Job Crafting: Shape, Mold, and Redefine Your Job

In his book, Drive (2011), Daniel Pink wrote that one of the motivating factors for employees is having the autonomy over four areas of work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom they do it. Pink called these the four Ts: employee’s task, time, technique, and team.

When I was working for a school system overseas in the Northern Mariana Islands, serving the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian, I came up with the idea of creating a crisis management workshop. Because there was no such thing in my organization as a 15 percent time (like 3M) or 20 percent time program (like Google), I crafted my job by integrating the crisis management training project into my official job duties.

Job crafting is “actions that employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 180). Job crafting is what workers do to redefine and reimagine their job to make it more personally meaningful to them (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013). Job crafting is initiated by the employee, from the bottom up, and not by the manager from the top down.

There are three types of job crafting techniques: task, relational, and cognitive.

Task crafting [Job crafting through changing tasks] is when employees change their formal job responsibilities by either adding or dropping tasks; by changing/altering the tasks; or the time and effort devoted to different tasks (e.g., “a tech-savvy customer service representative offering to help her colleagues with their IT issues”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Relational crafting [Job crafting through changing relationships] involves altering how, when, or with whom employees interact in the process of performing their job duties (e.g., “a software engineer forming a collaborative relationship with a marketing analyst”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Cognitive crafting [Job crafting through changing your perceptions] is when employees alter the way they perceive the tasks and relationships that comprise their jobs (e.g., “a ticket salesperson seeing the job as an essential part of providing people with entertainment, not just processing orders”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

While the idea of job crafting evokes images of positive benefits (to the employee and the organization employing that individual), it’s worth noting that job crafting can be negative for the organization. Job crafting is positive when the altered meaning of work and the new identities lead to behaviors that align an employee’s work patterns with the organization’s objectives. “However, if job crafting altered connections to others or task boundaries in ways that were at odds with organizational objectives, job crafting could harm rather than enhance organizational effectiveness” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 195).

David Sturt, an executive vice president for O.C. Tanner, shared an interesting story about Ted Geisel and job crafting in a Forbes article.

In the 1950s, “Dick and Jane” books that many schools used were very dry and boring. There weren’t any storyline only illustrations of kids and simple words reused over and over throughout the book.

That all changed when Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, an illustrator pal of William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, redefined and shaped his job into a more meaningful role and, ultimately, “changed the world of children’s books” (Sturt, 2013).

William challenged Ted (better known as Dr. Seuss) to take 225 vocabulary words that every six-year-old knows and then come up with a story that even a first-grader can’t stop reading. Ted’s talent was as an artist, having already done many children’s books. However, he had only drawn for books that were much longer and never with the limitations such as those set by William (Sturt, 2013).

But rather than refusing or giving up, Ted used that opportunity to reimagine children’s books, reframing his job as a storyteller and illustrator. Initially, Ted thought he could finish quickly, but it took him a year and a half to work within the parameters given to him, dealing with one- or two-syllable words and few verbs (Sturt, 2013).

Intent on creating something great, he told himself that if he could just find two words that rhyme, that would be his book. And find them he did.

The two words Ted found that rhymed? Cat and Hat.

“When Ted Geisel (now known as Dr. Seuss) published The Cat In The Hat in 1957, children’s literature was changed dramatically for the better. It was the first successful book that did not talk down to children. It had wacky illustrations, humor, sarcasm, rhythm, character development, and a story line. There was tension and resolution. The cat challenged authority. The children in the story learned a lesson. It was silly, oddball, and unexpected. Gone were the soft illustrations of Dick pulling Spot in a wagon. Instead, Ted’s book had a cat in a top hat, a know-it-all fish, and two blue-haired ‘Thing’ that made a mess of everything. It was different” (Sturt, 2013).

People, young and old, loved it. But what’s especially revolutionary was that the book was instrumental in promoting phonics as a replacement for rote memorization (Sturt, 2013).

