into their collective mind. They are perfectly in sync and don’t make missteps. This sounds perfect, doesn’t it? An organization that takes in the strengths of its members into one central collective, one that is so unified that it does not make mistakes.
In the real world, a company cannot function like the Borg. Even though they are completely unified and synchronized, they miss what makes an organization strong—the individuals. Every time the Borg and the Enterprise crew meet, the Enterprise is almost destroyed, but they always find a way to win (sorry for the spoiler alert, but the TV series is over 25 years old). How do they do this? They use the strengths of each individual—Data’s knowledge, Picard’s leadership, Riker’s decisiveness—and give each individual the freedom to use them for the benefit of the entire crew. While the Borg supposedly has every specialty, they do not allow their members the opportunity and freedom to grow and apply them.
Companies need individuals
The strength of a company is in the individuals they employ. Companies flourish when they create a unified culture, but not unified like the Borg. Rather they need to be unified in purpose and goals, while letting their employees have the freedom to take ownership and to grow. This will allow employees to use their talents, be more productive, and even be more proactive. A company isn’t a place where people should disappear into the collective and never have the opportunity to shine. Rather, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship—the employee makes the company better and the company also improves the employee. Both grow because that individual is contributing.
A big part of this is employee ownership—ownership over their job and their responsibilities. When employees are allowed to take initiative and responsibility, they increase their efforts. Their motivation is higher when their efforts have a direct impact on the company’s success.
Furthermore, a company that encourages employees to own their job, often have higher revenues and profitability. This type of culture feeds on itself and increases creativity. Many companies or managers have a hard time giving up control because it has many perceived benefits—less mistakes, more time efficient, and more influence on the final result. But this approach removes the reason a particular individual was hired. In most cases, employees aren’t hired because they’ll make a good drone. Rather, their expertise and experience make them unique. Let them use that to benefit the company.
Employees be unique
Companies need the uniqueness and experiences that each employee can bring. Thankfully, no two people are the same—some are exceptional accountants while others can write killer sentences. As an employee you never know which job and life experiences will be valuable. For example, I worked as a medical transcriptionist for almost ten years. I always thought the skills I learned there would be too narrow to apply to any other position. But I have transcribed interviews for newspapers, videos for translation, and executive speeches for marketing materials. In every position I have had, these seemingly random skills as a transcriptionist have helped me on an almost daily basis.
Never shy away from career experiences that make you unique. Each one brings potential to a company that needs individuals, not a collective of drones.