Don’t Let Detroit Happen to You

How secure is your job with the federal government? The author compares what happened to the city of Detroit to working for the federal government and says it is a reminder of why it is always important to continue to grow within your career.

Fifty years ago, when someone spoke about the big three, they didn’t think of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. They weren’t even born. But what did come to mind were GM, Ford and Chrysler. The big three cranked our nearly all the cars sold in America at that time.

The 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman once said, “The word Detroit is a synonym throughout the world for the industrial greatness of America.” Yes, back then, the word Detroit was synonymous with innovation, entrepreneurship and greatness. It was one of the crown jewels of America. Not so anymore.

To date, Detroit is the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy. Its debts are estimated to be over $18 billion. So what happened and what can you learn from it to help you navigate your federal future?

In a book I recently read and highly recommend titled, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha contend that the auto industry got too comfortable. Because the auto industry was so successful at one time, they took it for granted and thought that the success they were experiencing would never go away.

Instead of listening to a growing customer base that wanted smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, the auto executives continued to build bigger, more expensive ones.

Instead of taking seriously the new competition from a tiny, little unknown place called Japan, they decided they knew best. They thought that anything with a tag that said MADE IN THE USA, would always trump every other brand.

Instead of trying to learn from their competitors about ways they could streamline and reduce costs, they stubbornly clung to their decades-old practices.

Instead of moving quickly to keep up with the changing market, they continued with the status quo which ultimately led to their demise.

Why is this important?

Because when it comes to your federal career, right now, you may be heading down the same path as Detroit.

Now matter how secure Detroit thought it was, or seemed to be, look at the city now. They lost their edge. They lost their vision. They lost their way. What about you?

Now matter how secure your federal job may seem right now, if you do not continue to educate, innovate, and add value to yourself and to your current position, you could end up just like Detroit.

Let me break it down for you.

In the federal government, there was an unwritten, but agreed upon invisible contract that said that as long as you worked hard and remained loyal you were pretty much guaranteed a job for life. And getting promoted was by and far fairly straight-forward. You started at an entry level GS position and after you gained experience through employer-sponsored training, you eventually worked your way up to the top.

Then the “economy” happened and our invisible government safety net disappeared.

The rules have changed forever.

What’s required now is an entrepreneurial mind-set. As federal workers if you want to advance in your career, you have to stop thinking like an employee. You have to think and act like you’re running the company you’re working for.

Entrepreneurs go after what they want and oftentimes, they do it alone. If they want to succeed, they create opportunities and tap into their network. If you want success in your career, you must mirror that mentality.

We are in a technology whirlwind.

Technology is great depending on which side you land on. On one hand, because of automation, it displaces some workers. But on the other hand, it creates dozens of new jobs.

The one caveat is that all the new jobs created require newer, higher-level skills. How do you suppose one would acquire those skills? Only by investing in the start-up that is you.

You have to be better than your competition. The only way to be better is to obtain a competitive edge. What sets you apart from the person that wants the promotion you want? What differentiates you in your organization? What’s your competitive edge?

At its height, Detroit flourished when the automakers were innovating. When Ford figured out the way to mass-produce cars on an assembly line, that one technique changed manufacturing forever.

Unfortunately, we see the living proof today of a city that failed to continue to invest in itself. They stopped innovating. They lost their entrepreneurial spirit. It’s interesting to note that the Detroit crisis did not happen overnight. It had been brewing for decades.

Can you see the handwriting?

Don’t let Detroit happen to you.

In the next installment of this two-part series, I will delve into specific ways you can develop your competitive edge.

In the meantime, what one thing could you do today to make yourself standout from the crowd in your career?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are mine and mine alone.

About the Author

Meiko S. Patton is a writer for the federal government and the author of the #1 Amazon Best-Selling book, How a Postage Stamp Saved My Life.