I recently recorded an episode of Chris Sims’ excellent Go Dig a Hole Podcast and a live episode of the CRM Archaeology Podcast at the 35th Great Basin Anthropology Conference (GBAC) in Reno, Nevada. One of the other co-hosts, Sonia Hutmacher, spent a significant portion of both podcasts describing her beginnings in cultural resource management, how she parlayed her college education into a successful career, and the characteristics it takes to succeed in this industry. I was blessed and impressed by her work-ethic and determination to make her career work. (NOTE: If you’re a cultural resource management archaeologists and have not checked out these podcasts, I strongly urge you to click the link above. They are a must for any CRMer—young or old).
Sonia’s characterization of what it takes to become a successful CRMer mirrored what I heard while listening to one of my favorite books-on-tape CD “The Education of Millionaires: Everything you Don’t Learn in College About How to Be Successful” by Michael Ellsberg. In a portion of this book, Ellsberg talks about a concept coined by Jennifer Russell and Bryan Franklin where they discussed the mindset shift everyone needs to make if they want to turn their career into something worthwhile, fulfilling, and beneficial to the rest of the world. Russell, Franklin, and Ellsberg talk about making the transition from the Employee Mindset to the Entrepreneur Mindset. You can see a summary of the book here.
The podcasts, Hutmacher’s advice, Ellsberg’s audiobook, and the online conversation about moving away from being just another employee are all salient for so many reasons. I believe making this mindset shift is sorely needed in cultural resource management archaeology because far too many of us relinquish our power just to have an archaeology job. Many of us also treat CRM as just that—a job (i.e. a paycheck)—and this prevents us from making real contributions to our companies and to archaeology.
The sooner we stop being employees and start thinking like entrepreneurs, the sooner we end the lamentations about how anthropology is a horrible degree, how our companies are so sh*tty and how CRM is a “feast or famine” industry, is the day we stop being used and start taking control of our situation. A version of this newfound proactivity is codified in the switch to the Entrepreneur’s Mindset.
What is the Employee Mindset?
“I already put in my 10-hours and now they’re asking me to stay late?” “Prehistoric archaeology? I don’t do stones ‘n bones.” “I deserve a raise for all the stuff I’ve done for this company.” “I’ve already dug my quota for the day. That’s all they asked for. That’s all I’m doing.” “Getting the contracts is their job. My job is to dig holes.” “That’s all they’re going to pay for somebody with a Master’s and five years’ experience? Somebody like that deserves to get more than that.” “Being the only one who knows how to manage the catalog is my only source of job security here.”
How many times have you heard one of those types of statements? Those are straight-up Employee Mindset statements.
Employees are the ones that treat their job as simply a source of income. They feel entitled to a paycheck simply because they went to work and did a few proscribed tasks. Employees feel like they deserve something for their time and effort and that doing the bare minimum is all that is needed to bring home a paycheck. For them, everything will be alright if each person simply does their job. Here are the characteristics of the Employee Mindset according to Russell and Franklin:
- Focus on entitlement—Employees feel like they deserve a job. That they don’t need to create their own job. Why do they deserve a job? Who’s going to generate the revenue to pay their salaries? That’s something for somebody somewhere else to figure out.
This sense of entitlement extends to other aspects of CRM work. For example, the idea that we should confer seniority just because somebody has a graduate degree when we all know a degree does not equal experience. None of us is entitled to anything other than the same level of respect a civilized human extends to others throughout society unless that other person has proven herself as exemplary, excellent, and worthy of gratitude. That level of respect comes through experience and demonstrated ability.
- Focus on output—What’s the deliverable for this project? This is a good thing to know, but we should be thinking about how we can inject value into that deliverable. Can your client use the generated data for other projects in the future? Can descendant communities and locals use what you’ve created? Did you give any talks about what you’ve been doing to schools/avocationals/other archaeologists? Cultural resources companies do not need people to simply drone away at fixed positions. They need all of us to be able to learn and adapt based on ever-changing conditions.
If you simply fixate on output—a report—you will never be able to shine above the minions waiting to take your job. It is difficult to justify keeping a milquetoast employee who’s just doing the bare minimum.
