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Peter Cook

Human Dynamics

Managing Director

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Blog: Punk rock HR – Reasons to be cheerful, part 3: Good job design


This is the third extract of my new book “Punk Rock People Management – a no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff”.  

Here’s an extract on the topic of motivation:
In the words of honorary punk rockers, Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”.  Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story.
The Smiths’ classic “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” (OK, I know the Smiths are not punk, but why let the truth interfere with a good story) is the mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires.  Check Happy Talk out:
What then are the reasons to be cheerful at work? Certainly NOT because the 360 degree appraisal system has been put online in full colour, because the team has won a set of fake plastic palm trees inscribed with the company mission statement, or when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.
It may be slightly quaint or even old fashioned to say this, but whatever happened to good old job design, as described by Hackman and Oldham? They pointed out that people work well when they have well designed jobs.
These include some good old fashioned factors:
  • Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
  • Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
  • Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
  • Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
  • Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.
In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value. For example: vary work where possible to encourage skill variety; assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance; delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility; connect people to the impact of their work through feedback. 
Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied. Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as The Royal College of Physicians. 
Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on motivation:
  1. Design work according to Hackman and Oldham’s principles.
  2. Eliminate pointless tasks from the daily grind.
  3. Remember that reasons to be cheerful include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks;  getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.
To finish let’s sample Morrissey with his timeless story of poor person-job fit – "Heaven Know’s I’m Miserable Now".
For a free copy of the book, simply contact me with PUNK in the title and I’ll send you the whole e-book in one go for free. Or you can find the book as a low cost Kindle download at AMAZON.

Peter Cook is managing director of business and organisational performance consultancies, Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.

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Peter Cook

Managing Director

Read more from Peter Cook

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