How well does your employer understand your role and the value you bring to your organisation? And do you fully understand it yourself? Jesse Sostrin, writing for Strategy+Business, suggests some exercises to reveal the hidden demands of your job and help you use that knowledge to best effect.
Sostrin points out that beneath your job description lies a “hidden curriculum of work”, or a “job-within-the-job”. Its unwritten challenges include continuous change management and workplace politics, for example.
By recognising and reacting effectively to those demands, and making others aware of them, you will increase appreciation of your contribution and enhance your prospects of advancement and success. By the same token, as a leader you should seek similar insights into the work of those you manage.
A three-stage approach can be used to develop your understanding of your own job-within-a-job and see how it matches with the needs of your company.
1) Dig deeper. Sostrin asks you to consider three two-part questions. In each case the first part looks at obvious aspects of your job description and the second requires deep thought to uncover your true value.
- What single statement best describes your role?
- What single statement reveals your vital purpose to your team or organisation?
- What tasks and activities absorb most of your time?
- Which of your contributions have the greatest value to your team or organisation?
- What are the common obstacles that prevent your best work?
- What are the unexpected challenges of staying on purpose and delivering your value?
Typical issues are illustrated through the answers of a chief technology officer from a mid-market technology company.
While his job description was about meeting technology needs, to help the organisation’s business units in fulfilling their potential, his vital purpose went much further. It involved anticipating their changing needs and making sure the business was ready to meet them by determining and deploying the right technological solutions.
Like many leaders, much of his time was absorbed by meetings, email correspondence and emergencies. Of greater value to the company was his ability to help colleagues progress from crisis management to strategic work that would improve anticipation of changes.
He felt he needed time away from the daily panics to deepen his relationships with managers, uncover their particular needs and – as his highest-value contribution – win their confidence in a stable strategy.
His most common obstacle was the frequent need to work reactively rather than leading from the front. Distracted by immediate crises, he found it difficult to concentrate on advancing toward longer-term aims and felt that this gave colleagues a confusing impression of his priorities.
Looking for the hidden challenges, he noted that this daily distraction from long-term planning not only set a bad example to his team but dented the confidence of business partners. He resolved to keep his strategic focus, which would help to motivate his team and maintain a shared future vision.
2) Look outward. Having discovered your job-within-the-job, think about whether your employer and colleagues can see it. How you can increase their awareness of it? What benefit could you expect from their appreciation of your success in dealing with all those hidden challenges?
In your role as a leader, consider the jobs-within-the-jobs of your most effective staff. Can you answer Sostrin’s three two-part questions for them? If not, how can you truly support them and be seen to be doing so?
3) Align with the mutual agenda. The next question is whether your goals and the contributions you bring – or wish to bring – fit with the organisation’s needs. If your agenda is mutual, your work will indeed be vital and driven by value.
Setting a mutual agenda requires a collaborative assessment of changes in, for example, the market, your company’s internal challenges and stakeholders’ priorities.
Talk to your employer or close colleagues about what you have learned about your job-within-the-job. Ask them to consider a scenario in which you succeed in fulfilling a vital purpose, making high-value contributions and dealing with challenges, as highlighted by your answers to Sostrin’s questions. Would that increase the organisation’s ability to meet its goals?
If the answer is no, you should think about modifying your role so that your contributions align better with the company’s needs. The benefits you will gain from this include a re-energised and more positive approach to work, a greater contribution to your organisation’s performance and, looking further ahead, enhanced appreciation of your value.
As Sostrin notes in his introduction, advancing through the hierarchy today requires much more than being good at your job. By examining your role deeply, discovering your job-within-the-job and aligning your contribution with your organisation’s needs, you can achieve the continuous self-improvement that will keep you upwardly mobile.