Redesigning Jobs not for Task Execution but to Create New Value

If anyone thinks the work culture of the United States and some parts of Southeast Asia are vastly different, think again: that gap is going to widen again. 

In a recent phone conversation between an American entrepreneur and his Asian contact, the latter instantly asked how her web developer-colleagues will be paid for a coaching or retraining project in the U.S. — a fair thing to ask. The US-based entrepreneur was simply at fault for not explaining his plan outright; he didn’t know the work culture from that part of the world, and was not forthcoming in terms of the work involved, or how much he would pay. 

He merely hinted that he was seeking not just a task finisher, far from it, but someone who can essentially think like him — entrepreneur-like, a potential equal who thinks in terms of providing long-term value for customers and businesses.  

The American entrepreneur realized that it’s not easy for anyone to have an overnight change in mindset. Some cultures, especially a developing country, may not embrace complexity because it lives in a more practical world. It cannot afford to dream because there’s an opportunity cost attached to it — and there’s nothing wrong with that.  

Still, this was an experiment the American entrepreneur wanted to embark on — up to what point would someone from the opposite side of the world tolerate a business plan that has not been hatched yet, no matter how feasible the idea? 

After all, paid services are practical outcomes compared to the more abstract proposition of entrepreneurship. How would the American respond to someone who outright in their business discussion may tell him he needed to be paid right away. Would he think the person prefers short-term gain?

The American entrepreneur wanted someone who can share his vision of retraining Americans and corporations to redesign jobs for the 21st century. This was going to be a big challenge as even the world has not yet figured out how to face the threat of automation. However, there are indications of the need for redesigning jobs. 

In a Deloitte’s report, there’s a possibility that a project manager and business analyst may evolve, decline in demand, or even disappear. For product managers, they would also need to learn about scrum, dev ops, design thinking and agile management to stay relevant. 

It’s in this context that the American thinks that he needed someone’s input from the receiving end of outsourced jobs. Only then will he see what is the best approach — and what he can work out with someone from afar. Would this person join him? Or would this foreign talent remain in his home country? Would they complement each other to form a business in a more global business landscape?

The business world needs to understand how work is evolving in two complementary directions — one geared toward redesigning jobs to automate workflow processes and boost efficiencies and reduce costs, while some are redefining work to take advantage of new capacity freed up by job redesign, according to the MIT Sloan Management Review. As a result, work is becoming no longer simply about task execution but executing new sources of value for customers and the business. 

When work is appropriately redefined, workers can focus on identifying and addressing unseen problems and opportunities instead of executing tasks. In contrast to the incremental and diminishing returns of job redesign, redefining work leads to increasing returns because of its significant potential for long-term value creation.

MIT cites how a regional bank transitioned to new productivity software, making good use of volunteers from across the company to not just train their peers on the new tools, but also to help them redesign their own work. 

They looked for opportunities to automate or eliminate tasks rather than just transfer every current task and report into a new system. Employees were encouraged to question what work needed to be done based on how they were delivering value to the customer.

As a result, people across the bank streamlined, simplified, automated, and jettisoned their old tasks, thus freeing up capacity that enabled them to focus more on getting to know what their customers (often internal) needed or might need in the future. 

The volunteer trainers benefited from an intensive experience that developed their creativity, empathy, curiosity, and other capabilities, but the entire workforce gained an understanding that they had the ability and expectation to redefine their work to better serve customers. 

From this example, the American entrepreneur simply has to find someone who can think in terms of creating better create value for the customer.