“Imagine the loss to the world if Ted had seen William’s challenge as just another job with unreasonable constraints to crank out; if his eyes weren’t open to new possibilities; and if he didn’t have the mindset to do a little job crafting” (Sturt, 2013).

My own job crafting story involved all three of the job crafting techniques (task, relational, and cognitive [Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013]). I altered my job responsibilities to include crisis management and crisis intervention training in the school (task crafting). I reached out to and partnered with a group of school counselors and, along with a half-dozen counselors, started a Counselors Monthly-Level Sharing Meeting and Training program (relational crafting). Finally, I began to think of myself and my job as a liaison between what was happening at the school-level and what the counselors and administrators were dealing with and my responsibility to assist each school, the school system, and the local community (cognitive crafting).

The impetus for my job crafting came from a frustration with the lack of crisis management training for the schools. Countless conversations with colleagues in and outside the school system coupled with my own observations and experience led to an undeniable conclusion — at least for me — which is that someone needed to start a crisis management workshop and that someone was me. Of course, this was nothing new. Those who live and work on the islands have talked and heard others talk about the need to have some type of crisis management training. The BIG difference, however, is that I not only talk about a problem. I also suggest a solution and then do everything in my power to make that solution work.

As I detailed in my post, Less Talk More Action, there were many challenges and naysayers, but something inside me moved me to keep pressing forward and find creative ways to gain buy-in for my idea.

This crisis management training project was not required nor was it expected of me in my role. But I knew that it would greatly benefit students, teachers, school staff, and the overall school system if we were able to implement this nonviolent crisis intervention workshop.

I would spend nights and weekends absorbed in my project. It was exhilarating and the more I devoted myself, the more energized I became. It truly was intoxicating!

As a result of my being able to work on my own project and select my own teammate, and as validation for my efforts and achievements, I was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the CNMI Mental Health Planning Council and even received a Letter of Appreciation from the Executive Director at the Crisis Prevention Institute.

Anyone who’s ever worked on their own project and see it through (from defining the initial problem to the project launch) will tell you the euphoria and sense of accomplishment (and relief) they feel. Beyond any public recognition, accolades, and thanks is the feeling that you did something worthwhile.

Pink said there are three essential elements that motivate us:

1. Autonomy — the desire to direct our own lives.
2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

My time working abroad in the Northern Mariana Islands and the crafting of a crisis management training program into my job was one of the most satisfying times in my life (professionally, emotionally, and socially). The ability to have significant control (i.e., autonomy) over what I did, when I did it, how I did it, and with whom I did it was liberating. In addition, what further motivated me was the need to be better at my job and learn new skills and thinking (i.e., mastery). Finally, changing the way I perceived my job role and building new relationships helped me achieve my desire to serve the needs of the children in the school system and the local community (i.e., purpose).

Takeaway: Don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference through your job because you absolutely can. Regardless of what you do or what your position might be in an organization, you can always shape and redefine your job to make it more meaningful. Make sure you do what’s expected of you in your role, but then take the chance to branch out and find creative ways to add something new or different, something that benefits your colleagues, your department, your organization, and your clients.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

References

3M. Time to Think. Retrieved from http://solutions.3m.com/innovation/en_US/stories/time-to-think

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job Crafting and Meaningful Work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81-104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dr. Seuss. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/dr-seuss-9479638

Goetz, K. (2011, February). How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo. Fastcodesign.com. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663137/how-3m-gave-everyone-days-off-and-created-an-innovation-dynamo

Google. 2004 Founders’ IPO Letter: “An Owner’s Manual” for Google’s Shareholders. Retrieved from http://investor.google.com/corporate/2004/ipo-founders-letter.html

Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Sturt, D. (2013, June). ‘Job Crafting’: The Great Opportunity In The Job You Already Have. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/06/20/job-crafting-the-great-opportunity-in-the-job-you-already-have/

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

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