Managers: Looking For Engaged, High Performers? Design Jobs To Be Loveable!

dreamstime_m_6568555 smiling steelworkersEarly in my life, I discovered what it meant to love a job.

It was a part-time job I held in while in High School at the A&P, where, despite my complete lack of experience, a great store manager gave me responsibility for selecting products, stocking and managing the health and beauty aids section of the store.  I had responsibility for ordering, stocking, price marking products and maintaining enough on hand inventory (not too much so that product sat on the shelves for a month, not so little that people couldn’t buy it when they wanted it).  I was able to use my own judgment in ordering including deciding what new products to try, which to stop ordering, and how to display products to catch the attention of customers.  I was also pulled away to help at the cash register or bagging when the store was busy.  Training was provided and I was soon ready to go.

I loved that job!  I was never out sick, never late, and found myself always striving to do it better and better.  I looked forward to going to work.  I liked the customers, many co-workers and my boss.  There, I learned that work can be exhilarating, I could be really good at it, and I was trusted to make good decisions on my own.  On occasion I ordered a product that didn’t sell or that ran out too quickly — but my boss didn’t scold me; he coached me and helped me learn how to deal with and prevent those situations.

The secret to discovering engagement as an employee is finding a job that you love, that gives you joy simply in the doing of it.  The key for managers and H.R. is designing a job that is loveable.  There are several characteristics of jobs that can make them loveable, characteristics that engage people and that bring out their best.  And, we’ve actually known how to engage people through work for decades — since the days of Frederick Taylor, Scientific Management, Herzberg, Maslow, Myers, Hackman, Oldham — and others who since then have conducted research and experiments on job design and its impact on people and on organization effectiveness. So, why do we have so much disengagement in today’s workplaces?  In manufacturing, one reason I’ve observed has been our priority for task efficiency — combining or limiting the tasks of a job based on getting work done quickly, using standard work procedures.  Many jobs in today’s organizations lack characteristics that could make them loveable.   Experts have identified 7 key characteristics of loveable jobs:

  • Skill variety
  • Task identify
  • Task significance
  • Autonomy
  • Planning
  • Controlling
  • Feedback from the job

To be loveable, a job doesn’t necessarily need to have all of these characteristics — just enough to inspire an employee to perform, identify improvements, and to do more than is required.  I believe you’ll agree that these characteristics can be designed into jobs in any manufacturing organization in any industry, and whether the environment is Lean, mass production, ISO, or FDA/otherwise regulated.

As a teen In my part-time A&P job, my job had lots of skill variety:   First, I “owned” Health and Beauty products including ensuring the right products were there when customers wanted them, clearly marked with prices and displayed attractively, “fronted” on clean shelves.  Second, I helped others when the store was busy by processing grocery orders at the cash register including paying attention to customers and making accurate change in the days when we “counted back” change to the purchaser — and Third,  I bagged products so that the bags were “square” and not too heavy for the buyer to carry. My job provided task identity:  I identified with doing these tasks really well, as a part of who I was, and I was proud of my job and its many tasks. Task Significance:  I found meaning in my work; as a 16 year old, I recognized that what I did was important; for example, what I did helped ensure that customers kept coming back, made sure they could find the right products when they wanted them, provided them with personal attention, and prevented loss of money due to purchasing non-selling merchandise. Autonomy:  I did not need anyone’s approval on my product orders or on product displays. I could do some level of planning and controlling my work in that I found opportunities to be creative in building displays, placed orders on my own each Tuesday, and purchased small quantities of new products that I selected. Feedback was quick, either from observation of the results of my work i.e. nice looking displays, products sold from my shelves, products not sold, comments from my boss, or customer reactions and remarks.

Today in manufacturing, technology especially enables managers and H.R. to design jobs that are loveable.  The criteria above can be applied to any organization. Once the organization has loveable jobs then hiring becomes easier.  Just make sure that your candidate of choice is one who is “hungry” to do the tasks that make up the job.  “Hungry” in this scenario means eager or excited.  Whether employed or unemployed, highly or minimally experienced, the candidate chosen should be hungry to do the work based on prior exposure, experience or training on similar tasks.  It’s worthwhile to provide some training to a candidate who has this kind of hunger, because this will be an employee who knows how it feels to be fully engaged and who likes feeling that way about work.  These are the candidates most likely to become high performers.

But, there’s still something else that is essential for your people to become engaged.  They need work schedules that enable them to focus and to maximize their productivity.  They also need time off to have a life outside work.  The 12-hour shifts that became popular a number of years ago do not foster engagement and high performance.  Most people on 12-hour shifts are focused on getting through the day, and getting days away from work.  The primary value to employees who desire 12-hour shifts is the opportunity to spend fewer days at work.  Engaged employees find satisfaction in doing the work.  Traditional 8 hour work schedules allow people time for rest, greater availability for social time that fits others’ work schedules, time to eat and exercise daily and time for other activities they enjoy.

Once we help employees to engage, we need to remember this:  the job that engages someone today will not likely engage him/her into the future.  People often love a job for a period of time, then they become ready for more.  Most people learn and grow and crave more as they master tasks and the tasks become routine for them.  So, be prepared with advancement opportunities to progressively higher levels that provide growth, career achievement and learning.  That way your high performers won’t have to leave your organization in order to feed their hunger when job preferences change over time.

Can you identify ways to include the key characteristics into jobs in your organization?  It’s a big project and it takes time, because it involves changing jobs in all functions and shifts in your manufacturing entity and it could impact work procedures, company culture and policies.  Do you think having loveable jobs and high performers in them will be worth the effort?  It’s your call. Request Feedback