I met with a team from a Fortune 500 company the other day. On a plane later, I looked over the business cards I had collected and it dawned on me—I don’t understand any of these people’s jobs. Not just what their titles mean, but what their company requires of them. None of that company’s titles seemed to reflect an intelligible realm of responsibility.

Imagine if you walked into your current enterprise and simply wiped away the existing set of job titles and the descriptions that go with them. Before you dismiss the notion, think about it. What if you…

  • Encouraged your people to describe in their own terms what they should focus on?
  • Invited them to define their own performance measures?
  • Enabled them to set their own compensation, based on achieving those goals?

How would your organization change under these new guidelines? Yes, you may discover some obnoxious people who see in this shift of accountability an invitation to game the system. But I think those will be the minority, and you will soon be rid of them as they become uncomfortable with the sea change around them. Your high-potential talent—the people who “get” your business model, and what the business needs from them to execute its strategy—will thrive in an unshackled environment. I believe most people will do a decent job of describing, “Here’s the most effective way I can contribute to the organization, here’s how I should be measured, and here’s the value of the outcome I create to the organization. Therefore, given market rates and conditions, here’s what my compensation should be.”

When your organizational culture reflects an interest in outcomes, instead of bureaucracy, I firmly believe you will see an increasing focus on strategic relationships, which will bring greater speed to market and a faster slope of growth, with more efficient use of resources and a resulting increase in profitability. “All that from strategic relationships?” you ask. Yes, because relationships are a critical factor in how individuals get work done.

Let’s consider how relationships affect the outcome-based concept of an organization I’ve challenged you to imagine, where individuals define their job descriptions, metrics, and compensation. Based on those three factors, what relationships do individuals need to succeed in their jobs.

Passing time on that airplane with my client business cards, I was thinking—Who do these people turn to for help? Where do they go for encouragement, criticism, and wisdom? Like any team, they all had different tenure, ranging from 27 years to six weeks. The person who had been there six weeks contributed some of the more interesting ideas I heard in that meeting. That was a good reminder to me that strategic relationships can form up, down, and across an organization, as well as interior and exterior to it. I hope that company’s CEO makes time to listen to its bright new hires, because doing so will benefit all concerned. Titles on a business card can keep people locked into an organizational structure that fails to reflect what’s really going on in a business, and where the growing edges are. Business cards are really about relationships, aren’t they—we use them when we want to make new connections.

New connections are crucial to an organizational culture driven by outcomes. The outcome-based approach recognizes that tomorrow’s business is unlikely to resemble yesterday’s. The minute any job description becomes stale, it affects both the person in the job and the organization that needs that person’s output. Job descriptions and reporting lines must keep pace with a business as it grows. Otherwise the enterprise risks becoming complacent and lazy. It will soon be out-hustled by competitors.

For job descriptions to stay at the leading edge of business, individuals need to own their own development plans. My proposed model of personal empowerment concerning job descriptions, metrics, and compensation makes individuals accountable for leveraging their core strengths as their desired outcomes evolve. What specifically are individuals able to do to increase their skill at core competencies, and to add new competencies to meet emerging needs?

If you wait for HR to build a development pathway for each job role, your organization is in trouble. It will thrive when individuals are directly in charge of developing the competencies they need to prepare for the job their current position will evolve into. So rather than wait for HR to be the driver, bounce the question back to each individual: “What do you need to truly excel at the job description you just wrote, so you can hit your metrics? What resources do you need to prepare for your next job description?”

On that airplane, gazing at the handful of business cards I had, I imagined each as a blank slate. For each I saw an engaged, motivated, aligned employee able to write the title on it she felt best represented the outcomes she was accountable for. I pictured her supported to develop any relationships she needed to achieve those outcomes, regardless of hierarchies, and encouraged to pursue any development she needed to excel at her next job description. I envisioned an organization that trusted its employees to collaborate in the design of their goals, metrics, and rewards. As that plane eased out of the sky, I tucked the handful of cards in my pocket and thought to myself—let’s wipe out meaningless titles. Let’s start focusing on what matters—the outcomes we’re responsible for.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. Hold all staff members accountable on a daily basis for the value they bring to the organization.
  2. Encourage staff members to develop the strategic relationships they need, up, down, across, our outside the enterprise.
  3. Support all staff in planning their own development, realizing that as a business evolves, its talent requirements evolve too, and those doing the work are well informed about how the outcomes they are responsible for will change.
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