The Embarrassing Secret Inside America’s Corner Offices

The Embarrassing Secret Inside America’s Corner Offices

America’s employers have long trumpeted the value of their workers. Senior executives wax eloquent in press reports and interviews about the critical role their employees play in the organization’s success. Their favorite descriptive term is “asset”—subtly signaling that they own those who toil for them—preceded by some superlative adjective such as “the greatest,” “most important,” or “prized.” It is high praise, and it is a sham.

Traditionally, these statements have been interpreted to mean that America’s employers truly recognize and appreciate their employees. While that view was debatable in the 20th Century—you don’t toss out assets the minute the economy dips—it is unquestionably false today. As the Great Recession proved beyond all doubt, the narrative is now nothing more than a public relations ploy and bears no semblance whatsoever to how employees are actually viewed inside a company’s corner office.

The “less jobs recovery”—a new world of work where bottom line success is accompanied by organizational constriction—has reset the purpose of corporate staffing. Employers are no longer content to hire a normal distribution of workers—a few “A level” performers, a few “D level” performers and a lot of those who do exactly what they’re told and nothing more in the middle. They seek, instead, to employ as much talent as possible. They want to arrange for the daily delivery of excellence on-the-job.

That transaction between a buyer and seller of talent—not a buyer and seller of labor—is the essence of the new employment contract in America. Meeting an opening’s stated requirements is only table stakes – it gets a person into the game, but doesn’t guarantee that they’ll have a winning hand. A worker who is qualified for an organization’s opening—the conventional definition of what employers have sought when recruiting a new hire—is no longer viewed as sufficiently capable to meet the demands of a highly competitive global marketplace.

Organizations now want someone who is accomplished at work—a person who can and will make a significant contribution on-the-job. That doesn’t mean they are overqualified, but rather, that they are and are recognized as being “ultra qualified.” They are persons of talent who are acknowledged to have both the capacity and the commitment to deliver that talent on-the-job.

Thanks for reading,

Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at, in many bookstores and on