The definition of a knob-twiddler (according to the online dictionary, Wiktionary) is “a technician whose job entails adjusting electronic devices via knobs.” More broadly, the term characterizes someone who operates the ‘machine’, i.e., someone who has a part in running things, but does not contribute to establishing the strategic direction nor is a leader in any way. This person is reactive, not proactive.
If you consider yourself proud to be a knob-twiddler, am I telling you to change? Yes, I am. Having endured two years of battering from COVID requires each of us to be a leader who can weather the remainder of this storm and those of the future. Furthermore, I believe it makes great sense to broaden the appeal, skillset, and value that you can provide to an organization. If you lack the perspective to understand the big picture, it’s incumbent that you 1) devise a way to understand that picture, 2) determine where you currently fit, and 3) figure out how you can expand your role and make substantive contributions. Knowing how, and ensuring that others know, is now crucial.
TIMES ARE TOUGH NOW
As an example, consider the experience of event companies whose success can rise and fall due to circumstances beyond their control. I remember working for a company whose fortunes turned downward after 9/11. When cuts had to be made, some of the operations and IT staff were the first to be let go. In time, they were followed by those in marketing, the content staff, and mid-level management. Last in this succession of departures were members of the sales team. More recently, of course, many of us have seen how COVID’s impact has decimated the industry. Given that, I’ve no doubt that you have stories that match mine.
Does the sequence of departures that I cited mean that operations and marketing people were the least valuable? No, but the common trait of everyone laid off, regardless of the role, was the perception that their skills were limited to the department within which they worked. Those who remained were considered able to perform multiple tasks, both within their specific department and in others. For example, there were those who, though not in sales, had sales skills that could be leveraged. One operations person, having worked previously in marketing, could contribute to that effort. There are other examples, as well.
ARE YOU PREPARED TO SURVIVE, TO THRIVE?
The value of possessing a variety of skills is not merely survival during a business downturn. Advancement of one’s career is enhanced by breadth of ability. You are far more promotable if your background reflects experience performing multiple functions. And, when that experience is within your current company, it’s gold.
If you are a good knob-twiddler, I commend you for doing a job that needs to be done and for doing it well. But you should consider broadening your appeal beyond just doing what’s asked of your current role. That way, you can prove your value when times again get tough – as they most assuredly will.
For companies to survive, all of us will need to find ways to lead.