Image by Finsec via Flickr
How is your business coping with the recession?
- Are you taking a cynical view of less business, less of a talent shortage, less work for me?
- Or are you being asked for ways to improve productivity and be more attractive to customers and employees?
Do we know how to design jobs to enhance productivity?
To coin a phrase, Yes, we do! And we have known for some time.
Before Gen Y were a gleam in their father’s eye, American psychologists, Hackman and Oldham published the Job Characteristics Model. It is a five point model which is handy for reviewing a job and for designing “events” such as lectures which must be comfortable for each of the 400 students in the audience.
a. Is the task a whole task? Is it designed to be started and finished by the same person or team?
b. Is the job important? How does it relate to the work of other people?
c. Does the person doing the job get feedback? Are they able to tell how well they are doing the work from the task and from the people who use the results?
d. Is the job contained? Does the person doing the job have control over the resources including the way the job is done and when it is done?
e. Is the job interesting? Does it call for a variety of skills and is the person doing the job able to learn new skills?
We are NOT talking about Taylor as you can see.
[A C F C V : Auto Connect Friends Responsibly & Variously]
I notice that much of the talk about Gen Y follows this very same agenda. So hats-off to the young. Maybe we will get well designed work at last!
Of course, Gen Y haven’t thought this model up for themselves. The model is embedded into two phenomena that older people love to hate.
Social media, like Facebook, allow
1. Autonomy: the choice of taking part on your own terms, personalizing your input, and managing your time and attention.
2. Competence: tasks that encourage deep engagement, flow, internal goals, internal feedback and intense concentration.
3. Relatedness: multiple ways to interact, collaborate, share, express gratitude, and expand one’s social network.
3. Computer Games develop similar attitudes
1. Bottom-line, results orientation: how am I doing and is the ranking fair?
2. Collaboration with dissimilar others: who do I need to complete this task with me and where and how can I work find people with the skills I need?
3. Problem solving in novel situations: experimentation to learn the rules, and to experiment with the rules.
If I am to play the devil’s advocate, I can ask: does every one respond well to a game-like environment. No ~ some people do like utterly repetitive boring jobs. I am sure you will recognize them if you meet them. But I suspect you might have difficulty finding them.
More importantly, people of the 21st century don’t like being “gamed”. They will play the game, but the game must satisfy their interests. If they feel “gamed”, they are likely to resort to passive aggression.
People like taking responsibility and if you ask them to do the impossible, you will stress them – visibly.
What benefits might you expect from improving job design. These are benefits I have seen:
- The burden of day-to-day management fell away and managers were able to spend their time on problems outside of the firm: negotiating power, fuel, major deals, etc.
- Employees passed messages from customers to the right people. Customers satisfaction and sales shot up.
- The percentage of work passing quality control increased by 12x and workers pushed aside deficient work which they fixed for free on Saturdays.
- Production increased 3x and workers were able to go home at noon (an effective pay increase!)
Would you like a working heuristic?
One side of paper only
1. Require managers to delegate all the goals for all their subordinates on one side of paper. The brief should include the bigger picture (the boss’ boss’ goal), the boss’ overall goal, a goal for each subordinate, any non-standard resources, how they will coordinate.
Communication is in the mind of the receiver
2. Check that each employee knows how to reach their goal (and has done something similar before), and can list their resources, authority and main professional guidelines.
Concentrate on coordination rather than control
3. Check each employee knows when they should signal that they are ahead of schedule and could affect other people’s work, or behind schedule and need more resources.
Concentrate your efforts on redesigning the manager’s job
4. If the manager interferes with the work or does not respond immediately to requests for rescheduling, redesign the manager’s job! They have too much or too little to do!
Count & celebrate!
5. Record the group’s progress. And celebrate!
And then to fine-tune the system:
- Order tasks on a 1, 2, 3 system. The first time we learn, the 2nd time we polish, the 3rd time we get bored.
- Allow people to rotate. Someone might have to go to round 4 before a rotation comes up. Never mind! It is better than no rotation.
- Allow people to set internal goals and improve their work. Someone may want to stay longer in job because they are working on a way to do it better.
Organizing the workplace.
- Gen Y are savvy about modern media. Let them use it. Review your confidentiality policies with them, of course, and let them design security!
- Give people private places to work where they control access to their desk, their time, and their attention. And communal places to meet informally and formally.
The return on investment depends on your starting position. Because the investment is minimal, we can look at improvements as our return.
Remember you will have constraints: machines go at maximum speeds and may be erratic too. Production may produce, but can sales sell. Do start in a sensible place and take into account the way sections feed into each other.
If you have done any job redesign, I would be really interested in collaborating with you.
UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.