Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Reinventing Jobs

So I’m catching up with a few books now things are a bit quieter as we approach Christmas.

My main priority is Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau’s book Reinventing Jobs which I started back in the Autumn but didn’t manage to finish before getting busy on project work.

It’s clear to me that jobs do need to change, and are already changing, as everything around them changes in the 4th Industrial Revolution. However I don’t think we put anything like enough attention on job design, so I’m really pleased this book is helping shift our focus back to this topic.

I like the categorisation into repetitive / variable, independent / interactive, and physical / mental, and also the identification of the major opportunities as robotic process automation, cognitive automation and collaborative robotics (I think ‘social robots’ are something else). However, I'm not sure the categorisations necessarily help that much in identifying when these opportunities can be used. And we should be thinking more broadly about using apps, platforms, augmented / virtual reality etc too.

There are also a few areas that I disagree with the authors more strongly on.

Firstly, they emphasise that reinventing jobs is different to business process reengineering, but I don’t think it is, that much.

Linked to this, I’m only half convinced by their four step approach to reinventing jobs. Starting from the end of this, (3) Identifying options for recombining tasks in light of new technology, and (4) Optimising work but putting it all together to reinvent jobs, make perfect sense, and is what happens, or should happen, in process reengineering too. Jobs need to be designed to perform the work of the organisation using relevant technology. I also agree that this is the basis for updating structures, decision rights, social networks, culture and other organisation level factors, including the definition and execution of leadership, and the role of reward, etc.

However, I’ve never been convinced by (2) Assessing the relationship between job performance and strategic value (not investing in the Mickey Mouses but the sweepers where a certain investment makes the biggest difference) and think including this approach unfortunately detracts from the rest of the book.

And (1) Deconstructing jobs into component work tasks is one option to identify opportunities for automation. But bigger opportunities exist by looking at processes, practices or employee experiences etc. I agree that the job isn’t the right level to identify these, and that the organisation structure is even worse, but who said this is where it needs to start?

We need to look at the opportunities of digital automation top down and future state back rather than just bottom up and current state forward. So the better focus is on processes, projects, services, or the transformations which get done in teams or networks (if the organisation doesn’t focus on processes etc).

We also need to look at wider issues as part of the new job design too, and I’m pleased that the authors review the role of leadership, reward and other HR processes - in fact despite my interest in jobs, this chapter on the New Leadership was probably my favourite in the book. I’d have liked to have seen more on other consequences too, eg designing jobs for employee / worker experience which I also think is a high priority in the 4th industrial revolution (it’s not just about the opportunities for automation); helping contingent workers and others perform in jobs or otherwise take on tasks (although I know this was dealt with in Boudreau’s previous book, Lead the Work); designing jobs in the context of the teams / groups / networks that employees work within; and how these groups and the relationships between individuals can be improved or otherwise changed by automation too (which I write about in The Social Organization.

So in summary, I like Jesuthasan’s and Boudreau’s focus on the job, their specific approach to job design, and all the examples. I’d personally have preferred all this to have been put in a rather different, and broader context. But I’m a critical reviewer and it at least one of those books where there’s plenty of content to reflect on and criticise if appropriate. The book made me think and that’s probably more what I look for more than anything else in my reading.

You may be interested in my course on job design delivered with Symposium in the UK (or available to run in-house). 

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