Vitalizing Work Design: Implementing A Developmental Philosophy — Part 2

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

In the first part of this series, I briefly described the developmental approach to work design and laid out six improvement targets that businesses strive towards in work design improvements. This time, we’ll look at the three of these areas in detail. Expansion, Identity, and Order must be realized in members of a working team in order to achieve the outcomes defined by the other three targets, Interaction, Concentration, and Freedom. Behaviorist approaches to work design produce results in each case that fall short of the potential offered by a Developmental Philosophy.

1. Expansion

The expansion of opportunity for individuals to contribute to the organization is one of the objectives of any new work design. It is now widely accepted that employees have been underutilized in most work settings and most new work designs introduce systems in which employees have enormously expanded opportunity to use their skill and knowledge. People are able to develop themselves within the new system and to the full extent of the system. A common example of this is a skill or knowledge-based pay and progression system which attempts a thorough listing of the skills and/or knowledge, organized into blocks, that are to be developed by the workers. The systems comes along with a system for certification of competence for each block.

A Developmental Philosophy sees the capability of people and their ability to contribute as open-ended. Any specified system of development, such as a Skill Block System, by its very nature provides a barrier to the very development and contribution that is sought from people placed within it. Using a Developmental Philosophy, the design of the work and the development of work system unfolds as development occurs and with this unfolding, each person discovers new potential in self, product offerings, and markets. Each individual is always working from a Developmental Plan with an interactively developed yet self-determined business contribution goal and a unique set of capabilities to be developed. The system that enables this development is not a matrix of cells each with pre-specified skills and knowledge. Rather it is one of guidelines regarding the nature of work arenas which, given the evolving values of stakeholder constituencies, serve as appropriate focus areas for contribution. This approach provides boundaries that ensure appropriate thrust toward business objectives is maintained even as individual creativity is nourished.

On the surface, these may not seem so different. Philosophically however they come from very different paradigms. One sees development as occurring within a system, with the system or model as the starting point of development. The other sees individual development as the means of evolving the system and each person is the starting point of their own development and the evolution of the system. The Behavioral Philosophy of designing a universal set of skills and knowledge through which each individual progresses, tends to homogenize the skills and knowledge of all persons within the system. Skill and knowledge based pay and progression systems or any system with predetermined standards tend to work to limit the possibilities of truly tapping and developing the full potential of people, businesses, and/or markets. Such logic is flawed because the business environment in which people work is very dynamic and changes more rapidly than any prescribed system can allow for. Pre-defined systems can only be based on yesterday’s ideas of needed skills and knowledge. Open-ended systems provide choice for working on the future.

2. Identity

Leadership in new work designs seeks to have people in the workforce identify with work and activities that are more conducive to increased flexibility, increased skill level, and increased accountability. The primary means in a behavioral-based system is one of establishing role models and of reinforcing behaviors that most closely approximate a desired behavior. Examples from such systems include evaluation procedures that specify desired behaviors, rating and ranking systems that honor those that achieve higher levels of frequency in being appropriate, and reward and recognition programs to single out those individuals or groups who most exemplify desired behaviors. A Developmental Philosophy eschews role models as the very antithesis of what is needed for success — the unfolding of uniqueness. Attention is given to helping everyone in the organization increasingly discover their own uniqueness and to embed that uniqueness into the organization, its product offerings, and processes.

No energy is put into comparing people as individuals, groups, shifts, or other collectives. Systems or processes that assume people should pursue modeling themselves after someone else are disassembled. There are no “low” and “high” performers, no “difficult people”, no behavioral-based categories at all. No tests are provided to help people discover what “type” of learner or manager they are. Emphasis is on the uniqueness of each individual and finding more ways for that uniqueness to be embedded into the life and outputs of the organization.

