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From the Bench to the Big Time


From the Bench to the Big Time


From that first day on the job, cultivating good fundamentals is the key to climbing the ladder. Are you ready for the journey from benchwarmer to superstar?



From the Bench to the Big Time

By Benjamin Chiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 491 )

This month people everywhere have been coming down with "Linsanity."

Behind the hype surrounding the story of emerging basketball star Jeremy Lin lays a formula for success in stepping from Beta to Alpha: an indomitable will to win and the ability to take on a leadership role.

Aside from a tiny minority of natural born Alphas, most everybody enters the workplace in Beta mode, but through the trials of competition and the self-discipline of setback, one can gradually rise to Alphadom.

High unemployment rates among young people have been a fixture in Taiwan in recent years. According to the ROC National Youth Commission, the unemployment rate among recent graduates 20-29 years old has repeatedly hit record highs. Within that group, the jobless rate among those aged 20-24 is about one in eight.


"The problem is in work attitude," Eric Wu, deputy leader of Assurance Services for PricewaterhouseCoopers Taiwan (PwC) observes. Each year PwC seeks to recruit more than 400 new faces, and for them the most important thing for a new employee is work attitude and value system.

For young people wanting to be A-Gamers, the key lies not in specialized skills but in attitude.

At the time of the deepening global financial crisis in 2009, the National Youth Commission conducted a youth employability survey among 605 corporate employers in Taiwan and found that the attribute employers consistently valued most was personal work attitude – not specialized knowledge and skills, which had actually slipped to sixth place.

Indeed, the top five attributes in that survey were all related to a favorable mindset. They were, in order: work attitude; a stable personality and ability to withstand pressure; communication skills; willingness to learn; and aptitude for teamwork.

"The kind of work attitude companies are looking for is a desire to win, sense of responsibility and cooperative spirit," says Edward Po, president of Philips Taiwan. "If companies want to stand a chance at winning, they have to have employees with an intense desire to win."

Rather than joining in with co-workers and complaining about how cumbersome company administration is, you’d be better off adjusting that attitude and working on getting your internal house in order if you’re going to have a chance at getting off the bench and letting your skills shine.

Do Everything Proactively, with Enthusiasm

Daisuke Iwase, author of the Japanese bestseller 50 Lessons You Learn the First Year in the Corporate World, was given a piece of advice by a senior co-worker when he first entered the corporate world, and he has found it eminently useful ever since.

"When you're a newcomer, it matters little how much brains or talent you’ve got. What’s really most important is whether or not you can accomplish what your superiors task you to do."

A true genius values cultivating the fundamentals far more highly than mere mortals do. Jeremy Lin’s facility with the long three-pointer was forged by taking countless practice shots every day.

The devil is always in the details. Only those who carry out their duties down to the finest detail and assiduously carry out the instructions they’ve been given can expect to earn enough of the coach’s trust to be given a shot to perform in the spotlight.

In fact, many executives will assign any number of mundane duties to test whether an employee is capable of taking on more responsibility.

Amy Ku, AU Optronics’ associate vice president for human resources, is tasked with developing personnel policy governing the company’s 43,000-strong workforce. Her first job, as it turns out, was as a receptionist for a foreign company.

Working as a receptionist and an assistant helped her forge a work attitude that proves valuable to her to this day.

Back then, the first task her boss assigned her to do was to print out the monthly reports. It seemed simple enough, but the task carried with it an implicit demand of high quality standards and a good attitude.

"Each page had to be flush and even with no discoloration. Even the angle of the staple had to be 40 degrees," Ku recalls. She frequently stood at the copier machine for over an hour, the whole time constantly contemplating how to raise the efficiency of how she printed out materials while still maintaining high quality.

Others found the work exceedingly tedious, but Ku saw it as her boss's way of teaching her about quality by demanding it.

"It’s only by nailing that first job that you’ll get the chance to move on to bigger things," says Ku, who dutifully penned a three-page "bible" for her replacement when she left the reception desk.

This attitude of being conscientious in all matters helped her move up through the ranks from receptionist to sales assistant, marketing assistant and onward to a top executive position at AUO.

"You never know – these things you learn that seem so boring have a way of coming in handy some day," says Edward Po, speaking from experience.

Seek Victory for Personal, Team Glory

If you want to go from a B-lister to an A-lister, you have to be resolute in your will to win, to earn the trust of the team.

In pursuit of self-fulfillment, Generation Y is "really clear on what they want, but when it comes to wanting to ‘win,’ the motivation is lacking," says Annie Yang, president of Chamonix Restaurant. In many respects, Generation Y will do what it takes to get by, but not enough to beat the competition.

More and more business owners criticize Generation Y for lacking the drive to succeed. Instead of handling pressure, they will post complaints on Facebook over the slightest trifle.

Alex Hsu, general manager of human resources consultancy firm MGR Search & Selection, has also been deeply struck by this trend. After interviewing a number of young people under age 30 in rapid succession, he marveled at how weak their drive to succeed was.

Most of the young applicants went green as soon as he asked: "Would you be willing to let the company provide you with instructors to teach you professional financial knowledge during weekends?" Hsu says. Yet the middle-aged applicants would enthusiastically reply: "Nice –the company’s even willing to spend money teaching me."

Ultimately, Hsu had no choice but to hire a middle-aged applicant at more than double the salary.

The younger generation of Taiwanese possess a broad skill set applicable to the global business environment, which is certainly a strength that businesses are seeking. But what most executives prize most highly in a young person is the determination to win.

Petite, in fashionable high heels with large shiny rings adorning her fingers, Hsu You-chun is a specialist with the Marketing Department of Philips Taiwan’s Lighting Division. A graduate of Tamkang University’s Spanish Department, she started out as a "22k worker" – a NT$22,000 per month government-subsidized intern. Now she’s responsible for an entire product line for the Lighting Division.

"I do have an intense drive to succeed," says Hsu, emphasizing her efforts to learn everything down to the tiniest detail, such as how to compress email attachments for the convenience of the recipient.

She was at the top of the sales department’s group competition more than three years running. She puts the same attention to matters unrelated to business, such as public service events at Penghu’s Luguang Elementary School, for which she takes the time to custom-make the props to grab the children’s attention.

Hsu’s always-ready-for-a-challenge spirit quickly earned the approval of her work group, and the duties her boss assigned to her became increasingly weighty. Even the company’s top executive has taken notice of the former "22k" B-Lister.

"She might make product manager soon," Po says.

Flipping through the history of a workplace, a good number of the presidents and superstars came up from the ranks of the obscure and unknown B-Listers, gradually honing the talents that will give them a shot at the top.

Rather than complaining that your abilities are being stifled and that no one recognizes real talent, you’ll be better off if you stop and ask yourself, am I fully prepared to squeeze onto the A-List?

Jeremy Lin has just provided a classic example for all the benchwarmers of the world.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy