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Do you want your employees to unleash their full potential and that of others? Then why limit or even bury them with job titles and descriptions? Any parent knows that labeling roles and listing responsibilities in a household limits children to that set of expectations. Do you want your people to feel similarly trapped and boxed – to just do the dishes and move on?

Sadly, that is what defines the traditional workplace, where job titles and descriptions fuel silos that inhibit productivity, as opposed to the new workplace that is fueled by innovation and initiative. This is why I believe job titles and descriptions as they are currently constructed — the legacy of generations of bureaucracy — should become obsolete.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh certainly understands the barriers to advancement that job titles create, so he created something called Holacracy. He said that for the majority of companies, “There’s the org chart on paper, and then the one that is exactly how the company operates for real, and then there’s the org chart that it would like to have in order to operate more efficiently. With Holacracy, the idea is to process tensions so that the three org charts are pretty close together.”

As you reflect upon your own workplace, consider these reasons job titles and their descriptions hinder productivity and innovation.

1.  They Cause an Execution Mentality

Job descriptions dictate execution-driven activities, and as a result, many employees are more comfortable being told what to do. According an online assessment by my organization, taken by more than 500,000 people since 2009, employees are most proficient at implementing the work that they are assigned to complete. They are weakest when it comes to the required strategic focus and entrepreneurial attitude needed to multiply the opportunities for that work.

2.  They Create Inefficiencies

How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t take on that responsibility, because it’s someone else’s job.” This not only explains a lack of initiative but also explains why so few people know how to contribute towards solving problems that fall outside of their job description/responsibilities. Today’s workplace requires everyone to be more cross-functional and live with an entrepreneurial spirit. But when people are not measured beyond the dictates of their job titles, employees remain stuck in their silos and refuse to take ownership, thus making it difficult for them to remain relevant at work.

3.  They Politicize Decision-Making

I’ve seen productivity wane and opportunity gaps widen because employees are more interested in satisfying political agendas within the organization. When this happens, it further propels political maneuvering, especially when all of the required “titles” are not ready to commit to a particular decision.

4.  They Prevent Unleashing Full Potential

Employees feel trapped between what others want them to be and what they seek to be themselves. This becomes more of an issue in the workplace when employees report to leaders who may be unqualified for the titles they hold. In other words, leaders who are unable (or unwilling) to unleash the full potential of their employees. If employees can’t be more of who they are, which contributes to higher levels of performance, how can they ever reach their full potential?

The traditional workplace in which people are defined by their job title and job description threatens to make them irrelevant. It also threatens decision-making and makes those with lofty titles feel entitled to pursue their own agendas. Office politics drown out the innovative and creative voices amongst us and deepen silos that slow down productivity and the ability to change. This workplace, like the dinosaurs, can’t become extinct soon enough.

In the future, individuals will define their job descriptions as statements of accountability for specific job functions. The description will be one paragraph of what that individual’s core responsibilities are and what he or she solves for; the rest will cover how that individual will solve for those responsibilities based on what defines their leadership identity and what they solve for. This will define how the job function is performed and will also influence KPIs, or key performance indicators, that directly align with the organization’s mission, vision, core beliefs, and values.

Thus, individuals will influence the evolution of the organization.

As we move forward, we must strive to create a new workplace in which roles and responsibilities are not limited to job titles and descriptions – in which decisions can be made more efficiently and effectively. Where teams work not in silos, but cross-functionally and transparently – as do their leaders. Where employees can unleash their full potential – and with it real productivity and innovation for the companies they serve.


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