A couple of years ago I happened to be facillitating a group of job seekers, and was having difficulty expressing the idea that they would need to convey the idea that they would be active players who would always be thinking on behalf of their employers—at least on their résumés. Cursed by my fleeting acquaintance with the social sciences, in desperation I asked them in the word “agency” meant anything to them.
And to their credit they admitted honestly that it did not.
Wikipedia says agency “refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.” If I were an employer I would want my employees to adhere to policy yet I would also want them to be able to remain able to capable of agency. Ideally I think I would want more.
In the days when the work that most of us would have done would have been governed by strict guidelines and policies most employers would have demanded our compliance. Everything about our lives, including the stultifying education system, was created to ready us for that life. Which is one of the points made in Seth Godin’s blog item “It’s easier to teach compliance than initiative.” As implied in the title Godin would claim that employers now want their employees to show initiative. I think they might be more interested if a job applicant can demonstrate a little bit more.
The wiktionary defines initiative as “1. A beginning; a first move. 2. A new development; a fresh approach to something; a new way of dealing with a problem. 3. The ability to act first or on one's own.” It may all seem to be just a matter of semantics but my objection to the use of the word “initiative” is that it places insufficient emphasis on goal setting. I doubt that employers want their employees just to barge ahead. Having enough employees like that might make them long for the days of compliance.
We all look for ways to get our clients to look at the planet from the point of view of employers. Getting them to show how they have developed goals and worked through solutions as if they were extra pairs of hands for the employer are perennial problems for us.
Recently, rather than asking clients for STAR stories, say, I have been taking what is actually a more direct approach. I ask clients to tell me what goals they might have had for themselves, for their coworkers, for their bosses, for their employers and for their occupations or professions, or any other individuals or groups that might seem relevant. Then we focus on how to market that person’s special strategy forming abilities in the service of an employer.
And of course I know longer ask them about agency.