I’ve occasionally discussed the concept of the purple squirrel. But what is it?
According to Wikipedia:
Purple squirrel is a term used by employment recruiters to describe a job candidate with precisely the right education, experience, and qualifications that perfectly fits a job’s multifaceted requirements. In theory, this prized “purple squirrel” could immediately handle all the expansive variety of responsibilities of a job description with no training and would allow businesses to function with fewer workers.
Thank you Wikipedia for a high quality and concise definition. What Wikipedia doesn’t discuss is the ever growing desire for the purple squirrel in larger organizations and the lack of organizations driving resources into creating their own internal Purple Squirrels.
I see this in manufacturing quite a bit. There is the company that has industrial sewing machines in an age where there are no formal internal sewing apprenticeship programs. Or the company that ‘just can’t find any good industrial maintenance staff’ but doesn’t have long term plans in place to turn all the production workers into high quality maintenance staff over time. I rarely see a well developed training program that includes impactful incentivization for workers. Most workers don’t want to do the additional work to get certified because they don’t see a direct and real benefit (title, additional pay, uptick in benefits,etc..) to having the extra credential even if it’s not immediately used.
We live in the age of the 401k Vs. the Pension (no pension = no employee longevity). It’s an age of downsizing, upsizing, and rightsizing all based on the quarterly numbers. An age of Professional Individual Contributors continually being asked to do more with less. Is it any wonder their is a desire on the part of management to hire purple squirrels whenever they are available?
There are huge challenges in this type of management: burnout, turnover, income disparity, job placement, etc. Although there are experts, companies rarely follow their sage advice on trainingand workforce investment. It is expected that the individual will turn themselves into the purple squirrel, the only problem happens when part of that mix requires experience. Then there is the ultimate catch-22.
I think the challenge of the professional individual contributor is to be a rainbow chameleon, so they can turn into the purple squirrel whenever they need to be perceived as one, and then become whatever else they need to be to get the job done.
Coming to Terms – The Coming to Terms posts are explanations the terms we use and what the underlying meaning they are to this site, the books, and our community.