- Sort for what is requested—This related directly to the previous point. Are you only working to discover what your boss wants and only give her that? If so, you are not helping improve conditions at your company; nor, are you demonstrating you are any better than a legion of greenhorn college graduates who would willingly do your job for less money.
School teaches us to seek the right answer and give it to our teacher/supervisor/parent ect. Unfortunately, the real world rewards those that solve real-world problems and go beyond simple requests.
- Work to protect your job—Knowledge-hoarders, stonewallers, and other obstructionist employees believe they can maintain their job if they can monopolize small, but crucial aspects of the workflow. Ask any company lab manager that got laid off because companies don’t dig anymore if this is a wise course of action. Companies love T-people—individuals with a broad understanding of the industry and a deep specialization in one or two topics. Workers that hoard information or limit workflow by refusing to teach or delegate aspects of their job to other employees get let go once the management caste understands what they have been doing.
No job is secure, especially when you’re just working to protect your job.
- Turn away from decisions you are qualified to make— (IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not recommend CRMers make decisions in the field or office that they are not qualified to make. This is against the RPA’s Code of Ethics and is a bad career decision. We only get one shot to dig an archaeological feature and our documentation is all that remains once we’ve destroyed it. Additionally, company PI’s and sales people work hard to cultivate every contract and every project. Don’t muck it up by thinking you’re “The Donald” and can make business moves until you’ve learned how the business works [HINT: It’s not like they teach you in school, even business school])
How many times have you worked for someone with a graduate degree in a specialty (ex. Southwestern ceramics, historical artifact analysis, GIS, ect.) that is petrified of making a decision? They never answer your questions with a concise answer. They never help you with historic property recommendations. It takes them 10 emails just to figure out if they’re allowed to help you write up your prehistoric artifacts section. I’ve often wondered: What’s with these people?
Each project, task, decision is your chance to demonstrate your abilities. An opportunity for advancement. Do not let these chances pass you buy. If you know something, say something. They’ll never know what you can do unless you do something. Don’t be afraid to act.
- See your position as fixed and permanent—Change is the only constant. This maxim is especially true in cultural resource management archaeology.
I think the biggest mistake I have ever made in my career is believing that my position at a CRM company was “secure.” Nothing is secure, but I didn’t know that until I had been furloughed, quit several companies, or laid off. My misplaced confidence in my job’s security allowed me to become complacent, entitled, and feel like the good times were going to last forever. The disappointment of realizing the fallacy of this position was a crushing psychological and financial blow.
A good career is a constantly moving target. As soon as you feel like you’ve got everything under control, something happens to shake things up. Your company loses its contracts. You blow some budgets. Somebody else without the Employee Mindset comes along and takes “your” position. And, when the unthinkable happens and you’re filling out that unemployment application it’s easy to blame somebody or something else. It is much more difficult to recognize what you could have done to prevent this from happening. Sometimes there’s nothing you could have done, but it is crucial to remember your position is anything but permanent.
As Sonia and the other podcast hosts noted, there’s nothing wrong with the Employee Mindset if you just want to be a cog in a larger machine—working in a factory in the Philippines, sweeping streets in Amsterdam, or bussing tables at the local all-you-can-eat buffet. Unfortunately, this mindset is old school; a throwback from a time when people made Model-T’s by hand.
The world has changed. There is no room for doing the basics anymore. The fact that everybody needs a Bachelor’s degree just to manage a Starbucks and cultural resource management companies are asking for PhD’s to monitor a backhoe in Arkansas is just a small indicator of the world we are living in. We all need to be artisans these days—skilled craftspeople that take pride in their work, strive to create valuable products, and bust our asses to produce. We are all trying to get an edge and survive in this new “Creative Economy.” Sitting back and following your job description just does not cut it anymore.
What is the Entrepreneur Mindset?
