Work Without Jobs

We need a new operating system built on deconstructed jobs and organizational agility.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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Leaders need a new operating system for work — one that better supports the high degree of organizational agility required to thrive amid increasingly rapid change and disruption, and that better reflects the fluidity of modern work and working arrangements.

In our last two books, we’ve argued that this new system must enable leaders and workers to increasingly — and continually — deconstruct jobs into more granular units such as tasks, and that it must identify and deploy workers based on their skills and capabilities, not their job descriptions.1 Deconstructing work is essential to implementing new options for sourcing, rewarding, and engaging workers, and to understanding and anticipating how automation might replace, augment, or reinvent human work.

The rapid evolution of work is making it increasingly urgent for leaders, workers, organizations, and society to master deconstructed work. These shifts have been accelerated by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has underscored the critical importance of enabling agility and flexibility.

Deconstructing Jobs and Jobholders

Organizations are held back by the obsolescence and stubborn inertia of a traditional work operating system that was built for the Second Industrial Revolution, with work defined as “jobs” and workers defined as “job-holding employees.” The inadequacy of that legacy system has long been recognized — for example, in the 1994 Fortune article “The End of the Job,” by William Bridges. Its persistence is a primary obstacle to successfully navigating challenges such as digitalization, work automation, alternative work arrangements, global economic and social equity, and the future of education and learning.

Despite decades of research examining the elements of jobs, and despite long-standing systems (such as O*Net) that helped to combine those elements in support of job design, most organizational work systems remain built upon work as a “job” and workers as “jobholders.”

What happens when your organization tries to digitize, automate, or implement alternative work arrangements? If the work is bound up in a job, and the worker is bound up as a jobholder, then your options are limited, and many solutions are obscured. Equally obscured are the specific skills gaps, because trying to match a job to a jobholder obscures the relationship between changing work and the specific skills of those who might perform the work.



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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1. R. Jesuthasan and J.W. Boudreau, “Reinventing Jobs” (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2018); and J.W. Boudreau, R. Jesuthasan, and D. Creelman, “Lead the Work” (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2015).

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Comments (4)
Paul ONeill
Very interesting article in these unique times. The challenges outlined span manufacturing, services and knowledge work, so all organizations are faced with this need, it is not sector specific.

I'm struck by the fact that what we are really missing are "Systems of Work" which can be leveraged within organizations.

Perhaps the closest comparison in respect of "Systems of Work" I can find are found in the underlying principles from the Toyota Way / Toyota Production System which shares the same objectives identified in the article. Note that its the underpinning principles which are important not just a direct (i.e. purely mechanical) implementation of TPS or Lean.

At NolijWork we're finding that its exactly this lack of "Work Operating System" (i.e. a System of Work) that is perhaps the reason why knowledge work is particularly inefficient relative to manufacturing.
Cato Furum
Thanks a lot for this very interesting article! There is however one aspect I feel could have been discussed in more detail: new collaboration patterns between organizations. If you imagine this WorkOS applied across several organizations that are partners in a supply chain as an example. The flow of talent is in my view potentially very disruptive to classical business partnerships and could unlock new benefits in terms of sharing and utilising talent. It would be interesting if you could outline some thoughts about this.
Clement GAVI
Very interesting
The  example of ' customer complaints received by call center employees revealed needed product improvements that could be implemented by product designers/developers.,,,,,,' and the conclusion that has followed as

The organization lacked the capacity to deconstruct the jobs into discrete tasks that clearly supported its goals, so its employees struggled with work that reached beyond their jobs' 
 reminds a chapter of a book wrote by F. Harmon and G. Jacobs and called 'Ces Entreprises Qui Tiennent la Forme (These companies that keep fit) published in 1987 
in which the concern expressed was highlighted and treated in term of how to conceive your job in taking into account the jobs done by others in the same organization.
One side of me is shouting, "Yes, yes! This is right and good!" The other side is thinking of a video I saw of a man feeding his pack of foxhounds, dumping a barrow-full of chops into a canine free-for-all. Most ironic of all, the link to this article arrived in an email accompanied by a link to a second article: "How Leaders Can Optimize Teams’ Emotional Landscapes". I think that's going to be the tricky part.