Over years it’s easy to forget even the really useful things. Then one day you rediscover them and wonder why they disappeared in the first place. Nowhere is this truer than in the corporate world.
New business trends and ideas easily swamp us seemingly rendering older ideas obsolete. Employee Engagement has been a big thing for businesses over the last 10 years. To go with that has been a head-spinning number of ‘models’. Just search ’employee engagement models’ and then click on images. There are hundreds of illustrations of employee engagement models and a quick scan can give a good idea of how diverse the models and language can be. That all points to an idea with some theoretical underpinnings, some will be well researched however there will be a lot of work relying on surface validity (it seems to make sense). However, for this post, it is about what gets forgotten in this emphasis. For me looking at the engagement literature reminded of good work done in the 1970’s and 80’s on job design which gets very little or no explicit mention in any of the models. Even the term job design sounds so last century, mechanistic, old-fashioned and too slow for this agile, divergent, disruptive, digital age. That is rubbish of course, every job has certain characteristics or a design if you prefer. (Regardless, the whole topic was swamped by four ideas that were believed to mediate motivated performance, the belief that the nature of work was changing, the opportunity for social contact, the person’s actual skill levels, and ambition. If you’re interested then read this 2010 article by Greg R. Oldham and J. Richard Hackman. )
Specifically the job design related research I recall was done initially by Hackman and Oldman (here’s a link to someone else’s summary. I was thrilled to find two business coaches in Belgium using this work when I went looking) that I know as the ‘Motivating Potential of a Job ‘ and they referred to as ‘Job Characteristics Model’. All very academic sounding … except I found this work wonderfully useful when looking at individuals, teams, their performance and in understanding aspects of culture. There are immediate implications for team functioning and job design and it relates directly to how engaged someone can and will be. No matter what technology is applied the work characteristics around the resultant work is critical.
While there are survey’s to help you measure the motivating potential of a job just being conscious of the concept and it’s constructs when speaking with people about their work helps make sense of the situation and what you are hearing and observing in your diagnostic phase.
Tip 1: In a coaching situation evaluating the job characteristics is a useful diagnostic exercise. A short structured discussion around each aspect is often revealing about how the context is contributing
Tip 2: It pays to look back over your past work to see what you liked and what is still relevant.
Something To Anticipate: The much-promoted wave of robotics that is about to wash across business will bring how we think about the job people do and their characteristics. It will bring employee motivation and engagement into sharp focus … again.