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What Is Your Job?

In William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, the character Jaques has no job in the plot- he only provides wry comment on the others. Most of us have worked with people like this. Jacques is remembered for the iconic line, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players…”. If only it were that simple.

The fate of an actor is pretty much baked into the job description. Actors know exactly what they’re supposed to say (it’s written in the script) precisely where to go and what to do (from the stage directions), and even how they are expected to look and dress (thanks to makeup and wardrobe). All of this comes together under the auspices of a director, who fine-tunes every move. Their performance appraisal is both immediate (the audience) and long term (the box office).

Within the confines of this seemingly restricted world, there is plenty of room for skill, creativity, and experience. Sometimes props don’t work, other actors blow their lines, or even the most dependable technology goes awry. Veteran actors will grasp the overall mission of the performance and make seamless adjustments. As for the finer points to an actor’s job - to appreciate this, you need only compare a high school production of As You Like It to Michael Benthall’s version. Skill matters.

These days, HR Departments and corporate managers scramble to write job descriptions that match what will be expected of an employee. Whether you fire an employee or lay them off, you will need a description of what they were supposed to be doing – either to prove they weren’t doing it, or to make the case that the job no longer exists at your company.

In a world where machines are increasingly taking over human jobs (from ATMs to autonomous vehicles), and where many current job titles didn’t exist 10 years ago, this is challenging yet crucial. Not that long ago, an app developer was cooking up new items for a restaurant’s starter menu, someone who worked in the cloud was dismissed as unproductive, and as for data - size wasn’t important. Now more than half of US businesses use the cloud and data volumes are growing at over 40% annually. If you are interested in learning more, there’s an app for that.

According to Dr. Rebecca Schalm, neither individuals nor businesses can succeed without clarity of job descriptions. Even experienced employees struggle when not sure of their job, and the entire organization suffers from misalignment and inefficiency. Individual role clarity starts with high level corporate objectives (grow market share, increase stock price….) and is communicated throughout all levels of the organization, ultimately resulting in specific tasks (install and debug new firewall software, identify and respond to security threats….). High-functioning teamwork begins with individuals who clearly understand their role as well as their place in the corporate mission.

Imagine you are an Offensive Center in the NFL, and you have the choice of playing for one of these three teams:

Team 1: As our Offensive Center, your job is to hike the ball to the Quarterback.

Team 2: We have a detailed playbook which you will be expected to learn. As our Offensive Center, it is your job to hike the ball to the Quarterback, and then block the appropriate opposing player, depending on the specific play that we are running.

Team 3: Our team goal is to win the Super Bowl. To do that, we will strive to win every game we play. To win those games, we must advance the ball down the field and across our opponent’s goal line at every opportunity. Your crucial role in this quest is to hike the ball to our Quarterback, and then block the appropriate opposing player. Situations change, and you will be expected to adjust as necessary to achieve our goals.

Which team would you choose to play for?

Author Profile - Paul W. Smith - leader, educator, technologist, writer - has a lifelong interest in the countless ways that technology changes the course of our journey through life. In addition to being a regular contributor to NetworkDataPedia, he maintains the website Technology for the Journey and occasionally writes for Blogcritics. Paul has over 40 years of experience in research and advanced development for companies ranging from small startups to industry leaders. His other passion is teaching - he is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.


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