For the past 30 years my company has been involved in creating over 2,500 different performance-based job descriptions that define the actual work a person needs to do to be considered successful. Based on preparing these performance-based job descriptions for jobs like camp counselor at the YMCA, accountants and engineers from staff to VPs, mid- and senior-level executives in industries ranging from automotive and aerospace to construction and consumer products, I can conclude that there are only four different jobs in the whole world.
Everything starts with an idea. This is the first of the four jobs – the Thinkers. Builders convert these ideas into reality. This the second job. Improvers make this reality better. This is the third job. Producers do the work over and over again, delivering quality goods and services to the company’s customers in a repeatable manner. This is the fourth job. And then the process begins again with new ideas and new ways of doing business being developed as the old ones become stale.
As a company grows and reaches maturity, more of the work gets done by the Producers and Improvers. However, without a culture of consistent improvement, the Producers soon take over and implementing change becomes slower and slower until it stops. Long before this the Thinkers and Builders have left for some new venture. Improvers soon follow to join their former co-workers and hire new Producers to add some order to the newly created chaos. The old Producers who aren’t continually evolving, learning new skills and processes, are left behind to fend for themselves. Maintaining balance across all four work types is a constant, but a necessary struggle for a company to continue to grow, adapt, and survive.
Every job has a mix of all four work types dependent on the actual work involved, the scope and scale of the role, and the company’s growth rate. To ensure balance and flexibility, all of these four work types should be taken into account when preparing any new performance-based job description. Here’s how:
Producers: these people execute or maintain a repeatable process. This can range from simple things like working on an inbound help desk and handling some transactional process, to more complex, like auditing the performance of a big system, writing code, or producing the monthly financial reports. Producers typically require training or advanced skills to be in a position to execute the process. To determine the appropriate Producer performance objectives, ask the hiring manager to define how any required skill is used on the job and how its success would be measured, e.g., “contact 15 new customers per week and have five agree to an onsite demonstration.“ This is a lot better than saying “the person must have 3-5 years of sales experience selling to sophisticated buyers of electro-mechanical control valves.”
Improvers: these people upgrade, change or make a repeatable process better. Managers are generally required to continually monitor and improve a process under their responsibility. Building, training and developing the team to implement a process is part of an Improver’s role. Improvers can be individual contributors or managers of teams and projects, the key is the focus on improving a existing system, business or process. A performance objective for an Improver could be “conduct a comprehensive process review of the wafer fab process to determine what it would take to improve end-to-end yield by 10%.”
Builders: these people take an idea from scratch and convert it into something tangible. This could be creating a new business, designing a complex new product, closing a big deal, or developing a new process. Entrepreneurs, inventors, turn-around executives, deal-makers, and project managers are typical jobs that emphasize the Builder component. Ask the hiring manager what big changes, new developments, big problems or major projects the person in the new job would need to address to determine the Builder component. An example might be, “lead the implementation of the new SAP supply change system over every business unit including international.” This is a lot better than saying “must have five years international logistics background and strong expertise with SAP.”
Thinkers: these people are the visionaries, strategists, intellects, and creators of the world, and every new idea starts with them. Their work covers new products, new business ideas, and different ways of doing everyday things. Ask hiring managers where the job requires thinking out-of-the-box or major problems to solve to develop the Thinker performance objectives. “Develop a totally new approach for reducing water usage by 50%,” is a lot better than saying “Must have 5-10 years of environmental engineering background including 3-5 years of wastewater management with a knack for creative solutions.”
Recognize that every person is comprised of a mix of each work type, with one or two dominant. Likewise for every job. Most require strengths in one or two of the work types. As you select people for new roles, it’s important to get this blending right. This starts by understanding the full requirements of the position, the strengths and weaknesses of others on the team, and the primary objective of the department, group or company. In the rush to hire, it’s easy to lose sight of this bigger picture, emphasizing skills and experience over performance and fit. This is how Builders get hired instead of Improvers and Thinkers get hired when Producers are required. While there are only four work types, hiring the wrong one is often how the wrong work gets done.