Talent Management: Roles vs. Jobs

Readers of this BLOG have heard me go on about the importance of roles in the management of talent issues. In this posting I will be elaborating somewhat on what I mean regarding roles especially in the context of of another well used concept: “Jobs”.

Jobs in the main describe the incumbent side of roles. One way to see this is to think of what we often see in job descriptions or statements (sometimes they are even called role descriptions/statements).:

  • a statement on what the incumbent is expected to deliver
  • a statement list of some of the priority activities/tasks
  • a statement on the skills, knowledge, experience, accreditation, etc. the incumbent is expected to bring to the job.

Roles in the manner that I think of them encompass the “Job” view along with the other important components that together enable the incumbent to actually deliver on the set of expectations. These include:

  • linked information systems
  • linked physical and ergonomic systems
  • linked adjacent supportive roles (or at least roles that “impact” role performance)
  • linked behavioural “norms” expectations
  • connection to the broader business process system

The reason I believe roles are critical is I have witnessed (even participated in) the following situations:

  • Seen very capable people become disappointments when they move into a similar role in another context (e.g., change employers, change district offices). Lesson: individual performance is contingent on a broader context than “job”.
  • Seen people who are deemed “so so” at best become stars when they move into a similar role in another context and suddenly become stars. Lesson: individual performance is contingent on a broader context than “job”.
  • Seen performance shift dramatically (positively/negatively) when changes are made to linked or adjacent systems or roles  with the same incumbents. Lesson: Context is critical in determining performance.
  • Seen differences in role performance with changes in people in them (Yes, who is in the job can be significant!). Lesson: always need to focus on who fills the role.
  • Seen little changes in behaviour (especially dysfunctional behaviour) when numerous changes in incumbents (who have diverse temperaments, values, etc.)occur over time. Lesson: support and adjacent role attributes can be powerful forces that shape behaviour into predictable focused patterns.

Because I have observed the above phenomena numerous times over the years, I have developed a strong appreciation that job design and capable incumbents do not begin to help us determine overall performance.

I have moved my attention to the context that human work is done and I call these roles.

I have learned that the way we set up roles in business processes determines numerous performance related consequences:

  • the degree of politicking
  • the impact of different individual capabilities on performance (do we make room for stars to deliver star performance?)
  • the ability to have people do what they are paid to do well and efficiently
  • etc.

This is why I have grown to appreciate the comprehending power of the 9 window system view technique. It has helped me and my clients to understand more appreciatively the talent management issues they have and how to begin effectively working on them.



About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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