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Job Titles and Job Descriptions

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The topic of job titles and job descriptions includes the process of how roles and responsibilities are defined and by whom, how they evolve and how they are formalized within the organization.


A new perspective

In Teal organizations jobs are defined by people rather than the organization.: They emerge from a multitude of roles and responsibilities that reflect the interests, talents, and the needs of the organization. By focusing on what needs to happen rather than jobs, Teal organizations are often more adaptable and responsive increasing their capacity to operate as a living system.

Every historical stage has given birth to a distinct perspective on job titles and job descriptions, and to very different practices:

Red organizations

The defining characteristic of Red Organizations is the continuous exercise of power in interpersonal relationships. Overall, there is no formal structured hierarchy and there are no job titles or formalized job descriptions, although maybe clearly delineated roles. The chief must demonstrate overwhelming power and bend others to his will to stay in position. To provide some stability, the chief surrounds himself with family members (who tend to be more loyal) and buys their allegiance by sharing the spoils. Each member of his close guard in turn looks after his own people and keeps them in line.

Amber organizations

Amber Organizations bring stability to power with formal titles, well -defined hierarchies and organization charts. The overall structure is a ‘pyramid’, with a cascade of formal reporting lines from top managers or leaders to subordinates. Clear rules stipulate who can do what. Job descriptions and titles are set by the senior leaders to create homogeneity across the organisation. . Many schools, churches, and the Civil Service operate this way today with standardized job descriptions and pay bands. The advantage of this approach is that it enables organisations to achieve on a significant scale. In the process it provides stability and certainty for those employed.

Orange organizations

Orange Organizations also have organization charts, well-defined job titles and job descriptions. Meritocracy is valued allowing anybody to move up the ladder if they are able. People are not expected to ‘know their place’ and remain in a pre-destined role. Each position will have a job description and title to reflect their place in the organization. The process for defining a job description is more fluid, with the emphasis likely to be on end results rather than duties. Titles matter in these organisations because they describe both the area of responsibility of the jobholder and their status.

Green organizations

Green Organizations also have a hierarchical approach, but are more likely to talk about roles than jobs. Areas of responsibility are defined through the organization charts. Decision making is pushed down to frontline workers who can often make significant  decisions without management approval. Jobs and roles are likely to be more generic and fluid, leaving a degree of freedom in how they are carried out. Titles are less important and employees are often referred to as citizens or family members. Job descriptions refer to external and internal stakeholders and stress the importance of relationship management. The HR team play a key role in describing jobs so that they fit the values and purpose of the organization. 

Teal organizations

in Teal organizations jobs are defined by people rather than the organization.: Jobs emerge from a multitude of roles and responsibilities that reflect the interests, talents, and the needs of the organization. There are often no job titles or job descriptions. If job descriptions they do exist, they tend to be short, describing a set of accountabilities to the team and/or each other. In some Teal organizations titles are used to denote role and function, in others there are no titles at all. People typically have the option to switch and trade roles according to workload and preferences.  By focusing on what needs to happen rather than jobs, Teal organizations are often more adaptable and responsive increasing their capacity to operate as a living system.

In practice

Granular roles vs. defined jobs

In Teal organizations most people no longer have a single “job” that fits a generic description; instead, they fill a unique combination of roles.

Job titles and descriptions rarely do justice to unique combinations of roles, and they are also too static to account for the fluid nature of work in Teal organizations. Colleagues frequently switch and trade roles according to workload and preferences.

Thinking in terms of granular roles instead of predefined jobs creates great fluidity and adaptability. People can give up one role and take up another without needing to go through the cumbersome and often political processes of appointment, promotion, and salary negotiation.


Identity & Fit

Without a job title, it becomes that much harder for people to merge their identity with the position they hold. This fusion is commonplace today. 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.

Anotherkey benefit of this approach is that people tend to choose (and be appointed to) roles that have a much better fit with their interests and talents. When people can’t turn to a job description to tell them what to do, they have to find their own unique way to fill a role with life and meaning.