In behavioral-based work designs it is also common to form teams out of crews that can rotate shared assignments. One result of the rotation design and of teams that are based on shared shifts and work functions is that the individuals will tends to become subordinated to the collective or team or organizational will. The will we are speaking of here is that force or motivation that makes each of us unique — that causes us to be drawn to pursue particular interests and causes. It is the source of tenacity, creativity, and diversity. Most businesses have no idea how to maintain individuality while developing teams, so they unintentionally create work designs that effectively obliterate individual identities or essences — often more than traditional work designs do.

This collectivizing of will is accomplished through team-building, consensus-building, and by rewards for team and organizationally valued behavior and by condemnation or punishment of undesirable behavior. This subordination of the individual to the whole is fundamental to most team designs where multi-skilling processes seek to gain uniformity and flexibility of performance. Unfortunately, this process is also a source of loss of individuality in terms of questioning of procedures, expression of uniqueness possibilities, and innovation regarding processes of work.

Another example of how this occurs is through the use of one of the numerous typologies for assessing personality style that exist today. The Myers-Briggs analysis is one example. These typologies focus on the surface or functional aspects of a person, moving people away from exploring their uniqueness as individuals and their own inner processes. The categorizing of students in schools and the classifying of people in workplaces has tended to cause us to see ourselves as static (as being a particular type) rather than as evolving persons. These same processes tend to cause us to see ourselves as common and definable by externally determined standards. When these assessment models are used in organizations they contribute to a field of external judgments whereby we see people as types — one of a limited number of categories. The life of a person is thus reduced to a box or a rank. These models are the thieves of developmental processes.

The philosophical starting point is fundamentally different. In one, there is a set of “desirable” behaviors based on profiles of “successful behaviors”. In the other there is a desire to better unfold the potential of each unique individual. This difference shows up in behavioral based systems when there is an attempt to get individuals to move from identifying themselves with a narrowly defined job to identifying with a whole task. With a developmentally based system, identity is developed not from a job or any other phenomenon that is internal to the organization. Rather it is developed in terms of uniqueness brought about through a connection to something that needs serving beyond the organization itself, and to the way in which the individual and the organization can most uniquely serve. Teams formed with a Developmental Philosophy are organized in ways that integrate all functions in the business with the only meaningful identity — with constituent stakeholders (e.g. customers, communities surrounding the site, the Earth) who invest in them by purchasing their products and providing the resources needed to run their business.

3. Order

Whether to meet legal and regulatory mandates or for reasons of human relationships, there is a desire to have processes that provide order to work and to ensure fairness in dealings. In a behavioral–based work design, order is developed and maintained through standardization, proceduralization, and classification. As mentioned above, people are placed relative to one another within a system and there is an attempt to treat everyone using the same procedures. Additionally, work is standardized and proceduralized in an attempt to ensure adherence to specifications. Over time however, such routinization tends to invite a loss of meaning and creativity in all who engage in the work. In developmentally based systems, order is maintained by connecting everyone in the organization to the marketplace and the stakeholders who seek a reciprocal relationship with the company — e.g. investment dollars for a return, public services for a tax base. When each individual is connected in an intimate way with these stakeholder parameters and is involved in designing work to best achieve the collective effect sought by stakeholders, such a system is a very powerful organizer of work and one which every entrepreneur understands well.

In a behavioral model, as exemplified by a socio-technical system, the ordering emerges from structuring of the organization that is imposed on the individuals. In a developmental model, the order continually emerges from individuals through their living connection to a dynamic and evolving environment. One is a “closed system”, that pauses every so often to allow in new information — and then to restructure the standards, procedures, and classification. The other is a “living system” with a constant and immediate lifeline between a sought after value and the work of the employees who are the source of those values being realized.

We’ll look at the remaining three improvement targets next, in part three.

About Carol Sanford

Image for post
Image for post

Carol Sanford is a regenerative business educator, the award winning author of The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work, Cultivate Human Potential, Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes, and executive in residence and senior fellow in social innovation at Babson College. She has worked with fortune 500 executives and rock star entrepreneurs for 40 years, helping them to innovate and grow their businesses by growing their people. Learn more about Carol and her work at her website.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store