​The Bullet-Proof Employee

Tom FarrarConsultant
Always working for better, faster and cheaper solutions!

With the internet and the ease of information transference, many professional jobs can be done anywhere today.  Why should it make a difference whether an x-ray is read in India or the United States as long as the radiologist is qualified?   Outsourcing is an inevitable option for many jobs.
But the "inevitable option" is not just outsourcing. Computer automation is also putting a number of jobs at risk.  A recent newspaper article pinpoints this risk:
“In the 21st century, a 2013 paper from the University of Oxford, argued jobs are at high risk of being automated in 47% of the occupational categories into which work is customarily sorted. That includes accountancy, legal work, technical writing and a lot of other white-collar occupations.” 
Bad news for people in the 47% categories, but is this also a trend for other occupational categories?  Good or bad, this is the world today, and job security is a risk that shouldn't be ignored.
So what does the employee do?  Be Luddite-like and wage war against technology, or stick one’s head in the sand?  Pretty risky, and not very helpful.  Working harder might help, but there are a lot of employees in that line.  It is by working smarter, and honing process-related skills, that can “bullet proof” the employee from career loss. 
So what is working smarter and what are these process-related skills?  The good news is these skills are not industry specific, apply to all career paths, and cannot be easily “digitized” into computer scripts. 
To become bullet-proof the employee must master three skills:
  • Think Process And Connect The Dots
  • Understand Data And Data's Communication
  • Embrace Change And Never Say “Never.”
Think Process And Connect The Dots – Companies have been attempting to connect the business jigsaw puzzle piece-by-piece, and have been for years.  The ultimate completion of the puzzles requires companies to understand the participants in, and activities of, their business processes.  Only then can the pieces be connected in meaningful ways. 
Historically, business processes within a company, and between companies, were woefully understood or connected. Each company went its merry way.  But technology brought “cause and effect” of business activities closer together in time and distance enabling clearer pictures of connections.  Along with this technology, process-thinking employees were furiously identifying and implementing the connections.
Think about it, Google employees connected phone books and maps.  Southwest Airlines employees studied pit crews at the Indianapolis 500 to improve arrival and departure times.  Employees at these companies formulated “aha” moments resulting in creative solutions. 
But how does an employee begin “thinking process and connecting dots”?  The bullet-proof employee takes a broad view of business and recognizes, investigates and experiments with common attributes of all processes:  customers, vendors, operational gaps, delays, handoffs, workarounds, and burden shifts.  This broader perspective is the first step in “thinking process”.
The broader perspective enables the employee to understand critical business operations and uncover subtle patterns.  This clearer picture simplifies complexity as employees see commonalities in business processes, imperative for dealing with different industries and business processes.
Thinking process and connecting dots are a “must” in becoming bullet-proof.
Understand Data And Data's Communication – Along with thinking process and connecting dots, improving business-process information is critical to becoming bullet proof.  In effect, when acquiring these data-related skills the employee becomes an architect.
In improving data, the data architect reduces the duplicate data processed and re-processed such as consumer “name and address”.  A consumer’s name and address is found in hundreds of company files.  Simplistically, once captured electronically, data should be shared and not re-entered by other organizations in other systems.  That is not what happens today.
The data architect also improves the data’s format, often dealing with not “well-structured” typically needed for databases today.  Skills of parsing, concatenating, and manipulating data can change poorly-formatted data into well-formatted data, a temporary, but powerful solution, until data format improves.
Finally, the data architect improves the how data is transformed into information.  Data are facts; information is putting data together in meaningful ways. For instance, a nutrition label itself is labeled ‘Nutrition Facts’, but these facts do not adequately inform buyers, and often confuses them. Artfully applying query and reporting tools like the Excel pivot table can successfully change data into information.

Eliminating data duplication and turning unstructured data into well-formatted data are crucial skills for the employee.  Parlay this with learning to communicate data’s real story, and new data architects are on their way to becoming bullet-proof.
Embrace Change And “Never” Say Never – After connecting the dots and improving information, a bullet-proof employee can identify patterns and trends of business processes.  These skills enable the employee to anticipate better and adapt to change, most important in today’s ever-changing world.
In his book “Future Shock”, Alvin Toffler’s addressed the 800 lifetimes for mankind, and how in recent history change has sped up exponentially.  He stated:
“It has been observed, for example, that if the last 50,000 years of man's existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in caves.”
Toffler goes on to state that far-and-away the majority of the conveniences today have occurred in the last three lifetimes.  Three lifetimes ago there was no electricity, and today we have robots taking over jobs.
With “change” in hand, the bullet-proof employee put skin in the game, fully understanding a solution is temporary, a resting point if you will, and that better solutions exist. 
Adapting to change and a working endlessly for a better solution put the final touches on becoming “bullet proof”.
Many blue-collar jobs of the US Industrial Revolution are gone, and many of today’s white-collar jobs are not far behind.  Outsourcing and automation have taken a toll on both.  Employees must arm themselves with bullet-proofing skills for the future. 
The Industrial Revolution’s machinery and technology significantly reduced the number of agricultural jobs in the United States.   Today’s Information Age technology and automation can have a similar effect on white-collar jobs today, making the need for bullet-proof skills imminent.
“Thinking process”, “managing data”, and “embracing change” can make any employee bullet-proof to job loss no matter what industry or career.  The opportunity to succeed is there; the employee must walk through the door.
Finally to clarify the challenge is a quote from Thomas Friedman’s book “The World Is Flat” for today’s employee:
“Today’s workers need to approach the workplace much like athletes preparing for the Olympics, with one difference. “They have to prepare like someone who is training for the Olympics but doesn’t know what sport they are going to enter,”   
And if Friedman’s quote confuses the employee, reflect on what Albert Einstein said, as his words are the new normal: 
 “Out of clutter find simplicity; from discord, find harmony; in the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”
Written By: Tom Farrar
Thank you for reading my article, feel free to leave me some feedback regarding the content or to recommend future work. If you liked this article please click the  star / good article button at the bottom right of this article.  - Tom

Tom FarrarConsultant
Always working for better, faster and cheaper solutions!

Comments (4)

Jim HornSQL Server Data Dude
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Author of the Year 2015

I'm having a hard time getting behind this article, as the body seems to speak to business process quality management but the title says 'bullet proof employee' implying prevention of career loss, and the bridge between the two is weak.

Also a conclusion is intended only to summarize information already stated, but this article seems to have "new" "catch phrases" in it.
Geert GOracle dba
Top Expert 2009

Employing such a bullet-proot employee in Siria will probably get him/her killed.
Funny title
Tom FarrarConsultant


Thanks for the comment, Jim.  It is important to get feedback like yours.  

You too, Geert, thanks for the response.
Tom FarrarConsultant


Jim - Responding to your observations:

The bridge you say is weak may be, but it was my intent to bring the two together by saying the skill sets discussed crosses careers and occupations.  Generally speaking most of us employees have a hard time getting out of the educational/career box we learned in school and practiced in work.  

However, in a world ever-changing job-specific specialization won't work well.  Therefore the skills that not only cross careers, but also are in line with (in my opinion) with where technology is driving us.

If you see the bridge, then the last "catch phrases" do make sense, at least to me.  - Tom

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