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Rethinking job design in the gig era – A practitioner’s viewpoint

How do you create the perfect job? Well, you don’t… let them.

That’s the appeal in the interim contract world, right? You’re selected because you already have the skills to make a difference. Short to mid-term value, come and help do what nobody else can.

So why the obsession on a rigid process and lengthy job descriptions for all other roles?

Tons of effort poured in to job design but how valuable are job descriptions, beyond the point of resourcing?

Why don’t you pay more attention to who designs the work?

“People don’t leave companies, they leave managers”

I’ve spoken with many people in my career once they’ve decided to leave, or after they’ve left a company. Sure, some might quote frustration about their manager, but stick around long enough to listen to the rational responses, the age-old phrase might not be so true.

The stuff beneath the surface level frustration?

  • they weren’t bouncing out of bed in the morning
  • the work was not stimulating
  • their potential was unused; lack of personal growth

When did you ever hear a manager say to a colleague at an end of year appraisal:

“In the year ahead, how do we redesign your job so it’s twice as good as this past year?”

Whoops, sorry Chris, that’s not how we go about designing jobs around here.

I’m baffled as to why there are such tight controls on job design. The world of work is rapidly evolving, yet the job spec people are in remains static.

You need to shift your thinking on if you believe it’s only up to managers to create jobs that are too good to leave; the individual must have equal responsibility in the design.

Just imagine if managers had the freedom and skill to enable the majority of people to unleash their full potential and enjoy meaningful and rewarding careers; where people could achieve beyond even their own understanding of performance.

Well maybe we (HR) have got to stop stifling managers ability to use the full range of colleagues’ skills. Ever felt the shift from passive job seeker to landing a new role and a sudden surge of focus and excitement? What if that feeling was sustained, and didn’t wither away after a few months?

Here’s two ideas;

1.What about entry interviews?

A conversation on their first day that sounded a little like this:

Zoe, the first thing to do is design your job. To kick things off, let me ask you…
• If I asked your best friend to describe you, what would they say?
• What have you always wanted to do?
• If you could have any job what would it be?
• What about that role makes it your dream job? Tell me about what a typical day might look like and then tell me how you think that could be applied here.
• What brings you to life with the work you do or have done in the past?
• Think about a time at work when you went home buzzing and feeling you’d had a great day – what made you feel that way?
• How do you identify stimulating work, development or conditions that bring out your best?
• Tell me about three success stories in life or work which have been difficult for you?

2. And, what about anticipation conversations?

So, as an example, one after induction… what might life hold for you in the next year and what might you want from your career?

• I want to fast track my development/progression for the next five years and what I need to enable that is… or
• I’m in this role for one year maximum then I want to do something with my skills/love of XYZ… or
• I need to focus on cutting down hours due to caring commitments but still want to be able to carry on learning, how can I access this in the best way… or
• I’m planning on retiring in five years and need help understanding the pension scheme and how to best utilise my assets, whilst also passing on my knowledge/developing my successor.
Then, on each service milestone, do another in-depth conversation. Of course, your regular conversations should pick up if things change in the meantime.

Jobs designed and redesigned by individuals.

‘Gig workers’ are confident enough in their ability to choose to work in a certain way; there is a constant surge of focus and excitement.

What’s holding you to the status quo?

What if you approached every new colleague with an objective of truly understanding their greatest strengths? How deep is their experience? What unsaid, or unwritten things have they experienced that could contribute to your challenges and opportunities? How exposed are they to the full context of the business?

How do you release yourself from the status quo, toward something they control?

The way you support, develop, onboard, integrate, and trust them, ought to match their everyday life.

If they are in control:
• it’s much easier to retain them in a job that they are rushing out of bed for
• they are responsible for designing a job which unleashes their potential
• and only then will they feel like they are growing.

And if they’re not? Well they need to redesign it.

If you value an individual for who they are and the value they offer, then it should be much more important for you to keep them in the company, than in a particular role.

If your ‘Future Talent’ or ‘Leadership Development’ programme does not yet help to give simple skills of dynamic job design, then you’re falling behind. You need to be addressing future skills gaps, moving the focus on from what leaders or HiPo need for yesterday’s challenges.

In a future world of work powered by A.I, jobs will be described as projects. Talent systems will analyse internal strengths and match ‘teams’. This will rely on Managers having conversations and designing roles around those strengths.

So, give them the skills, and once they have the personal knowledge after entry interview or as part of the anticipation conversation, they can create engaging and rewarding roles.

I spent many summers wondering what is the most valuable company or business idea that nobody has created? So now I spend all my energy on creating an environment which is not like any other…

What’s stopping you?

Chris Furnell – Lead L&D Partner

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