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Lauren Roberts

Nine Feet Tall

Principal Consultant

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Don’t let job titles dictate career pathways

Job titles are holding businesses and people back. By looking instead at outputs needed, the door would be open for more diverse talent to join your team. 

Since 2013 it has been argued that job titles lack importance, and could even be hindering employers from finding the right talent for the resource gaps that need filling.

In so many aspects of modern life we appreciate that choices are often on a spectrum despite the default being binary. However, in the world of work we are restricted by a title and parameters of a role, which are often inherited and defined by a structure, not a person. Most organisations’ job titles still define lifelong career paths and the people who both apply for roles and are hired.

In the ultimate agile workplace, skills, attitude and experience would determine the best person to complete a task. As HR professionals we know that skills and behavioural competencies will be developed over time in a job, be that due to team dynamics, having an excellent mentor or role model, company culture or the evolving demands of the role. In a world where job titles dictate a career path internally and externally, it is often a risk for both the candidate and potential employer to even consider switching paths or retraining. 

By looking at outputs needed rather than a box for someone to fit in, the door would be open for more diverse talent to join the team.

A people-centric approach to problem solving

Imagine a team, with a problem. The best way to solve a problem is to find the right person for the job – square peg, square hole. Instead, in business, we look for a square-ish hole and agree to round any edges to make it work. 

How does this alternative people-centric approach work?

If faced with a vacancy you would: 

  1. Review all the demands on the team: What tasks have crept into the remit of your team? Do these align with either strategic objectives or operational requirements? If not, how else could these be handled?

  2. Take the tasks you have and match them to the team member with the skills. This could be to support development objectives, celebrate growth or use uncovered strengths. (Repetitive tasks that anyone could do would be shared on a rota.)

  3. Look at the remaining tasks (the ones that do not naturally fit with the current skillsets within your team). Here you have two options, train and develop someone with potential, or recruit for those specific skills. 

For example, take a finance team. Duties across the team can include reporting, data analysis, meeting with internal teams, reconciliation, following predefined processes (for payroll, invoicing etc) and project support. The skills to fulfil these duties include business analysis, project management, stakeholder management, process improvement, an eye for detail, ability to follow complex processes, retaining information, external communication and supplier management.

Could the right candidate in fact be one with no financial experience but with all the above skills and aptitude, and the willingness to undertake financial training? By looking at outputs needed rather than a box for someone to fit in, the door would be open for more diverse talent to join the team. 

The concept is like that of the ‘soul of a start-up’, where teams have explosive growth driven by a clear purpose and the creativity and autonomy of the staff.

The benefits

This approach has many positive implications, one being that it will support your existing diversity and inclusion initiatives. In an environment where it is the effective use of skills (both natural and in development) that bring reward there is value in employees working hard and no gain in presenteeism, combative or egocentric behaviour. 

This model promotes upskilling and mentoring on a team-deliverable level, increases accountability across the team and not only rewards growth and development but really puts it at the heart of things. It requires you as a leader to have the space and opportunity to question the demands on your team, creating a sense of shared purpose and a strong team ethic. Research into ‘job crafting’ also suggests that actively changing or ‘crafting’ an individual’s role can increase their ‘work meaning and work identity’, increasing efficiency via increased motivation. 

The concept is like that of the ‘soul of a start-up’, where teams have explosive growth driven by a clear purpose and the creativity and autonomy of the staff. This gives an empowered team a problem and a framework to work within to solve the problem, drawing on the experiences of all inspired by a vision.

An example of this is the popular music streaming service Spotify. As discussed at length in this two-part Corporate Rebel’s blog, “The members of squads barely feel how big the company has become, since they keep working in teams no bigger than 12 employees. The squads are fully autonomous and 100% responsible for a single feature. In a way it’s like having lots of small start-ups (squads) that harness the power of the bigger company by combining expertise (guilds and chapters) while creating alignment through tribes and alliances.”

By removing some of the conscious and unconscious bias from the recruitment and promotion process, and seeing employees as a truly human resource, businesses will naturally create more diverse and inclusive cultures and open additional avenues for recruitment. 

This new approach to distributing tasks across teams could also support your retention efforts. Research from Corporate Rebels found “only 33% of employees felt they make optimum use of their talents at work. This means a staggering 67% (!) feel they can’t exploit their strengths”. And given “employees are 15% less likely to quit if they use their strengths daily and are 8% more productive when they do”, one way in which we can retain our talent is to tap into these strengths. 

When your next vacancy appears, ask yourself why this title, why these tasks?

Three ways to get started

1. Start small

Collecting skills the team has and making these accessible across the business will open up opportunities for conversations, reduce silos and encourage a culture of sharing. This also has real benefits for those new to the business or world of work, empowering them to ask the right people to assist them, and reducing the expectation and burden on a manager of being all things to all people. 2. Take a moment

2. Take the time to review job descriptions, titles and division of skills

Whenever a team member leaves or joins, we know the team will go through both the change curve as well as Tuckman’s ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning‘ model (which identifies the stages of team development). Including the team in redivision of tasks, uniting them in a mission and drawing on strengths could enable you to cultivate the soul of a start-up. 

3. Consider innovation catalysts 

There could be power and efficiencies made in introducing innovation catalysts to the business, either through upskilling naturally talented change agents or introducing consultants. The catalyst facilitates focused design thinking to make an impact, fast.  

Re-energise your team

To transition a whole business to this way of thinking would be an ambitious undertaking. However, the tradition for inherited job titles is serving a diminishing purpose. Harnessing the full skillsets of those in your organisation, and re-energised team members through redefining their role, will open the door to unknown possibilities.

When your next vacancy appears, ask yourself why this title, why these tasks? If you want to recognise an innovative or bright individual, consider where else their skills might make a difference. Small changes are sometimes the most rewarding. 

Interested in this topic? Read ‘Rethinking skills journeys to future-proof your organisation‘.

Author Profile Picture
Lauren Roberts

Principal Consultant

Read more from Lauren Roberts
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