Which role should you take in the organization?

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In many workplaces, the employees’ roles are to a large extent defined by their job descriptions. In new organizations, though, such descriptions may not be fully developed. Either the startup has not come to this point yet, or the entrepreneurs believe they are better off without such clear divisions about who does what. Everyone contributes where needed.

However, role structures are created anyway, whether these are controlled or unconsciously formed. It is important to be aware of this at an early stage, as the initial roles in the organizations have long-lasting effects.

Personalised jobs

What often is the case in startups, is that one has a few, but highly skilled people in the team. A natural consequence of this is that the jobs are largely formed on the basis of the individuals’ expertise. The American professor of management Anne Miner refers to this as idiosyncratic jobs. The organizations create jobs around the people, instead of hiring people to pre-defined jobs.

This trait of startups is something that established organizations also can adopt, in order to increase internal variation and take advantage of hidden employee skills.

As I discussed in a previous blog post, the initial phase of a startup may be chaotic and there is a need for various knowledge and business competence in general. After some time, the organization may hire people to cover more specific needs.

Users and supporters

A risk when hiring many employees for specific tasks, is that few people have an overview of the general needs of the organization. When the job descriptions are narrowly defined and it is not expected that anyone take on responsibility beyond these frames, the employees become users of organizational knowledge instead of supporters, as described by among others Petro Georgiou.

The users only need to acquire the knowledge needed to serve their own interests and to do their job satisfactorily, whereas supporters need to learn their part of what is needed to take care of the organization as a whole and drive the company forward. When the employees have a larger understanding of the activities in the firm, they will easier recognise holes in the organization’s competencies and have a more analytical understanding of how the jobs fit into the larger system.

The research of Theresa Welbourne suggests that if organizations have a bureaucratic structure with many specialist roles, the employees will be stimulated to work on their own jobs at the expense of working for the overall good of the company.

In contrast, a healthy business creates a team of supporters. When extended responsibility is facilitated and encouraged, the organization will most likely have no problem surviving when the manager leaves for a vacation.

It is a management responsibility to provide a good role structure. Still, all employees can be a part of developing their own roles, whether defined or undefined.

Miriam Øyna

Miriam is Incubate’s innovation columnist. In her free time, she is dancing ballet, eats marzipan and comments on other people’s language. She is a typical eternal student, with a Bachelor degree in Journalism, a Master degree in Society, Science and Technology and has now embraced Business Economics.

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