Job Crafting: Been There, Done That…I’d Do it Again!

“Disengagement happens, and poor management isn’t always the cause. The fact is that being an inspirational leader and an excellent coach aren’t always enough.”

                                                                 Nick Tasler, Business Week, 03/26/2010

                                                                ‘Help Your Best People Do a Better Job’

 When it comes to a lot of things, technology,fashion, new books or movies, I must admit to being the “100th Monkey” of urban legend fame. You know me, I’m the guy who finally buys the 3.0 version of the I-Phone then runs around the office showing everyone what it can do like he just invented fire! Like for instance, I just discovered while creating this piece that you can edit a JPEG file. Did you know that was possible? Cool stuff!


With most things that would describe me, but not with Job Crafting, no Sireee, with this relatively new concept I was waaaay ahead of the curve.

You see the guy in the picture? That might have been me back in 1976, without the desktop and corn plant of course. ( I think that’s corn!) Sitting in my office in the corporate headquarters of a Fortune 50 company on any afternoon, except Friday, when it was slower! How did we deal with boredom on the job back then with no internet to surf, no texting etc.? I really don’t know about anyone else but I can tell you that one advantage of working in a large building in the center of San Francisco was that you could get lost for hours at a time and the window shopping was terrific. Sad I know, but true I swear.

I didn’t do well with the window shopping for all that long, maybe a couple of months and then I started to make regular trips down the hall to see if my manager had anything with a deadline that he wanted to hand off. When that didn’t work I’d stop in my co-workers offices and ask if they needed any help with anything. Both these tactics were an improvement on the window shopping routine but neither was really a sustainable solution. The big problem I was facing then was that we simply had too many people for the amount of work that needed to be done. What can I say other than to remind you that this was before the globalized economy and all the ensuing competition.

When after two years in the head office my manager made this sideways offer to me; “You wouldn’t want to transfer to Mississippi would you?” I snapped it up. Back in the plant environment it wasn’t like there was an overwhelming amount of work to be done either but I could cross functional lines more easily and there were always operations managers with cool analytical or people problems that they were more than happy to have me dive into. I was Job Craftin baby, and it wasn’t even 1980!

When I started my own organizational development company a few years later I remembered the pain of the experience of having every one of my managers happy with my performance and being bored beyond words. As we built the organization we made a practice of letting people involve themselves in what interested them, as long as they had their assignments covered. We only had two rules regarding working in the company. If you needed to be managed we probably didn’t need you and if you were not entirely happy doing the job you had been assigned you should either get busy and figure out what we were doing you did enjoy or leave and find something suited your interests. We did not want anyone there because they needed a job and for sure I wasn’t about to be the enabler of someone wasting even a day of their life just to pay the bills.

We never got to be more than a fifteen person company but over the 20+ years we had the business we had four employees join us as office administrators, get interested in our consulting practice, train themselves up on the job and eventually become billable consultants, no college degrees, just a big bucket of “I wanna!” Two of these folks now have their own practices, one works as the business manager in her husband’s medical practice and the other has gone back to office administration but with a strong focus on customer service and account management. They all remain close associates. Somewhere in their experience with us these people really got the message that their satisfaction was their responsibility and we meant to partner with them as long as what they were doing was consistent with the needs of the business.

I am pretty sure we had an advantage over many workplaces because I have always been willing to use my company for experimental purposes and wouldn’t ask any client to try out something we had not tested on ourselves. But I think it is also a matter of values and having your practices match your words. Something like. we believed our employees really were our most important asset so we acted like it!

In doing research for this post I ran across a couple of very solid sources you may want to tap yourself. McBassi & Company ran a short piece in their blog  on April 14 (Mike Powers) which hooked me up to Nick Tasler’s piece in Bloomberg/Businessweek (see above) which introduced me to Amy Wrzesniewski and what she has been studying on “job crafting” for more than a decade. Nick’s article looks at the opportunity of “Job Crafting” from the manager’s perspective and offers some tips on trying this out especially if you are concerned about keeping your best people engaged. Another source worth looking at ‘Hate Your Job? Here’s How to Reshape It” authored by Jeremy Caplan appeared in Time last December. Amy W. gets kudos here again and this time the issue gets examined from the employee perspective.

I guess this ‘Job Crafting’ thing is really heating up huh? Where were all these guys back in 1976 when I was washing the mud off my sweet potato?


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