The Entrepreneur Mindset is the opposite side of the coin. Here, you think and behave much more like the company’s owners. You take it upon yourself to help make projects succeed and your company thrive. You take ownership of your own position and work to make things better. Most importantly, you are working to make yourself an indispensable asset to the company—someone they actually WANT to have around. Here are some attributes Ellsberg says are part of the Entrepreneur Mindset:
- Focus on contribution—Rather than focusing solely on what tasks are part of your job description, CRMers that want to stay in the business concentrate on what they can contribute to a project or company’s success. How can I make this project happen? What can I do to help the others in my team succeed in their mission? How can my work contribute to my client’s goals?
You are giving to a larger cause if you focus on what you can contribute rather than solely performing the tasks in your job description. Sticking to your job description will always prevent you from making a significant contribution because you will be limiting what you do.
- Focus on outcome—Helping fulfill our clients’ legal obligations by completing a project within the scope of work (SOW) and project budget is always a central goal of every cultural resource management project. Inevitably, there will be complications with every single project and it is also our job to overcome these roadblocks to complete the project. The most successful CRMers swallow their aversion to the discomfort that comes along with completing a project when SHTF. Working through this pain, CRMers in the entrepreneur mindset focus on getting the job done.
At the same time, we should also be thinking about what will happen after we complete this project. How is that agency going to use our report and data to better manage cultural resources? Have we helped further the field of archaeology? Does this one project contribute to bigger regional research questions? Have we added value to the local and descendant communities? As is the case with socially responsible entrepreneurs, cultural resource management professionals should work towards “win-win-win” situations where our company/we win, our clients win, and the communities in which we work win. Striving to serve both our communities and clients is the only future for the CRM industry.
- Search for what’s needed— Here’s an honest disclosure: I know someone who is better at almost every CRM-related task than I am. Frequently, I end up supervising people who are better at archaeology than I am. Not having skills or aptitude does not prevent me from doing good work because I have always sought to learn all the requirements in my job description, my boss’ job description, and the job descriptions of my subordinates. Knowing how to do all the tasks in my entire department helps me identify deficiencies and remedy them by building my skills in this area. It helps me fill needs at my company and I do this without asking for permission.
For example, I’m not good at drawing plan maps, profiles, or artifacts. Nevertheless, I learned how to do these jobs adequately because I’ve worked on crews where others are even worse than I am. Also, I’ve had to teach these tasks to new-hires and subordinates. I do them not because I’m good at it but because I’ve always aspired to solve problems by cultivating those skills myself.
What does your company/client/co-worker/community need? What are their pressing problems? Seeking out and solving problems within your company is one of the best ways to distinguish yourself from your co-workers and turn yourself into an indispensable employee. If you aren’t a problem solver, you are a problem. Taking ownership of your work also involves working to solve problems your company may or may not know they have. Every company needs employees that can identify problems and have the fortitude to solve them.
It is also important to note that there is no such thing as a perfect work team. Because we’re all unique, every employee and co-worker has well-honed skills and shortcomings. Rather than using the shortcomings of your company, co-workers, and clients as a crutch to explain why your career is not going well, feel free to identify deficiencies and work to resolve them.
- Work yourself out of a job—I love telling my field crews that I want to get to the point where, in the field, all I have to do is sit in the shade and drink cocktails while they do all the work. This never happens because there are always tasks that: 1) only I can do, or 2) others are not good at doing or 3) there’s stuff others don’t want to do. Am I ever worried that the crew will learn how to do my job and replace me? No because, remember, I’m trying to learn how to do my boss’ job (NOTE: A good boss isn’t worried about me replacing her/him either because they’re striving to get better just like I am. Only a supervisor with an Employee’s Mindset would feel insecure about working with skilled subordinates.)
It is good practice to be willing to teach your co-workers how to do everything you know about cultural resource management or archaeology. The CRM industry will never get better if people withhold information because it creates a situation where there are some experts with a depth of knowledge in certain aspects of the industry working among large groups of co-workers that have no idea what you know. Guess what? If you haven’t shared your insights and knowledge, archaeologists will have to start from scratch when you leave the company. The same mistakes will be made. We will collect redundant data. Archaeology stalls.
