January 5, 1995 in Features

Employees Face ‘Dejobbing’ In The Task-Focused Company

Cynthia Hanson
 

It’s no secret that epic change is sweeping through workplaces across America.

Every day hierarchies are being flattened and employees are being downsized into unemployment lines. Survivors typically assume more responsibility, often without additional compensation.

Like it or loathe it, that’s reality in the mid-1990s.

But before you become resigned to that landscape, management consultant William Bridges, Ph.D., urges you to consider another related phenomenon in this brave new world of employment. He calls it “dejobbing.”

If it hasn’t hit your company yet, don’t be surprised to see it soon.

“Dejobbing is when an organization or industry shifts away from formal jobs with formal job descriptions to some other arrangement to get their work done,” says Bridges, author of “JobShift: How to Prosper in a Workplace Without Jobs” (Addison-Wesley, $22).

“Jobs are not the best way to get work done,” he says. “Jobs are too slow.

“They hold people within boundaries, rather than allow them to focus on the work itself. So your people say, ‘That isn’t my job,’ and the work doesn’t get done because they aren’t doing their work. They’re doing their jobs.”

In a dejobbed environment, tasks are performed by consultants, independent contractors and fulltime employees who tackle a series of varied assignments, usually as part of a cross-functional team.

Bridges, of Mill Valley, Calif., says these multifaceted teams move from project to project, solving problems in all areas of business.

Increased competition is fanning dejobbing. Products must be introduced faster than ever, and the traditional job - what Bridges says is a “historical artifact created by the Industrial Revolution” - simply impedes that process.

Dejobbing is happening at small and large employers.

When Eastman Kodak Co. wanted to create a new film for consumers, it marshaled its innovative muscle by creating a team of employees from diverse areas, including research and development, marketing and advertising.

Last May, less than 18 months after the group first convened, Kodak unveiled Kodak Royal Gold, a film that’s optimal for enlargements of special-occasion photos.

Though dejobbing is seeping into fast-moving fields such as electronics, entertainment, fashion and the media, it’s happening at a slower pace in more traditional industries such as manufacturing. Still, Deborah Snow Walsh, senior vice president and general manager of Lee Hecht Harrison, an outplacement firm in Deerfield, Ill., believes critical mass is on the horizon.

“After being laid off, our clients are getting hired as consultants for their old companies or into project teams for new companies,” she says. “When an organization has gone through three downsizings and there’s no improvement in profits or shareholders’ equity, they’re going to change the rules.”

In the short term, experts say dejobbing will be extremely unsettling for workers. It also will be tough on managers accustomed to supervising employees in “jobs.”

But Nancy J. Miller, managing principal of Human Resource Management Systems Inc., a consulting firm based in Glenview, Ill., is optimistic for the long term.

“Dejobbing will give people an opportunity to learn and grow,” she says. “But they must assume responsibility for their own abilities.”

Here’s how to get ready for dejobbing:

Do a self-assessment. What do you want in life? What are your abilities? What is your temperament? What advantages do you have?

“The answers are your ‘D.A.T.A.’ - your desires, abilities, temperament and assets,” Bridges says.

“This process will help you figure out what you like to do and what you can offer.”

Shift your mindset. Think of yourself as a microbusiness that develops products (your skills) and provides them to customers (your employer or clients).

Seek training. Skills are the currency in the redesigned workplace. Expand your skill portfolio through classes, seminars and discussions with colleagues about their work.


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