 

Scope and naming of roles

Not everyone is equal and all the jobs are not the same. Some roles have a rather narrow scope (say, the role of operating a certain machine or cleaning the office), while other roles take a broader perspective (for instance, the role of designing a new product line). The fluid arrangement of roles (instead of defined job descriptions) also allows for a better matching of talent with roles.

In Teal organizations there is usually one person recognized for taking the broadest perspective, and usually they are called the CEO, at least by the outside world (even though they don't hold the same responsibilities and power as a traditional CEO). Some well-defined roles can be named,. but for the vast majority of employees, people don’t bother trying to find a label to capture the different roles they hold at any one point in time. In many  The language of employee or staff is often dropped entirely and in some cases replaced with the word, "colleague".

Management tasks within roles

The traditional tasks of a manager - direction-setting, budgeting, analyzing, planning, organizing, measuring, controlling, recruiting, evaluating, and communicating - are distributed amongst various members of a team. People are not accountable to one manager but to their peers, every one of whom is a boss in some respect. Anybody can put on the hat of “the boss” to make important decisions, launch new initiatives, hold underperforming colleagues to account, help resolve conflicts, or take over leadership if results are bad and action is needed. Many Teal organizations have noticed that “management’ creeps back in if too many leadership tasks are taken on by any one individual. For this reason people typically have the freedom to change teams and attention is paid to how work is distributed. The flip side is that people are no longer forced to take on management roles that might not fit their talents in order to advance their careers.

One of the difficulties, for those used to an Orange or Green organization, is that it is much harder to know where you fit. The absence of grades and job titles makes career development and salary progression much less certain. People in Teal organizations are generally much more comfortable managing their own progression.

Knowing who is responsible for what

Outsiders, and sometimes even insiders, can find the absence of job descriptions and job titles confusing because it is less clear who is responsible for what.. For this reason some organizations keep a log on their intranet allowing people to  record the roles they are currently filling. This aids clarity and helps others understand their expertise.

Frequently asked questions

Is there less management within an organization without job titles and job descriptions?

The tasks of management - setting direction and objectives, planning, directing, controlling, and evaluating - haven’t disappeared. They are simply no longer concentrated in dedicated management roles. Because they are spread widely, not narrowly, it can be argued that there is more management and leadership happening at any time in self-managing organizations despite, or rather precisely because of, the absence of fulltime managers.

Concrete Examples for Inspiration

Here are some practical examples from organizations that function without job titles and job descriptions:

FAVI

Metal Manufacturing – France – 400 employees – For profit

A worker at FAVI might operate a number of different machines, be in charge of ordering supplies for his team, lead a number of continuous improvement actions, and be responsible for recruitment to his team. Except perhaps for recruitment purposes, no one bothers to write down a job description.

However, at FAVI, one person on the team holds most management roles for the team (FAVI calls them, rather unhelpfully, a “team leader”, which might imply hierarchical power over their colleagues). FAVI found it works best to have one person free to roam among the team and only operate a machine occasionally when a helping hand is needed. FAVI’s team leaders act as coaches for their colleagues, as a clearinghouse for information, and as a point person when coordination is needed with other teams. This choice nevertheless carries a risk. Our cultural baggage of hierarchy is so strong that over time, team leaders could start behaving like bosses and become the primary decision makers on their teams. At FAVI, a simple but powerful relief valve exists, should a team leader find the taste of power too sweet: workers can choose at any moment to join another team. Team leaders have no meaningful way of coercing people into desired behavior; they certainly don’t have the authority to fire people unilaterally. If they start to behave autocratically, people can simply walk away

Holacracy

Self-Management Operating System – Worldwide

A worker in a Holacracy might "energize" any number of roles in any number of Circles. Each role has a purpose expressed within the larger purpose of the Circle, and a set of accountabilities to enact. Additionally, some roles have Domains: sensitive areas where they hold absolute authority.

