About Workforce Echoes

Monday, March 1, 2010

Titles and Job Descriptions

By Jennifer Good

This article was inspired by a lengthy debate I had with my co-founder, Laura Sita.
She won.

Title: Team Member
Duties: Must be able to type 90 words per minute, answer all in-coming phone calls, manage large filing system, act as time management coach for our CEO, serve as a member of the  Executive Committee for Marketing Strategy, and any other talent you can bring to the table.

Just for a moment, toss aside your preconceived notions of typical job titles, job descriptions, and hierarchical boxes on the organization chart. It is not that far-fetched to think that an organization might have the exact list of needs as described in the job description above. Yet we probably would not advertise a job such as this because, well, it just doesn’t fit a standard job title. What box would this job fit into? Would it be low on the totem pole due to the typing and filing? Would it be right next to the CEO as an assistant? Would it get buried somewhere in the middle of the marketing department?
While you might not advertise a job exactly as listed above, this particular set of duties could easily evolve in the right organizational culture. First we must be willing to accept the notion that there are superstar talents hidden within employees at all levels of the organization. These talents go untapped simply because they do not fit within the person’s assigned role. It would make more sense to be flexible and remember that job descriptions are not written in stone. They should not prevent talents and skills from shining through.

Imagine a person who has just one very strong talent. Perhaps it is coaching. Talking to his prior supervisors reveals many complaints: doesn't understand marketing tactics, disorganized, doesn't understand technology, etc. These shortcomings will keep this talented coach from rising in the hierarchy of the organization. His single superstar talent doesn’t fit the needs of a complete box on the organization chart. Never mind that this person gets people to move forward with innovative ideas. Never mind that he puts enthusiasm into the team and creates success through his unique coaching ability. We are willing to pay for a laundry list of mediocre talents but not for someone with a single superstar talent simply because it doesn’t fit all of the needs of a standard job title.

Too often, job titles, standard job descriptions, and our own preconceived notions are obstacles that get in the way of the free flow of communication and ideas. With these obstacles in place you may never know that the best winning sales strategy lies in the imagination of your graphic artist. You may never know that your annual conference could be twice the success if you tapped into the event planning talents of your accountant. We are in an age of creativity and innovation. Successful companies are finding out that rigid bureaucracies, three levels of approvals, and ignoring ideas that don’t come from the right box are not on the path to sustainable success. Our old approach creates waste; talents untapped and opportunities lost. We can no longer turn away talent because it doesn’t fit our mold.

There are many ways to identify the talent pool within an organization. Surveys might be helpful but generally we have to witness talents first hand to truly appreciate someone’s capabilities. Providing opportunity is the key. Open up the lines of communication and create networks rather than organization charts. Invite employees from all levels and departments to offer ideas and assist with projects. Talents can also be identified by listening to your team, through interviews, and by talking to managers who pay close attention to their employees.

The talents within your company, no matter who has them, are your greatest  competitive edge. Successful businesses must have continual and easy access to the talents and knowledge needed given the problem they are trying to solve or the opportunity they are trying to create. Be willing to rewrite job descriptions, to create
communication networks, and to view everyone as an equal and important part of the team.

I have worked in human resources for many years and am fully aware of the challenges this new way of thinking creates. How do we compensate people that don’t fit in a neat little box? How do we benchmark their position against the rest of the industry? Who would they report to and how would you measure success? These are not insurmountable problems, especially considering the benefits to both individuals and organizations in doing a much better job of utilizing talents in the workforce. Research has clearly tied motivation and productivity with employees being allowed and encouraged to do what they do the best. Your business will be able to adapt faster, be the first with innovative ideas, and will benefit from the improved performance of a motivated workforce.

Take a close look at your team or department or company as a whole. What talents are you ignoring simply because they aren’t paired up with another important talent? Whose ideas are you ignoring because they aren’t high enough on the organization chart? Great managers do not have all the answers; but they do know where to find those answers.

Toss aside that organization chart, ignore job titles, and search for talent. You may be surprised at what you find.