Who Wants to Get Ahead?

I’m going to ask a question, and let’s see how close you can come to the right answer. Ready? O.K. — Let’s suppose you’re the head of a large company employing, say, a couple of thousand people. What percentage of those people do you suppose are interested enough in getting ahead that they would give up their time to learn ways in which they could advance?

Let me put it in another way: In a large organization, what is your estimate of the percentage of employees sufficiently interested in advancement to study for it?

Well, an actual test was made and here are the results:

14.6% said they would take the courses which might result in their moving ahead in the company. 12% actually started the courses of instruction. And 6% finished the courses – and were really interested in advancement!

So, there you have it. About 94% of the working people are not in the least interested in getting ahead in their work.

They’re perfectly satisfied — or at least, it would appear that way — to remain right where they are.

Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this except that it shows why businesses frequently have to go outside of the company when it comes to hiring management people. And it shows how absurdly easy it is to get ahead in the world these days. There’s so little competition! The person earnestly endeavoring to move ahead in his company and industry competes with only about five or six percent of the people in that company and industry.

An interesting sidelight on all of this is that frequently an employee will go along for years doing no more than he absolutely has to, making no attempt whatsoever to increase his value to his company. Then, when a recession comes along, and he is laid off… he screams like a hog stuck under a fence. All of a sudden, he feels like he’s being picked on and being treated unfairly. When, in truth, he’s had plenty of time to make himself valuable enough not to be laid off.

I was discussing this at lunch some time back with one of the top management consultants in the world, Dr. Samuel Stevens of Chicago.

It’s a little like the sailor who never bothers to learn to swim — it can be dangerous when things get rough.

So, the whole thing boils down to the rather dismal fact that most people get exactly what they really want – not very much. They’ll take anything they can get — anything anybody wants to give them — and consider it their due. But, when you try to reverse the picture… ah, it’s a different story. Sort of interesting, isn’t it?

You can hit it pretty close by saying that only about 5% of the people are interested in their futures — and want to make something of themselves. The rest (the big 95%) are pretty well content to shuffle along and hope that somehow things will work out well for them. You might ask yourself, “To which group do I belong?”

A person who never tries to plumb his powers, or measure the degree of his ability, will never know himself; nor will he know what it is to truly live.