How accountabilities are fulfilled is up to the role-holder. The role-holder is also responsible for tracking and making visible the "next actions" they deem necessary for each accountability, as well as the timeline for completion. Projects are also tracked in this way. This ensures that others who are energizing roles with dependency on another are kept aware of how key accountabilities are progressing; additionally, one role can ask another to prioritize a request specific to a dependency; the role-holder is then required to prioritize the request over those accountabilities where a request has not been made.

Roles are created and amended in a governance process. The question of who fills what role is typically an obvious choice, with whomever proposed the creation of a new role typically being the one who fills it; however, it is the purview of the Circle's Lead Link to assign anyone within the organization to a role in those instances where the choice is less obvious.

How one leaves a role varies from organization to organization. Constitutionally, it is the responsibility of the Lead Link to remove a person from a role when necessary. Some organizations, like the Whidbey Institute, create a roles marketplace where those who wish to move on from a particular role can let others know that it is available; anyone interested in taking on that role may do so through the authority of the Lead Link.

RHD (Resources for Human Development)

Human Services - United States - 4.000 employees - Nonprofit

Bob Fishman, the founder of RHD, explains the benefits of not using job descriptions in his organization: RHD consciously does not use job descriptions. Instead, the assumption that people are essentially good leads us to believe that, once an employee has a general sense of the job, he or she will want to shape the way it is done.

Thelma, for instance, had already been working as a receptionist at our new outpatient clinic for many years when she asked me for a job description. … I felt, and so told her, that it was absurd for me to define the details of her work since she was already doing a quality job. One of her outstanding behaviors was the kindness with which she greeted our clients, brought them coffee, and made sure that the therapist took them into the therapy room in a timely manner. Delineating her kindness was impossible: words would never have done justice to her heartfelt warmth. Thelma already knew how to perform her job and a detailed job description, I believed, would have done her more harm than good. … There is no single way to define a job, and no supervisor has the answer to how another person’s job should be performed. If … I imposed my view on her job, the corporation would, in effect, lose her special contribution - her way of managing the relationship between people. That would have been a great loss.

Buurtzorg

Health care - Netherlands - 9,000 employees - Nonprofit

Buurtzorg  is a not for profit provider of community healthcare in Holland, they create fluidity in roles through their 10 - 12 member self managing teams.

A nurse at Buurtzorg whose patients suddenly require more care might ask a colleague to take over her role of team planner for instance. For a while some nurses might carry more than their fair share of management tasks for the team and less at other times.The Teams are careful to keep management tasks somewhat spread out at all times. There is a risk, as some teams have experienced that hierarchical structures creep back in when too many management roles are delegated to a single team member.

Fitzii

Health care - Netherlands - 9,000 employees - Nonprofit

Fitzii has no set job descriptions; coworkers perform one or more roles based on their interests, talents, and the needs of the organization. A standard job title practice gives both guidance and flexibility when a title is useful.

Fitzii has no set job descriptions; coworkers perform one or more roles based on their interests, talents, and the needs of the organization.

Coworkers have one core role. Based on that core role, they are members of one of three functional teams – product & development, sales & marketing, and hiring success. Coworkers also have other roles not related to their core role. For convenience, simple lists of these roles exist in the company social network. They are as simple as “Hiring practice - Luz” so that it’s easy to identify the person currently playing a role.

Otherwise, roles are not described per se; but if the goal of a traditional job description is to make clear what each person should be doing, the equivalent source of guidance is each team’s goals and plans document, which makes clear the current priorities of that team. In that sense, a coworker’s job description is to make progress on Fitzii’s purpose, specifically by achieving the goals and plans her functional team has committed to.

Regarding job titles, it is common practice to use one’s team name as a title. For example – introducing oneself as “Carla from hiring success” or signing an email: Carla, Hiring Success, Fitzii. At the same time, in situations when it is more practical to use a conventional title, each person has freedom to do so. For example, it might be practical for a member of the sales & marketing team to identify himself as Fitzii’s marketing manager when addressing marketing services vendors. There is either enough peer pressure or good sense to avoid fancier ego-driven titles!

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