job satisfaction

Rethinking The Growth and Care of Organizations: A Proposal

As The Workologist Newsletter subscribers know, I recently "gave myself permission" (it's complicated) to look for a full-time job in addition to continuing to run and develop everything I'm doing with The Workologist. In a nutshell, I've been entirely entrepreneurially focused since quitting my high school teaching job and coming to graduate school in 2011. There's nothing wrong with that kind of single-minded focus but I've realized that it has limited me from other potential opportunities that might be just as rewarding as trying to develop my own company.

All that is to say I've been perusing cyberspace over the past few weeks in an effort to see what kind of job opportunities are out there and even dipping my toes in the water when I've seen something I like. There are a handful of positions with companies I admire out there but unfortunately I have seen nothing that 100% matches what I'm visualizing someone with my skill set (or a similar one) could bring to an organization.

I'm writing to propose a new position that companies should be hiring for. I don't have a good name for it yet (I'd love to hear your ideas.) I'm also 95% sure this position doesn't already exist in most companies but if it does exist in yours then props to you. From what I can tell not many companies are thinking about what an organizational development/positive psychologist/coach/personal productivity expert/researcher could bring to the table.

Firstly, let's lay out what someone in this position would need in order to do this job well (in no particular order): insatiable curiosity around what it means to do great work on an individual, team, and organizational level; a deep knowledge of productivity best-practices and the contextual factors that limit or enhance each; coaching expertise; a working knowledge of foundational positive psychology, organizational psychology, cognitive psychology, and leadership theories and concepts; the interpersonal skills to facilitate small group discussions, workshops, and one-on-one conversations; a deep appreciation for the power of scientific experimentation and the willingness to use those principles in the quest for more efficient, meaningful and productive work; and a dedication to uncovering the best processes, systems, and approaches to helping an organization operate as efficiently and meaningfully as possible.

Easy as pie, right?

I think the benefits of having someone on the team who is constantly thinking about how to amplify everyone else's impact on an individual level ("making people better"), at the group level ("making teams better"), and at the organizational level ("making systems and processes better") would be huge. That's not to say this is the only person who would be thinking about these topics. However, hiring someone whose express job it is to think about and act on this stuff not only ensures that someone is thinking about it, but it frees up everyone else to use more of their cognitive ability for the substantive work that justifies the organization's existence. The pace of work in most companies is accelerating and being responsive, agile, and innovative may be buzzwords but they also ring true for many companies striving to make an impact in the world. Someone in this position not only frees people up to become more fully engaged in their primary work tasks, but also ensures that everything else that can be done to amplify the effectiveness of the organization is being done.

This isn't a general HR position or a short-term consulting gig or even a training and development specialist. I'm talking about someone who is much more baked into the everyday processes and interactions in an organization and whose only job is to make sure everyone else can be even better in their roles. One person could cover a ton of ground if their primary responsibility was to simply ensure that the organization was firing on all cylinders (and to maybe find cylinders that aren't even firing yet). Obviously, a small organization needs everyone to be operating at full capacity at all times in order to be successful. However, small organizations and startups often quickly grow to the point where questions need to be answered about organizational structure, norms, culture, etc. that often get (not) made by default (to everyone's detriment) instead of being consciously and deliberately decided. The person in this role would be expected to notice when this is happening and step in to facilitate the process of making these decisions consciously.

Hopefully I've been somewhat clear for what this position might entail. To make it even clearer, here's an extremely partial list of job responsibilities and actions this person would need to do:

  • Figure out what training/development/support individual employees need and either develop or find the appropriate resources.
  • Figure out what training/development/support teams need and either develop or find the appropriate resources for them.
  • Assess communication (how we email/text/Slack) and operating norms (how we schedule meetings, run meetings, do our daily routine work, make time for non-urgent but important work, how we keep track of who is doing what and by when, etc.) of the organization and suggest/facilitate tweaks where necessary.
  • Work with managers to develop their ability to successfully coach their employees.
  • Work with employees to develop the psychological resources (self-efficacy, hope, optimism, resilience, grit, self-leadership, etc.) to thrive at work (and beyond).
  • Work with members of the leadership team on developing leadership capabilities.
  • Assess and facilitate tweaks to physical workspaces given the best environmental psychology evidence.
  • Stay up to date on organizational psychology research that may be relevant to the organization and translate/synthesize findings into useful information for all members of the organization.
  • Be constantly thinking about how the organization goes about getting it's work done and note areas for improvement.
  • Support all members of the organization in the quest to make work a meaningful growth experience through the way each person approaches their work and makes sense of their role in the organization in an effort to support job satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately organizational performance.

Many of these responsibilities are currently offloaded to a hodgepodge of training and development specialists and consultants or thrust upon already overworked managers. The psychological health of an organization is too important to spread across disparate departments and individuals. It needs to be treated holistically and managed intelligently. I'm convinced bringing a positive organizational psychology trained, personal development and personal productivity obsessed, experienced coach and generally insatiably curious person into the fold of an organization would have huge ramifications.

The best way I can think of to describe this position is as a catalyst that is constantly circulating through an organization to make sure all the chemical reactions that need to be happening are happening. That areas that need a little boost are being boosted, that areas needing a little cooling get cooled, that by coordinating all the disparate reactions that are happening across the entire system the overall effect can be more explosive and productive than anyone ever expected.

Photo by Marcus Peaston

Healthy Benefits for the Long Run

To come up with the best ideas, you need a fresh mind.

There's a dark side to the ping pong tables and free food and laundry service culture perks of many of the "coolest" and most desirable companies. Is a culture built around free food and ping pong tables really as positive as it outwardly appears? Is it a culture of growth and personal development? A cynical person could argue that a ping pong table and catered lunch is a pretty cheap premium to pay to keep employees perpetually on campus and ready to work.

I like Basecamp's approach to benefits much better: Pre-planned vacations, 4-day summer weeks, and sabbaticals.

If I had employees these are the types of benefits I would offer. I would want to have benefits that strive to develop my employees as people and not just well-fed and proficient at fooseball. Not to mention, a good organizational culture should breed people who want to be at work because of the social and intellectual environment, not because of the perks. The type of people that need a reminder to get the hell out of the office, recharge, and come back with a renewed sense of vigor.

If I ever get a real job I hope it's for a company like Basecamp.

Photo by Max Klingensmith