Job Crafting – Is it Time to Abandon Job Descriptions?

Job Crafting

Anyone heard of job crafting?

Job crafting is a term that cropped up twice in my reading recently. Once in the HBR journal in January, the Neuroscience of Trust, and then again in an Investors in People UK article, ‘Job crafting: five ways staff can better design their own job’. In the Neuroscience of Trust Paul Zak listed allowing job crafting as one of the eight ways leaders can build trust. Investors in People pointed out that whether managers like it or not, people ‘craft’ their jobs. In other words, they find ways to customise their work to their own preferences.

I admit I hadn’t heard of it before, so we made it a topic for our Investors in People HR forum in Manila this month. Our discussion took us to some interesting places.

Job crafting was first talked about (we think) in an article published by the Michigan Ross Business School in 2008, entitled ‘What is job crafting, and why does it matter?’ The writers, Berg, Dutton and Wrzesniewski, describe 3 forms of job crafting,

  1. When someone flexes the boundaries of their job by adding or dropping tasks, expanding or contracting tasks
  2. When someone changes the relationship and interactions they have with others
  3. When someone changes the way they perceive their work. For example, when a chef sees their work as creating works of art, rather than as preparing food

The authors also describe the process of job crafting in three steps.

First, the motivation to craft, which might be a desire for control, or meaning, or fulfilment.

Second, is the actual job crafting of doing different things, creating different relationship and interaction, and seeing the job in a different way.

Third is the outcomes, which as mostly positive, such as more enjoyment and engagement, alignment with dreams and passions, and resilience. Negative consequence could be a sense of regret, when someone in HR for example, really wanted to be a law professional. By expanding their work to include more employment law, instead of fulfilling their dreams it reminds them that they are not in the career they really wanted.

Is job crafting conscious or unconscious?

In our discussion, this question arose. Is job crafting something that people do consciously or unconsciously? The conclusion was that, we hadn’t had a name for it, but it was usually a conscious process. One person described how they had almost designed their marketing role from scratch. Another organization’s representatives described how they had discovered that when they gave new employees a detailed list of duties and responsibilities, then checked in on them and asked how they were doing their work, the people couldn’t explain. If, instead, they explained what the outcomes should be, with some guidance on standards, then later the person would be able to clearly describe how they were achieving the outcomes. Aside from the clarity, they noticed that people were also more productive. Their policy now is to agree the goals, provide guidance, and otherwise let people do the work in the way that works best for them. A representative from another organization described how they started with a standard kind of job description, but then the new job holder and HR talked through it, prioritising things to achieve over the first 3 months, and so crafting the job together.

Do you love your job?

The lawyer amongst us informed us that in law, a person’s job is considered property. I don’t think any of us knew that! Following it to a logical conclusion, we own our jobs. If employers and managers think of work in this way, that perception could have quite a dramatic impact on the way they lead and manage. If we encourage people to think of their job that way as well, it raises the possibility of a stronger sense of ownership, more creativity in designing their role, and a more empowerment and autonomy. If we know we own our job, then maybe it is easier for us to love it.

Freedom to make mistakes

Another group member described an incident in their company where someone had not followed the instructions for a task, and the result was much better product. The result was a long line of customers outside the store. The mistake became the new standard and increased the company’s sales. While that is probably not, strictly speaking, job crafting, it is a reminder that giving people freedom to do things differently, might result in mistakes, and that might not only be a learning opportunity, but the ‘mistake’ could actually be a better way of doing something. Einstein said, ‘a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new’, and in the Investors in People standard encouraging people to try new approaches and learn from success and mistakes is one of the indicators of an innovative organization. Sometimes mistakes are also successes.

So what?

So what does this all mean for the way we design work? Our group agreed that the traditional job description with a long list of duties and responsibilities is probably not serving us so well any more in the modern business environment and the millennial workforce. For people to love their jobs they need some control over them and a sense of ownership. Gerry Plana, CEO of Investors in People Philippines suggested that traditional job descriptions are designed as much for compliance as for clarity, and if work is all about compliance people cannot be expected to create exciting stretch goals for themselves. Of course, sometimes compliance is necessary, but it’s hard to get enthusiastic about it. Gerry suggests ‘job guides’ instead. By job guide, we mean a description of the role and the expected outcomes, accompanied with a guide to the scope of autonomy in the job and the competencies. The guide would be flexible to allow the employee to grow as well as bring their own preferences into how they achieve the outcomes. Make sure people know the standards and the values, and provide coaching and mentoring, but let their strengths, capabilities, and passions be what determines how they do their job.

The Investors in People standard includes good practice in designing roles as part of ‘supporting people’. The starting point is having roles with clear accountabilities, then making sure people have interesting work. As each person is different, you would really need to ask them what they find interesting. Then as people grow and their jobs evolve with them, even as they are working in one role they can be preparing for the next. A sign of a high performing organization is when roles are continuously changing to meet the needs of employees, organizational strategy, and the community the organization serves and works within.

We covered all this ground in just 90 minutes, thanks to the insightful contributions of the group members and stimulus for our conversation coming from the authors of the Investors in People and Michigan Ross School of Business articles on job crafting.

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