Remember, you are trying to become indispensable to your employer by solving problems, making contributions to bigger goals, and do higher-leverage tasks. This means you will have to free up your time by training others how to do routine tasks that do not need expertise. Working yourself out of a job means you are working yourself out of your current position while, simultaneously, maneuvering yourself into a higher, more indispensable position.
- Go big towards decisions (you are qualified to make)—When it comes to things you already know how to do, don’t not be afraid to make mistakes. Do not get bogged down in email trees and meetings ad nauseum. Do not be spineless when you know what you’re doing.
Building confidence by being “right” about the things within your experience/education/skill level will help you get the gumption to go towards bigger decisions even if you might fail in the process. Mistakes are what builds resilience and experience. You can learn by being right but you will learn much more by being wrong. Do not be afraid to be wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. That’s how archaeology happens. People choose the wrong place to live. We break things. We build superhighways through ancient archaeological sites even though we know it will cost millions of dollars in mitigation just because of this kind of decision.
- See your circumstances as illusory/temporary—This is the most important recommendation I can make. Know things will change and be ready. That’s why you are building your skills and experience, so you can be prepared for the inevitable changes.
Also, know that the accepted rules are also illusory. Who says you need a PhD in anthropology just to manage cultural resource management archaeology projects? Who says a field tech can’t be a CRM company’s most indispensable employee? Who says you’ll be working hand-to-mouth, project-to-project for your whole adult life just because you went after your dream of becoming an archaeologist?
Society’s rules are archaic and they are designed to keep people in their place. Fortunately, these rules are flexible and can be bent or, in certain circumstances, broken. By adopting the Entrepreneur’s Mindset, you are essentially breaking some of these rules because most of your co-workers will want to use the status quo to prevent you from becoming irreplaceable at your job. They will not want you to solve problems or go the extra mile because that means they will have to stop being mediocre and will need to be more like you if they want to keep their jobs. Adopting the Entrepreneur’s Mindset takes effort, vision, and stamina—thing people in the Employee Mindset do not want to cultivate.
You are moving towards a goal that is constantly changing. Keeping your career moving forward is one result of adopting the Entrepreneur’s Mindset.
This is a trick question with no right or wrong answer. Yes and no. More entrepreneurs willing to start their own cultural resource management outfit undoubtedly increases competition, which, hypothetically, could improve working conditions and the quality of our product. However, given what I know about the current state of archaeological consulting in the United States, more companies would probably drive down the already rock-bottom prices for our service. It would also increase the incentive for lowballing and drive down wages. None of this is good.
On the other hand, I am seeing some very enterprising CRM-related “startups” that could make our industry better. One of these is Codifi, a not-for-profit company dedicated to digitizing archaeology fieldwork and data management. I still have not done a full review of Professional Certifications for Scientists (PCS), but this company seeks to eliminate the murky waters of professional certifications for archaeologists by creating a certification system that will, ultimately, be recognized by CRM companies. The goal is to expand to other consulting scientists like biologists, geologists, and paleontologists. PCS also seeks to teach relevant skills to consulting archaeologists, helping fill the void between college and the real world. The new company ArcTech Logistics is attempting to fill the need for reliable archaeological field technicians and the constant search for work that comes along with being an archaeo tech. ArcTech Logistics is a job service where CRM companies can go to find qualified techs, eliminating the need to hire and fire temporary employees. Techs working for ArcTech do not need to look for work when their current project ends because their company schedules them as work is available. Ultimately, ArcTech wants to be able to provide techs across the country as their employees gain expertise in every region and time period. These are just a few of the new companies serving the CRM industry.
I do believe more of us should adopt an entrepreneur’s mindset even if we don’t plan on starting our own companies. Taking ownership of your actions and striving to improve yourself and your company is the only way any of us can stay alive in this industry. Right now, the cultural resource management industry is in a transitional stage. We can become low-cost commodities, watching our wages and company valuations go down the tubes. Or, we can step up to the plate and channel our efforts into something that contributes to the wider field of archaeology, helps further heritage conservation, and improve the products we sell to our clients. This is a situation where there are no losers, only winners. We will only get there when each of us stops seeing this as just a job and starts looking for things to improve.
Write a comment below or send me an email and tell me how you feel about this.
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