In a recent post I introduced the concept of Work Types, suggesting that all jobs were a mix of four different types of work. As shown in the graphic, these Work Types map directly to the standard product lifecycle from start-up through maturity.
The Four Work Types
Thinker: In this phase the focus is on idea creation, planning and problem-solving.
Builder: This phase converts the Thinker’s ideas into reality, often under conditions of rapid growth and limited resources.
Improver: These are the people who upgrade existing processes, systems and people.
Producer: Maintaining existing processes or executing repeatable techniques is the domain of the Producer.
Most jobs are a mix of one or more Work Types with the Producer at the core of most of them. All skills are learned in the Producer phase. These run the gamut from technical skills, selling skills, and handling the help desk to how to manage a team or a project. In many cases people use these Producer skills in combination with the Thinker phase to figure out the best approach to implement a solution.
Implementing the solution could require an Improver mindset or Builder if the proposed involves an overhaul rather than a modest upgrade.
I contend that the continued use of skills- and experience-laden job descriptions in combination with behavioral interviewing and competency models are the root causes of why we hire good people for the wrong jobs. Using Work Types to define your open jobs can eliminate this problem by finding people who are competent AND motivated to do the work required. This is a much more direct measure of performance rather than assuming merely being skilled is the key. Without defining the actual job and the actual circumstances (or context) of the job, success then becomes problematic. This is the problem Harvard Professor Todd Rose documents in his recent book, The End of Average. He considers Performance-based Hiring the perfect solution. In fact, it was the only one he could find and would recommend.
Describing the job as a series of 5-6 performance objectives (e.g., build the team, evaluate the process, design and launch the product) seems like common sense. Why would you start looking for someone before you defined what the person needed to do? It makes even more sense when you ask the hiring manager to describe the critical objectives by Work Types. Use these questions to get started:
- “What needs to be improved?”
- “How are technical skills used on the job?”
- “What are some of the biggest stretch challenges the person will face?”
- “What are the big technical or business problems that need to be solved?”
- “What needs to be done in the first 30 to 120 days to ensure each of these projects are started successfully?”
Defining the job this way typically results in a series of performance objectives that define the task itself, the action the new hire needs to take and some measurable result. For example, a major performance objective might be, “Work with marketing to define the user requirements for the new order entry system for implementation before year-end.” One of the subtasks could be, “During the first 30 days evaluate the current product needs and determine the minimum requirements for usability.” All of the objectives then need to be put in priority order with the top 5-6 representing the performance-based job description.
To prove candidates are competent to do this work all you need to do is ask them to describe a major accomplishment for each performance objective. It takes about 15-20 minutes of fact-finding to fully understand each accomplishment, but this effort is spread over multiple interviews and assigned to different interviewers.
While being competent and motivated to do this work is essential, it doesn’t mean the person will accept an offer, though. To cross this bridge you must demonstrate that your job offers a true career move. This is where Work Types can also be invaluable. I tell job seekers that a career move must offer a minimum non-monetary increase of at least 30%. This is the combination of a bigger job, faster growth, more satisfying work and a job with more impact. A richer mix of more satisfying work is a big part of this 30%. For example, if the job requires a Thinker-Improver mix under faster growth conditions, the person could be very interested if their current job is maintaining a process under moderate growth (i.e., largely a Producer). As soon as candidates see this difference, the career opportunity becomes much more important than what the person receives on the start date – a salary, job title and location.
Work Type analysis will help hiring managers, recruiters and job seekers better understand what actually needs to be done and who among the candidates can do it best. As you’ll discover, the people hired using this approach will not only have the exact mix of skills, experiences and competencies necessary, but they’ll also be self-motivated to do it successfully.
In part 1 of this series I contended there are only four basic jobs in the world – Producers, Improvers, Builders and Thinkers. These four work types align directly with a company’s strategic, tactical and technical needs as shown in the graphic.
While every job has a mix of all four work types, one or two usually dominate. The primary purpose of this work classification system is to provide managers a means to define their jobs from a performance perspective – what needs to be accomplished – rather than listing the skills required. Selecting people this way will maximize performance, job satisfaction and engagement.
By creating performance objectives for each work type, it becomes quickly apparent which ones are most important. For technically intense positions it’s usually the Producer and Thinker. For launching a big project it’s a combination of the Thinker and Builder. When it comes to managing a team running a process the Improver and Producer are required. Producers are called for when executing a similar process on a regular basis at high levels of quality.
A candidate’s dominate work types are revealed during the interview by digging into the person’s major accomplishments and trend of performance over time. This type of performance-based interview and assessment process is based on what the person has accomplished with his or her skills, experiences and competencies in comparison to the actual performance objectives of the job.
Increase the Engagement Level by Considering Dynamic Work Types
The work type classification system as described is a great first step for matching people with jobs. The fit assessment can be improved further by understanding how people and companies grow, change and interact over time.
A company grows in size from the outside-in as new products and services are designed, built and delivered. People can also be represented in similar fashion, but they grow inside-out, first learning skills and then either expanding their Core or growing into management and leadership positions. Friction is caused by these different inside-outside growth patterns. It’s one reason why people get disengaged when they struggle with implementing change.
A performance-based job description addresses these issues by describing individual jobs as a combination of strategic, tactical and technical performance objectives. A person’s accomplishments can also be described in similar fashion. How well both align determines the quality of the job match.
This work type distinction is clearer when jobs are designated as either driving growth or running operations. In this case, jobs involving new products and new markets need to emphasize Thinker and Builder objectives and jobs focused on operations, cost and efficiency need to emphasize Producer and Improver objectives. Here are some examples demonstrating this idea:
Hunter vs. Farmer Account Executive. Getting a new major account requires strategic planning, strong needs analysis at the process level, complex proposal preparation and collaborating with people in all functions inside and outside the company. This requires strength in all work types emphasizing a growth-oriented Builder to bring a big sale into reality. A sales rep taking over the account – the Farmer – needs to focus more on servicing and expanding sales within an account. This is an Improver role with strong Producer knowledge. This is a critical difference few sales leaders fully consider.
Product Development. Engineers assigned to new product development need to be strong using their technical skills in new and creative ways. One could argue that more creativity – the Thinker – combined with a reasonable threshold of Producer technical skills is the best mix. This is not a typical assessment though, since most engineering leaders focus more on technical brilliance rather than hiring someone like Steve Jobs (a world class Thinker Builder) who had just enough tech skills to see a world of new possibilities.
Accounting Reporting Manager. Preparing the monthly financials is clearly a Producer role. Upgrading them and developing the accounting team is an Improver role. If the company wants to ensure non-accounting managers can use these accounting reports to make important decisions, the accounting manager needs to have a multi-functional tactical perspective. If the person is too creative the company will have IRS and SEC problems but his or her ability to think about how to make these reports more meaningful will be spot on.
The work type classification system offers a unique way to define jobs and assess people. Moving to this type of performance-qualified hiring process expands the talent market 10X by opening up the pool to all passive candidates, more diverse candidates, more high-potential candidates and more non-traditional candidates. Best of all, since performance is the measure of success rather than skills and experience, performance is never compromised. Even better, you’ll see and hire more people like Steve Jobs, who in most cases would be seen as misfits, but with work types they’re all stars.