One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you are in control of your own destiny: you can create your own job (and change it when you feel like it). But designing your own job is not only an option for the self-employed; if you work for an organisation with the right culture you too can rip up the job spec to create a role that reflects your talents and desires.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, wrote recently about how he had worked at IDEO all this life, never needing to quit his job because he could redesign it:
“Over the last two-and-a-half decades, I’ve gone through multiple job titles and even more roles. Even since taking on the mantle of CEO some 15 years ago now, I’ve done my best to redesign the job every few years so that I continue to grow my impact and learn.”
Tim’s story echoes my own experience. Before I started working for myself, I was lucky to spend seven years at a media group that was small and flexible enough to allow me to design my own job. I treated the official job spec as just a starting point, a canvas on which to paint new layers. Having been hired as a studio co-ordinator, I soon crossed borders to other departments, becoming a producer in live events, then a radio production manager, before slaloming through other mashed-up roles that saw me simultaneously head up one division as MD, project manage joint ventures, edit the company external newsletter and organise the annual awayday. At my own instigation, I changed my job title every twelve months.
So redesigning your job may sound like an attractive idea, but how the heck do you actually do it? Here are some tips:
- The onus is on you. Your boss won’t come and ask if you want to change your role. It’s up to you to take the bull by the horns and lobby for change.
- Before seeking to redesign your job, make sure you have done enough of what you were hired for in the first place. Prove yourself in the role you were hired for before arguing to shake things up.
- Follow your curiosity and cross borders. Be curious, go and ask questions, get to know what other people do. Get to know what goes on in other departments, build relationships with people at other sites and in other teams. This will help you give a sense of where you might be able to add value outside of your current role.
- Embark on an internal PR campaign. You’ll need to make sure people around you know that you have ambitions beyond your current job spec. When I started out at the media group, I got good at managing a broadcast facilities company, so I was seen as the 'Facilities guy'. I had to work hard to remind people around me, including my boss, that I had other skills. I had to move away from the label that people had attached to me. Make sure people in the organisation have a sense of what you stand for, of your purpose, the values and skills you’ll bring to your work, whatever you touch.
- Be vocal and visible outside your core area. At company-wide meetings ensure you’re making contributions and getting heard on other areas outside your current role. Demonstrate your other talents by blogging, by tweeting, by showing evidence of side projects or hobby businesses.
- Put your hand up. The boss is looking for volunteers to come in at the weekend to staff a welcome desk at an event? The company is looking for someone to guest edit the newsletter? Put your hand up and volunteer.
- Be enterprising. If you’ve got ideas for how your division could grow, take the initiative and make recommendations to your boss. If you suggest there’s a new product that can be launched, put yourself in the frame to lead it or work on it. Create your own opportunities.
This should help you redesign your job inside an organisation. Of course it relies upon the culture of the organisation being progressive enough to allow employees to change direction and carve out new roles. But give it a go, you have nothing to lose. And if your boss says no, then maybe you are working in the wrong place.
If you want to find out more I’m holding a ‘Pop-up Revolution Workshop’ in central London on Friday May 1st where, together with Mark Shayler, I’ll be inspiring you to get fired up about your work life. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
You can also read my book ‘Mash-up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier.’