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What will happen to job titles and defined job descriptions?

In C21st Orgs, job titles and fixed role descriptions won't exist in the same way because most people will execute various roles in their own particular combination. Workload and preferences will allow colleagues to switch and trade tasking accordingly and identify their own job titles or descriptions; when work is fluid, static descriptions aren't reflective of the reality of the workplace. Getting to a place where job titles don’t exist at all will certainly take time. If, indeed, most organisations will ever decide to get there. So, it is not a flat suggestion that all identification labelling should be disregarded; certainly not immediately.

There are few things within the status quo organisation that exemplifies the mechanical, industrial way we have built our organisations than the fixed job description and title. This specialisation and separation of roles are highly functional, but not very humanising or adaptable. In a fast-changing, complex environment like the one we now have organisations need people to respond in real time and that means being multi-skilled with a broad understanding of the commercial context.

The other key issue with the status quo approach is that it prioritises the boxes (job descriptions) over the people; it doesn’t build the architecture of an organisation around them. Think of the average management level within a particular business unit. It comes with a list of predefined tasks that the employee is expected to meet. The tasks are pretty similar whomever the person is - the nature of the role supersedes the nature of the individual. Now think, in reality, how different all those managers actually are. They are far more diverse than the job descriptions allow.

What now happens to these managers? Effectively, they’re now put through centralised training and development programmes designed to ensure they “fit the mould”. In particular, we learn their weaknesses and send them on training workshops to fix them. But C21st Orgs don’t look at it like this. C21st Orgs start with who these people are and build the roles around them. Moreover, they are not so interested in fixing weaknesses - they are interested in finding their strengths and focusing on that instead.

The loss, or change of approach to descriptions and titles, has a variety of knock-on effects. For example, when people can't look to job titles and descriptions to tell them what work to do and how to act, they must choose more personal responsibility. They might become more creative and begin to truly bring their whole selves to work. We stop believing that our job titles and roles define who we are as a person.

Within the management context, it will mean some "traditional" management tasks are distributed among team members who are then accountable to a group of peers. With the right support and information, anyone can make important decisions, keep accountability, resolve conflicts, or take action. Plus, people won’t have to take on management roles where it is not a part of their talents or interests.

However, it can be much harder for an individual to know where they fit in. It certainly takes adjustment. Career development and salary progression don’t have the same obvious pathways. Within the status quo, the assumed version of success is to go up. Within C21st Orgs, we are redefining what success looks like. But as employees adjust they are able to adapt and control their careers more holistically and authentically for who they are. A way of dealing with initial anxiety regarding the loss of established job titles is to let people choose their own.

One thing that does remain is the wisdom of keeping one another aware of what we are responsible for. This will help organisations clarify what work is being done, how and maintain a communal understanding of everyone's areas of knowledge and experience.

"When we believe our job is who we really are, we start thinking and behaving accordingly. Without job titles and job descriptions, we are more likely to see ourselves and others as human beings who simply put their energy into specific work for a period of time.”

Frederick Laloux

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  1. John Featherby

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