Sunday, November 8, 2015

Job Fulfilment: Highway Cruise or Oil Exploration?

Job fulfilment is the precursor for job satisfaction. Given that more than 50 percent of a 24 hour day and more than 80 percent of the wakeful part is spent on the job or job related activities, job satisfaction is a must for peace in life. Deriving fulfilment on the job is essential for pace in life, therefore. Job fulfilment cannot be defined in terms of either title or compensation. It is more in terms of doing what one enjoys and what one’s natural aptitudes and talents play for, and finally the impact one makes through one’s job on the people and organization. In some cases, job fulfilment occurs immediately while in some case, it takes years to happen. In most cases, what was fulfilment at the start gets overwhelmed by greater accomplishments later in life but in some cases, the later day’s greater successes trigger greater satisfaction from the initial fulfilments too.    

For a teacher, for example, job fulfilment occurs when he or she is able to coach his class to high scores in examinations. The real job fulfilment, however, comes when the teacher sees his students occupying high positions and becoming successful in life. The teacher, in the process, starts getting more fulfilled from the teaching process, the long term implications of students getting high scores, and their bringing credit to the teacher and the alma mater in the years to come. Today’s competitive landscape pressures executives for immediate performance, much like examination results, and ingrains a mind-set of seeking immediate fulfilment through rewards and recognitions. While there is nothing wrong in this (except for the accumulation of stress), the flip side is that executives, no longer, are able to await and relish the long term results from the seeds they sow.

Jobs make careers

Most advertisements for recruitment no longer emphasize the job; they speak of careers. Most recruiters emphasize how careers can be built up through the position in question. A company that lays attention on talent mapping and succession planning can, indeed, assure a fulfilling career through a series of fulfilling jobs. Such companies are characterized by their frontline executives growing to occupy CXO positions eventually. It is, therefore, unnecessary and even misplaced to distinguish between jobs and careers. If jobs make careers for individuals, and both mean fulfilment for them, it is important to realize that companies also have their own jobs and careers to fulfil for the society. In fact, it is only within the aegis of a company that individuals can find fulfilment.  While individuals can find jobs in any company, successful or not so successful, they can find careers only in successful companies or making not so successful companies successful with their jobs.

Like individuals, companies also have jobs to perform and careers to make. A company has a job to do in terms of delivering the products and services. However, the company also has a career to make (even if it is somewhat inappropriate to describe so) in terms of maintaining a continuity of products and services that are ever more beneficial to the customer. Just as an individual gets to change a job in search of fulfilment or career, companies also get to churn their products and services (and even employees) in their quest for a “career” in the business landscape. While these similarities are easy to appreciate, the interplay between jobs and careers as well as individuals and companies (in permutations and combinations thereof) is not understood by either the individuals or the companies. Perceptive business leaders and human resources leader not only appreciate this interplay but work in partnership to address this complex issue.

Defining fulfilment

Many people see and seek fulfilment in terms of how their talents impact the jobs that they carry out. One is apt to make statements such as “I completed my assigned project which was appreciated by my boss” or “I made a presentation that the audience liked”. Fulfilment through such feelings and perceptions is misplaced. True fulfilment occurs when the job impacts positively and meaningfully others in the organization and one feels invested in the company’s future through the job one is performing. Again, it is not a matter how many people one leads but it does matter how much interaction one is able to have with other relevant internal and external stakeholders. True fulfilment also occurs when one is able to experience, on a first hand basis, the results of one’s work.

Typically jobs (especially in mature established organizations) tend to stay static while talents (as defined by a combination of education and experience) may improve. Fulfilment becomes elusive when jobs trail competencies. There would also be cases when jobs (especially in turnaround situations or sunrise industries) require new skills while talents (as required by new requirements) remain static. In this case also, where skills trail job challenges, fulfilment becomes elusive. Fulfilment, on the whole, is a dynamic concept which can work only when jobs, as they are designed, manned and performed, lead to growth of businesses. This is not merely a human resources responsibility but the responsibility of the entire leadership team of a company at one level. It is also, more importantly, the responsibility of the individuals themselves at another level.  

Economic view

It is impossible to discuss job fulfilment without considering an economic viewpoint. Typically, companies extract consumer surplus when they market their products or services at prices higher than costs. Consumer surplus obviously varies based on the product-market segments. In a similar fashion, companies seek to derive (‘extract’ could be a negative word, here!) employee surplus by deriving higher value from their services than the salaries paid to them. The laws of growth and competition not only legitimize the relevance of consumer surplus and employee surplus but also seek to reduce consumer surplus per product or service. Companies try to counter this by maximizing employee surplus but this may not always be feasible in a skill-scarce and talent-constrained economy. The only way this riddle of economic fulfilment is solved is through sustainable and profitable growth.

The economics of fulfilment for individuals, in their twin roles as customers and employees, and for companies, in their multiple roles as producers and sellers, and as employers and optimizers are important. Growth economics, in fact, is a bubble. Population demographics is a reality. The bubble has to be sustained to meet the reality. Unless economic growth stays continuous and consistent, social fulfilment becomes elusive. When viewed in this perspective, job fulfilment can never be a matter of individual joy or disappointment, and not even of job design and talent deployment. It is a matter of finding business and economic solutions for challenges of growth. Job fulfilment occurs when the role of an individual is appreciated by the role designers and the individual is able to appreciate the role as part of a larger socio-economic paradigm.

Cruise or exploration?

When this socio-economic perspective is understood, frontline executives as well as their employers start assessing objectively whether job fulfilment is a matter of immediacy and surety as a highway cruise is, or is a matter of uncertainty with sporadic abundance as oil exploration is. The answer is rather simple. The concept of a career highway, however desirable it is, is rather a desire than reality in organizations. There are far too many variables in the process of interactions of individual-business-environment that there can never be a pre-set path. It is unclear, for example, if the conventional synthetic medicines will be dominant a decade hence or biologic medicines or genetic engineering would be dominant. Taking the example of automobile industry, the future automobile could be a digital machine. Career highways based on current business models and current skill-sets could be misleading.

On the other hand, job fulfilment is more like oil exploration. Not every field, whether on-shore or offshore, offers potential for oil, and not every field with potential for oil ends up providing an unending gush of oil. Job fulfilment for aspirant executives arises from a process of identifying the right companies and persevering with their job roles and career paths with grit. As with exploration, the operating circumstances tend to be challenging but when the right role is struck, the rewards could be plenty. Like oil exploration, exploration of job fulfilment tends to be a combination of hardware, soft skills and the entire organization working together. While the simile may seem extended, the underlying concept that job fulfilment is a larger enterprise-wide challenge is a reality. Does the individual have an easy path then?

Aligned fulfilment

The solution for job fulfilment lies in aligned fulfilment between the company and the employees. The company must have a larger purpose and mission which must have the buy-in of the employees. The company and the employee must have a clear view of how the dynamics of industrial competition would impact the economics of consumer surplus and economic surplus. Just as the company feels justified in deriving a consumer surplus based on the perceived value of its products and services to the company, the employee must feel a broader purpose in providing the employee surplus to the company. A good job for a competent person pays well. A great job which is derived from a sense of purpose for the company and covers its employees inclusively leads to fulfilment for them as well as the company.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on November 8, 2015  

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