#encompassproject – taking pole position

by Isabel Wu

I love my job. I love the pay!
I love it more and more each day.
I love my boss, he is the best!
I love his boss and all the rest.

I love my office and its location. I hate to have to go on vacation.
I love my furniture, drab and grey, and piles of paper that grow each day!
I think my job is swell, there’s nothing else I love so well.
I love to work among my peers, I love their leers, and jeers, and sneers.
I love my computer and its software; I hug it often though it won’t care.
I love each program and every file, I’d love them more if they worked a while.

I’m happy to be here. I am. I am.
I’m the happiest slave of the Firm, I am.
I love this work. I love these chores.
I love the meetings with deadly bores.
I love my job – I’ll say it again – I even love those friendly men.
Those friendly men who’ve come today, in clean white coats to take me away!!!!!

Dr. Seuss

Job-to job transitions (job mobility) has been increasing steadily since the 1980s when any remaining expectations that jobs were ‘for life’ were definitively put to bed.  Firms needed to appease stakeholders far more demanding than employees and a flexible workforce was key to achieving many bottom line results.  At the same time, workers were learning it was better to be loyal to their careers rather than their employers.  The position description, already a fixture in organisations for managing tasks and efficiency, garnered even more attention as the focal point for employment negotiations.

Workers use position descriptions as career markers, as a way to validate their “achievements”.  It is a fairly well accepted fact that workers leave bosses not companies.  It is equally true that workers accept positions, not join companies.  How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m looking for that next step up.”  Or, “Having that experience will look great on my résumé.”  Or, “If I took that job it would be going backwards.”  Context – the environment in which the job is actually performed – is often ignored.  Is it really better to be a manager with the title but no real authority than a ‘worker’ with autonomy?  It is a valuable test to undertake with all your workers: are they committed to their position, its title, status, perks and place in the hierarchy or, are they committed to the job – focusing on that which they can best contribute?

Of course this suits companies.  Having accepted a position with all the attendant perks and status, the worker gives the company licence to use the position descriptions as a control mechanism.  Quid pro quo.  With a position description the company can filter out the sort of people they don’t want to join their firm and control the remuneration, scope and prospects of the person within the firm.

There would be very few organisations and advisors that would say position descriptions are not compulsory; a critical tool to ensure that workers know exactly what is expected of them and protects them in case of disputes.  The fact is, the culture and norms in the workplace are far more effective at communicating what is expected and what is acceptable than any impersonal, bland statement.  However, doing away with position descriptions needs trust to replace control.  There are not enough organisations that are prepared to make that switch.

Disability service providers that assist their clients seek work know first hand the almost insurmountable barriers that position descriptions put up for the disabled to secure paid employment.  Many with disabilities (but others generally as well) want to work so they can do something they like, be in a collegiate environment, and earn a living.  They may be happy to make coffee and tea without being given a title like “Hot Beverage Technician” that has several potential career paths available depending on the number of key result areas in which they can demonstrate competence.  Knowing this, disability service providers should take the lead in an organisational structure that works on ‘person descriptions’.

A person description is an expectation of performance and accountability based on what a person is able to do (different to a person specification in which a company describes the ideal person they want to hire for a position).  As work becomes increasingly knowledge-based rather than task-based working to a person’s abilities will have an increasingly greater impact on the organisation’s bottom line.

This is why Encompass Community Services will review its positions and titles as part of the #encompassproject.  Elaine Robb, Encompass CEO, has calculated as an unacceptable loss to the organisation the work that is not being done, the ideas not being explored, the cooperation not had, the opportunities not being exploited because people are doing their positions rather than their most suited jobs.  The removal of position titles in favour of projects and priorities is not new.  Goretex uses such a structure, they call a ‘lattice structure’.  Holacracy, referring to distributed authority to self-organising teams, is becoming slowly more accepted.  Ricardo Semler wrote about the Semco experience in the book Maverick! The success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace.

Gallup, the global performance management consulting and research company, has found that organisations that reinforce people’s strengths enjoy six times higher levels of employee engagement than those that force ‘performance gap’ improvements.  Employees are also more likely to experience higher feelings of accomplishment and well-being and less likely to experience job stress.

Discussions are currently under way with Encompass on the structure and positions.  I am looking forward to sharing the results of these discussions in the coming weeks.  I hope also be able to provide details on some results we are seeing even so early in the process.

This week I’ll give the last word to Elaine who shared this message in the Encompass Autumn 2014 Newsletter (see the full newsletter here):

Message from the CEO

Some of you may have heard that Encompass is going through a revolution, namely the #encompassproject. The main goal of this project is for Encompass to get in front of the ever changing environment in which Encompass and similar organisations operate. There will be regular updates in this newsletter, so watch this space. This revolution in our operational thinking means there will be more exciting and challenging opportunities for all of the people at Encompass – Staff, Clients, Volunteers, Board members, Supporters, Customers, Suppliers, Contractors and everyone who wants to assist us in some way.

Encompass will continue to offer an array of services and programs and these will be enhanced by the #encompassproject. We are offering more opportunities and better options for people with disabilities and as a result, their contributions will make the world a better place for everyone! Encompass will no longer be a “Encompass Community Services Organisation” but rather “Encompass Community”. In some ways, I already think of Encompass in that way.

The revolution will not happen in a day! We are taking small steps to reach big goals. In the next few months you may see some changes at Encompass. Keep in mind that these changes are there to better our organisation and we need your help and support for this to succeed!

We talk about followers on Facebook or Twitter, and perhaps this will be the real life version of this – where government agencies, service providers, businesses and people follow us as a real example of community working at its best. I am excited by our future as we continue to evolve and I hope you are too.