Keeping knowledge workers motivated requires unique methods of job design, and there are a number of important steps HR can take to improve job design with a view to better talent management, according to an expert in the area.
“It’s no secret and unless you’ve been living in a bubble, things are changing and change fast,” said Kez Tacar, director of management consulting practice The HR Landscape.
“The impact of intense global competition, changing social and demographic trends, advances in technology; the emergence of new economies and the rise of virtual corporations – not to mention changes to employment legislation, ageing population and current policy discussions of higher immigration rates, are factors impacting on the design of organisations and ultimately the design of jobs.”
Additionally, Tacar said the traditional notion of going to “the office” is also shifting, as the flexibility created with advancing technology means most jobs can be performed anywhere. “We are therefore likely to see increases in the hours worked leading to greater productivity and the emergence of virtual organisations or hybrids of such, as meaningful ways of designing jobs,” she said.
“Time and again we experience organisations doing more with less resources (financial and people).”
Driving higher levels of prosperity through economic growth will require increasing participation and productivity through opportunities that are meaningful for the worker, Tacar added.
“[Getting] older Australians and women to enter, or re-enter, and stay in work requires a new way of thinking,” she said.
“Designing meaningful jobs that take into consideration the varying skill levels and cultural differences won’t be an add-on, but a major competitive advantage that is likely to underpin many workforce design initiatives.”
Job redesign 101
Tacar said jobs for knowledge workers are designed taking into consideration:
- that the nature of tasks does not program the worker
- they are self-managing with greater autonomy and responsibility
- responsibility for innovation
- [they] are offered ongoing development and learning opportunities
- they are managed based on quality derived rather than quantity
- they must be considered as assets (not costs)
As such, organisations can take a number of steps in getting the process of job design right, according to Tacar, who recently released a report on the issue.
“Firstly it’s about understanding your business and workforce demographics and ensuring these are aligned. This includes identifying the tasks, activities and processes that take place in order to achieve desired outputs and outcomes,” she said.
“Through this process you will identify jobs that have highest potential for re-engineering and refinement and the impact such jobs have on organisation strategy, culture etcetera.”
Analysis and critical thinking is also important in designing jobs, Tacar said.
This includes identifying barriers and factors impeding on successful job execution, and generally extends to inefficiencies across business systems, duplication and leadership.
“The process of making sense of this data and then designing ‘meaning’ jobs will include listening to the needs of your people and creating opportunities that ensures organisations attract and retain the talent of today and the future,” she said.
Job design pitfalls
The need to analyse jobs beyond the standard approaches of job-related data, such as task responsibilities, knowledge and skills, is a key focus in the process of job design, Tacar said.
Equally, the competency-focused approach that places greater emphasis on motivation, adaptability, team work have all been considered essential for successful job performance. “These approaches are not new,” she said.
“The challenge now becomes a means of taking this approach to the next level and factoring in the many challenges associated with an ageing and shrinking workforce.
“What is the compromise between skills, knowledge and competency when organisations need to factor in the varying levels of skills and knowledge associated with an intergenerational and culturally diverse workforce?
“And how do organisations organise themselves through structure and supporting job enablers, such as effective business processes and systems that actually creates flexible working practices and conditions to attract and retain an enriched intergenerational and culturally diverse workforce?
“The solution to these challenges will no doubt vary depending on organisation and industry,” said Tacar.
“Some will make progressive change that will sustain prosperity; others will continue to struggle if they fail to do things differently. More of the same may not cut it, in fact it won’t. More and different is what is needed.”
The changing role of HR
The changing nature of jobs and the workforce has a number of implications for the HR role as well, according to Tacar, who said she likes to think that HR as a practice has evolved over the years.
“It is no longer acceptable to function purely as a compliance function,” she said.
“The nature of work requires working with CEOs and heads of HR in driving broader reform on these very issues.
“It’s magic when you have a CEO that truly gets the value derived from strategic HR interventions.
“This impact is not purely a bottom line result. It’s about the people that have made this possible that ultimately drive performance results.”
HR professionals who have the ability to influence and implement improvements, aligned with business strategy, demonstrate their value time and time again, according to Tacar.
“I’ve also experienced exceptional HR professionals who are stuck in organisations with senior leaders that just don’t get it,” she said.
“It then becomes a personal choice – stay and hope for the best or move on to another organisation where the importance of HR’s contribution to achieving results is actively and consistently applied and appropriately positioned amongst the highest of authorities.”
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