My niece thinks that I hire people for a living, which is not entirely accurate, but not entirely wrong either. When she was about nine she asked me to explain how she could get a job (side note: she’s going to rule the world). I felt that this offered me a crucial opportunity to be a useful, responsible aunt, instead of the one who always sends her cat gifs.

I set out to explain how she should think about a career using that classic tool, the Venn diagram:

Redesigning Roles

It’s a little simplistic, but it helped me make that point that although I would have been a world-class professional cat gif critic, there just isn’t a market for that particular skill set.

But once I’d drawn my Venn diagram, I started to question whether I was being honest about the reality my niece was likely to face when she entered the workforce.

As most of us know, too often we end up in roles that people will pay us for, but that don’t actually leverage our strengths, or that we do not enjoy.

If I was really honest, the Venn diagram probably should have looked more like this:

Redesigning Roles

Many otherwise innovative and intelligent organizations cannot conceive of another way. Hiring managers develop job postings with detailed lists of the skills and experience their ideal candidate possesses, and set out to find the candidate whose past experience most closely resembles the work they will be doing if hired.

Then the new hire is slotted into the empty box on the org chart and *sigh of relief* we can all get on with our work, hopefully for a while before we have to do that again. I’ve been in too many meetings over the years with hiring managers who have said something like:

“I really want to find someone who just wants to do this role, and isn’t going to expect to move into another position in 12 months.”

This approach means there is already a limit on how that new hire can contribute to the organization. Usually based on no more than a brief resume and few interviews, we assume that we know who and what that person is, and what they are capable of being. And if the new hire’s ‘slice of genius’ happens to be something that isn’t specifically on their job description? Well, many organizations are unlikely to ever discover that.

This represents an enormous lost opportunity for organizations and the people they hire.

The world is changing fast, and many organizations are struggling to keep up. We’re all tasked with trying to align the practices, structures, and capabilities within our organization to the rapidly shifting external environment and market in which we operate. This is no simple feat. I think there is a great temptation to respond to this turbulent complexity by trying to bring order and predictability to the chaos. Linear career ‘ladders,’ overly granular competency models, and a culture of “putting in your time” all provide a measure of stability and predictability inside an organization.

But is that sense of control real? Does it help us to respond effectively to a more volatile and unpredictable world? Does it enable the talented people we’re hiring to help our organizations, and themselves, adapt?

What if instead more organizations were redesigning roles to align their team member’s interests and aptitudes with both the organization’s current and future needs? What if part of everyone’s job was to prepare themselves for their next step, and the next step of the organization?  

At Actionable, we’re trying to answer some of these questions for ourselves. As we contemplate some pretty significant growth in the years ahead, we’re talking about how we can prepare ourselves individually, and the organization as a whole, to evolve successfully.

One way we’re attempting to do that is by redesigning the way we think about individual roles. Instead of assuming that each team member has a full plate of duties related to their title and functional area of focus—leaving them little or no time to contribute to projects they find interesting or that will allow them to practice new skills at work—we’re committing to try to operate in a way that limits their core duties to 70% of their time, leaving 30% to commit to internal projects or task forces that align with their development goals and interests, and the changing needs of the organization. It looks a little like this:

Redesigning Roles

The 30% projects will often be in support of emerging initiatives to support our growth, and we’ll aspire to have team members work on things they enjoy doing, that build their skills in support of their evolving role and team, and that create value for the organization and our ACP community and users.

While we don’t expect that all or even most of the team will be at 70/30 all the time, it will be a target, and will give us a common language to have individually relevant conversations about workload, role design, future organization needs, individual development goals, and workforce planning. It’s also an important signal of the ongoing commitment we have to doing work that matters, and walking our talk as an organization dedicated to professional learning.

The ability for organizations to change is not a luxury. Yet the notion that we can put people into little boxes and then be ‘agile’ and adaptive is completely at odds with that reality. While the alternative is unlikely to be orderly or perfect, we think it’s worth that trade-off.

As for my niece, she will undoubtedly excel at whatever profession she chooses. But it is my hope that she isn’t forced to set aside many of her skills, abilities, and wide-ranging interests to squeeze inside a small box on an org chart, bounded by the high walls of a regimented, standardized process that ignores the complex times we are all working in.