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Let's take a bold step forward and set our talents free within our increasingly connected organizations. Let’s move beyond the outdated HR model of filling positions based on hierarchical competency frameworks to matching our talents with skill-based micro-roles and crowd-sourced micro-tasks. What are we waiting for?
A core HR process is the creation of a position or job, usually triggered by an urgent business situation (someone left the company, new roles need to be created existing roles need to be re-assigned, split or merged). The outcome of this process is a description of a job role, job functions and the reporting relationships. These positions are usually defined with clear boundaries in mind and, once created, become a static part of the organization chart.
To successfully fill a new or existing position, certain selection criteria have to be established that are drawn from a catalog of skills, experience, qualifications, and knowledge. This catalog is commonly referred to as an HR competency framework. Many companies create and maintain their own competency frameworks, which, over time tend to become very complex and unwieldy - one of the reasons, HR consulting firms routinely advise on and customize large catalogs for organizations. There are pre-defined competencies (grids) for every conceivable position, such as for administrative roles, for managerial and supervisory roles, or competencies for leadership roles.
With this framework at hand, the HR organization sets out to match the expected competencies with potentially successful candidates in the job market. Frameworks are also the basis to determine the correct remuneration levels for a position. In other words, the aim of this HR process is to quickly and efficiently marry candidates to a particular position while keeping the compensation in line. If this sounds more like an arranged marriage, you are beginning to see the problems with this approach.
Competency frameworks represent an outdated model, one that is based on standard jobs that fit into cookie-cutter positions. Typical enterprises have typical jobs that need to fill typical positions. This approach worked very well for the last century (since Taylor sought to improve industrial efficiency) and survived well until today - even “modern” positions (e.g. social media) follow the same model. Positions are firmly cemented into the hierarchy and once filled, candidates have little or no opportunity (don’t talk about incentive) to connect to and share work with other positions. Even teamwork that aims to reach out to other people across the organization still operates within a confined role (e.g. teams are assembled on a fixed schedule and members are assigned on a billable rate level).
It is not surprising then that hierarchical performance management processes fit extremely well into this model. Individual outcomes can be easily measured against standardized performance levels that are linked to standardized competencies for the job. But the world is not standing still. Markets are increasingly volatile and job requirements are changing rapidly. Skillsets that have been valuable a few years ago, become obsolete and are replaced with new skillsets. Competency frameworks are difficult to change and cannot keep up with these new demands. Even the education system is trailing behind and tries to “outfit” students with anticipated competencies that companies are looking for in their hiring practices. This is the modus operandi in organizations today. There has been little or no change and positions are still “filled” based on this outmoded HR model. Let’s take a step back and see how we can begin to transform this situation.
Imagine an organization where employees join with a fresh set of skills that can be readily applied anywhere in the organization. You have some design skills? People leadership skills? Technical programming skills? Business intelligence skills? Or how about those gamification skills you just acquired in a free online course? What if any those skills can be put to use in an organization? What if there’s a way to tap into your true interests and talents, to find a way to truly motivate you to contribute to the organization as a whole - outside of your prescribed box that is your position and your prescribed path that is your career.
As a first step, we’d have to recognize and acknowledge that people come with a multitude of skills, experience, qualifications, and knowledge that, for the most part, fall outside of the position description. Let’s call these skills micro-skills. Some of them will fit the position, but others, if not most, will not. There is much hidden talent that simply cannot be revealed and put to use within the confines of the position in the hierarchy .
Next, let’s assume that the counterpart to a micro-skill is a micro-task. Micro-tasks can be created anywhere in an organization, can come in any shapes or sizes and can be dynamically matched to micro-skills (not unlike a matching service for people to find each other). A micro-task can be to plan an event, to complete a course, to evaluate a vendor, to analyse a data set, to organize some files, to answer a question, to write a report or even to empty your inbox (a personal task, fairly big to most of us). It is up to the organization to define what is a micro-task. Maybe tasks are kept small in the beginning, maybe tasks are allowed to grow larger over time, or maybe tasks will actually be as big as an entire position. In other words, tasks are the basic unit of work, not a process or a job role .
For this to happen, tasks need to become visible within the organization. This simple step would allow anyone to see what is currently happening and where. Next, tasks can be ranked (e.g. by importance or impact) and tagged (e.g. by topic or expertise) for better findability. Tasks can be reviewed and approved by authorized individuals before being made visible. Tasks can be temporary (to try something out) or permanent (to assign a long-term role). The key point is, once they are visible, important tasks will bubble up to the surface and can be “matched” with people with the right set of skills.
Once we establish the connection between a skill (your talent) and a task (what you can do, and more importantly, what you want to do), we essentially have created a new, virtual micro-role. The role can be temporary or permanent. It can utilize one or many skills and it can be done for anyone or anywhere in the organization. Geographic and physical boundaries have already broken down in digital workplaces, what follows next is the breakdown of job and position boundaries in micro-roles. But we still need control mechanisms to ensure performance levels are met and organizational tasks are being resolved. Let’s examine these and other challenges in the next section.
It is time to begin exploring different ways to work together and to start mapping talent to tasks. We’re moving fast into an economy that is based on talent, experience and knowledge. So, what can your organization do today to get started? Here’s a simple suggestion. Create a job jar . Set aside some tasks or projects that can be picked up by someone in the organization that has the right skills and experience. Maybe that person has never applied that skill for your organization (hidden talent), maybe that person has already done this many times for your organization (hidden work), maybe it is time to shed some light on this hidden economy and place the job jar out in the open, for everyone to see and to participate. You can decide how many tasks or project go into the jar. You can even pre-approve what goes into the jar and ask your leadership teams or management to prioritize these tasks. Key is to open the jar so everyone can see what is going on and who is doing what. I believe, if we find a way to make it happen and tap into the hidden talents of our organization, we can we ignite new engines of growth. Seth Godin said that “A modern productive worker is someone who does a great job in figuring out what to do next.”  This approach can point the way. What are we waiting for?
What if we take a hard organizational problem, make it transparent, and let people with different skillsets get to work on it, outside of their usual roles? This could ignite an incredible amount of energy throughout the organization, not unlike the energy and passion that was present throughout the nation (and world) at the Apollo lunar landings .
Nancy Dixon, for her deep KM insights and for pointing me to the MIX
Harold Jarche, for his forward thinking on new models for work & learning
Dave Gray, for his groundbreaking work on The Connected Company
Jon Husband, for his incredible concept of a wirearchy
Bryce Williams, for his ideas on a job jar
Brad Palmer, for his ideas on micro-roles