Help your best people do a better job

by Nick Tasler

Disengagement happens. Contrary to what most of us think, however, poor management isn’t always the cause. The fact is that being an inspiring, emotionally intelligent leader and an excellent coach isn’t always enough to keep your people fully focused and productive. Sometimes they need a change to their job more than they need a change to their manager.

A team of researchers led by Justin Berg, now a graduate student at the Wharton school, developed an innovative tool called the Job Crafting Exercise. Based on more than a decade of research, the tool helps guide employees through a process of reorganizing their current job tasks into new self-defined ‘roles.’ It not only helps employees see their jobs differently, it helps them do their jobs differently. The result is a more engaged and ultimately, more productive employee.

Five steps to reinvigorating your team with job crafting

1. Clarify the business objectives of their job. Before allowing employees to begin the Job Crafting Exercise, it’s vital for managers to clearly state the outcomes that an employee’s job needs to produce for the organization. After all, the exercise is futile if employees become fully engaged in a job that fails to produce results.

2. Allow employees to complete the job crafting exercise. The tool instructs employees to list their current job tasks, and then their strengths—what the employee is good at doing; their passions—what types of tasks the employ enjoys doing; and motives—what outcomes the employee wishes to achieve from their work, such as pay or recognition. Employees then arrange their strengths, passions and motives into clusters with certain job tasks. These clusters become the new self-defined roles of their job. Berg emphasizes that employees don’t actually eliminate any of their essential job tasks when completing the exercise. They simply reorganize their job tasks in a way that is more personally satisfying.

3. Don’t interfere. ‘Managers have to let go of the prison guard tendency,’ Amy Wrzesniewski says. Wrzesniewski, a professor at the Yale School of Management and one of the tools co-creators explains that as long as managers have properly clarified the job’s required outcomes and provided adequate reasoning for why these objectives are necessary, the manager must let her people go through the exercise on their own. This key distinction is what makes the tool so much more effective than traditional ‘job design’ techniques in which managers or HR departments designed an employee’s job for them.

4. Create a plan with the employee. Once the employee completes the exercise, managers should sit down with employees to discuss how they can help the put that new job role into action. This isn’t a managerial sign-off ritual as much as it is a short working session (30–40 minutes) to make sure that both manager and employee are working toward the same ends. It’s also a learning opportunity for the manager. Co-creator and distinguished professor at the University of Michigan, Jane Dutton, points out that one of the bonuses of job crafting is that management often learns about more effective ways of working that they can apply to other areas of the organization.

5. Craft in teams. ‘In a team environment,’ Wrzesniewski says, ‘it’s often beneficial for employees to do a little job-swapping.’ Inevitably, the Job Crafting Exercise will reveal necessary tasks that an individual employee doesn’t care much for doing. Some employees like more social tasks such as making phone calls or attending meetings, while others love digging into more solitary problem-solving tasks. Both sets of tasks need to be completed by the team, but it usually doesn’t matter which individual performs which task.

While it’s undoubtedly true that disengagement happens, nobody says it has to happen for long.

This article first appeared at