Job Design Still Matters!

The Archives.jpg

Dust off your archives and check out where you’ve been. There can be lost gold.

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 models will be well researched while others will be relying a lot on surface validity (it seems to make sense). However, for this post, it is about what gets forgotten and displaced in this emphasis. For me looking at the engagement literature reminded me of great 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 topic of job design was swamped by four ideas that were believed to mediate motivated performance. 1. The belief that the nature of work was changing; 2. The opportunity for social contact; 3. The person’s actual skill levels and 4. 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.) So I was thrilled to find two business coaches in Belgium using their work when I went looking. I know the as ‘Motivating Potential of a Job ‘ and the Belgium consultants referred to it 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 jobs people do and their characteristics into sharp focus … again.

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Filed under Coaching and Counselling, Corporate Culture & Strategy, General Business

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