Redefine your work

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Job crafting can build motivation and increase focus

A 30-year-old midlevel manager — let’s call her Fatima — is struggling at work, but you wouldn’t know it from outward appearances. A star member of her team in the marketing division of a large multinational foods company, Fatima consistently hits her benchmarks and goals. She invests long hours and has built relationships with colleagues that she deeply values. And her senior managers think of her as one of the company’s high potentials.

But outside the office, Fatima would admit that she feels stagnant in her job, trapped by the tension between day-to-day demands and what she really wants to be doing: exploring how the company can use social media in its marketing efforts. Twitter, her cause-marketing blog, and mobile gadgets are her main passions. She’d like to look for another job, but given the slow recovery from the recession, sticking it out seems like her best (and perhaps only) option. “I’m still working hard,” she tells a friend. “But I’m stuck. Every week, I feel less and less motivated. I’m beginning to wonder why I wanted this position in the first place.”

If you’re in this situation, and changing roles or companies is unrealistic given the tough economy, what can you do? A growing body of research suggests that an exercise we call “job crafting” can be a powerful tool for reenergizing and reimagining your work life.

It involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. The exercise prompts you to visualize the job, map its elements, and reorganize them to better suit you. In this way, you can put personal touches on how you see and do your job, and you’ll gain a greater sense of control at work — which is especially critical at a time when you’re probably working longer and harder and expecting to retire later. Perhaps job crafting’s best feature is that it is driven by you, not your supervisor.

This exercise involves assessing and then altering one or more of the following core aspects of work.

Diagramming your job
Back at the multinational foods company, Fatima is still frustrated. What would happen if she engaged in job crafting? She’s already been reflecting on her dissatisfaction, albeit in no systematic way. Job crafting would give her the means to diagram a more ideal — but still realistic — version of her job, one better aligned with her motives, strengths, and passions.

First, she looks at the present makeup of her job. In her “before diagram,” Fatima uses a series of squares to represent the tasks that her job comprises, with larger squares representing time-intensive tasks, and smaller squares tasks to which she devotes less time.

She notices that she’s spending lots of time monitoring her team’s performance, answering questions, and directing market research. She’s spending a fair number of hours setting budgets, writing reports and running meetings. And she’s spending very little time on critical tasks such as professional development and designing marketing strategies. These tasks are in the smallest squares. Looking at the full sweep of her job in this way gives Fatima a clear sense — truly at a glance — of exactly where she is devoting her time and energy.

Next, she concentrates on changes that would increase her engagement at work. This “after diagram” will serve as the visual plan for her future.

She begins by identifying her motives, strengths, and passions — three important considerations in determining which aspects of her job will keep her engaged and inspire higher performance. Each will be represented by a different shade of gray. Her main motives, for instance, are cultivating meaningful relationships and achieving personal growth. She plugs these into light gray ovals. Fatima takes stock of her core strengths: one-on-one communication and technical savvy. These appear in the medium gray ovals. And she highlights her passions: teaching others and using and learning new technology — entered in dark gray ovals.

Then, using her before diagram as a frame of reference, Fatima creates a new set of task blocks whose size represents a better allocation of her time, energy, and attention. To take advantage of how well “designing marketing strategies” suits her motives, strengths, and passions, she not only moves it from a small to a medium block but also add “use social media” to this newly expanded task. To incorporate even more social media into her job, she adds a small task block to represent “teaching colleagues to use social media.” And for those tasks that do not fit her as well, she makes a note to adapt them (for instance, using “professional development” to “improve public speaking skills”).

She draws rectangles around groups of tasks that she thinks serve a common purpose or role. For example, she identifies “building and using social media expertise” as one role. Framing her roles in this way is meaningful to her because it taps into her key strengths and passions. By rearranging the shapes, Fatima gains a greater appreciation for how the elements of her job come together.

A new outlook
Fatima then moves to the final step of the exercise, in which she considers the challenges she will probably face in making her new job configuration a reality. She would like to use her technical savvy to help other marketing teams and departments take advantage of social media, but she is concerned about encroaching on their work or insulting them by offering her expertise. With her after diagram in hand, Fatima takes another look at the list of projects sitting in her in-box and begins to consider how to incorporate social media into them.

Tasks
She identifies two possibilities: a new snack food aimed at teens and a cross-company initiative to improve communication between Marketing and Sales. Fatima thinks a campaign involving Facebook and Twitter could help build buzz around the snack food — and reveal to the organization the benefits and limitations of reaching out to a new demographic. And by launching a blog, Fatima and her colleagues in Marketing could track initiatives and communications from members of the Sales division.

Relationships
Fatima recognizes, of course, that she’ll need support to establish the technological presence she envisions for these two projects. She must build or refocus her ties to others in the company in order to learn about the best ways to move forward. She recalls that Steve Porter is constantly fiddling with the latest gadgets in weekly interdepartmental meetings and that he is known for the clever ways he uses social media to keep salespeople in the loop. She decides to approach him for help.

Within a month, Steve’s and her own employees’ support has unleashed a wave of interest in and knowledge about how to put technology closer to the heart of the division’s work. Her initiatives have become testing grounds for using social media to accomplish other important goals. Fatima has been recognized as the driver of these programs and finds that managers from other divisions are coming to her to learn more about how they might use her ideas in their own projects — all of which is encouraging her to be bolder in introducing new ideas and technology.

Perceptions
Rather than thinking of her work as a daily slog, she begins to see herself as an innovator at the intersection of marketing and technology. And she views herself as an entrepreneurial pioneer unafraid of experiments that could bridge those worlds. She also, to her pleasure, recognizes that rather than taking her away from her prescribed goals, her passion for deploying technology in pursuit of these objectives gives her a more fulfilling way to approach them.

Article adapted from Harvard Business Review

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