The New Job Description

The organizations of today and tomorrow must be highly adaptive and flexible. Unfortunately, the model we have inherited and have come to know as the model for structuring an organization, the hierarchy, is not.

So what does this mean for those who define their role or even themselves by the fundamental the building block of an organization – their  job?

In his 1994 book, Job Shift, William Bridges referred to the “job” as “an artifact of the industrial revolution.” Our most common notion of organization structure, the hierarchy, was born out of Newton’s laws of physics. It is a model of cause and effect in which assumes the whole equals the sum of its parts. It is those laws that led to the essential breakthrough of the industrial revolution – the ability to make large numbers of “things” by defining the discreet tasks required to make them and finding increasingly better and faster ways to execute those tasks.  It is also the source of the construct we have today called a job was born.

However, the organizations of today can no longer function purely like machines.   This means we as individuals can no longer afford to relate to ourselves as a cog in the machine if we are to succeed.

Consider that the organization of today functions far more like complex adaptive system than it does like a machine. Cause and effect isn’t so easy to discern and roles and responsibilities can seem to be a moving target. While the traditional organization chart isn’t likely to be replaced anytime soon, if we are to be effective into the future we have to start thinking differently about how we fit into the organizations we serve.

We can no longer define our “job” purely in terms of what we do. We must consider what we do in relation to others and in service of the ultimate goals of our enterprise.

The underlying assumption when it comes to hierarchical organization charts and job descriptions is that if we define what each individual is supposed to do and they actually do it then everything will work perfectly. Given that assumption, when things break down, the obvious solution is to go back to clarifying or redefining roles and responsibilities.  Essentially we try to define our box even clearer.  In the process, silos are reinforced at the expense of creating the kind of solid relationships required to succeed.

Consider there is a missing link that will enable you to shift from relating to jobs as separate from one another to defining jobs in relation to one another.  That missing link is getting clear about the results you promise as well as the promises you must make individually to others to ensure the enterprise succeeds. Your success depends not on a chain of command, but rather a solid network of strong relationships.

Traditional job descriptions focus on the activities – essentially what you do. Today we must consider BOTH what we need to be able to do AND what results we must be able to deliver to fulfill on the needs and aspirations of our organization.  This also means that what you must do includes whatever it takes to deliver, not the list of tasks that define your “box” on the org chart.  There is no room for the “check the box” mentality in the organizations of the future.

This may seem simple and obvious, but from experience I can say it is a huge leap for most people in organizations. Just ask an someone to make a “promise”. That word evokes an incredible amount of resistance. Promising is serious business.  It is the heart of what make entrepreneurs successful and employees extraordinary contributors.

When you embrace the idea that your job is to promise results you will set yourself apart from the average person who simply goes to work to try their best to do a good job. Ask not what you need to do, but rather ask what results you could produce that would make the biggest difference.

So go ahead, be daring! Promise results and do whatever it takes to deliver and you will set yourself apart from the pack.