Shape Your Job; Don’t Let the Job Shape You

I recently read an interesting article on career development by Amy Wrzesniewski, Justin M. Berg, and Jane E. Dutton titled “Managing Yourself: Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want.” In it, they show how to analyze any role in terms of tasks, relationships, and perceptions and then how to diagram the current state in a way that more clearly reveals where the majority of time is spent. Using their Job Crafting tool, they show how to link tasks to motives, strengths, and passions – the elements that the authors contend drive engagement and consequently higher performance.

Although they use Job Crafting in the context of a current job, it also lends itself to crafting your next role either within your current organization or in another.

As always, I view these tools and techniques as a win-win. Higher job performance is generally a good thing for an organization and the benefits of higher engagement go beyond the morale and sense of well-being of the individual; it can help to reduce turnover, absenteeism (due to poor health) and other soft factors that usually end-up affecting the bottom-line indirectly.

Interestingly, they make reference to the concept of job entrepreneurs, a concept explored in a previous post on a book called The Immaterial.

Managing Yourself: Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want

by Amy Wrzesniewski, Justin M. Berg, and Jane E. Dutton

A 30-year-old midlevel manager—let’s call her Fatima—is struggling at work, but you wouldn’t know it from outward appearances. A star member of her team in the marketing division of a large multinational foods company, Fatima consistently hits her benchmarks and goals. She invests long hours and has built relationships with colleagues that she deeply values. And her senior managers think of her as one of the company’s high potentials.

But outside the office, Fatima (who asked not to be identified by her real name) would admit that she feels stagnant in her job, trapped by the tension between day-to-day demands and what she really wants to be doing: exploring how the company can use social media in its marketing efforts. Twitter, her cause-marketing blog, and mobile gadgets are her main passions. She’d like to look for another job, but given the slow recovery from the recession, sticking it out seems like her best (and perhaps only) option. “I’m still working hard,” she tells a friend. “But I’m stuck. Every week, I feel less and less motivated. I’m beginning to wonder why I wanted this position in the first place.”

A growing body of research suggests that an exercise we call “job crafting” can be a powerful tool for reenergizing and reimagining your work life. It involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. The exercise prompts you to visualize the job, map its elements, and reorganize them to better suit you. In this way, you can put personal touches on how you see and do your job, and you’ll gain a greater sense of control at work—which is especially critical at a time when you’re probably working longer and harder and expecting to retire later. Perhaps job crafting’s best feature is that it’s driven by you, not your supervisor.

This exercise involves assessing and then altering one or more of the following core aspects of work.


You can change the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, expanding or diminishing their scope, or changing how they are performed. A sales manager, for instance, might take on additional event planning because he likes the challenge of organizing people and logistics.


You can change the nature or extent of your interactions with other people. A managing director, for example, might create mentoring relationships with young associates as a way to connect with and teach those who represent the future of the firm.


You can change how you think about the purpose of certain aspects of your job; or you can reframe the job as a whole. The director of a nonprofit institution, for instance, might choose to think of his job as two separate parts, one not particularly enjoyable (the pursuit of contributions and grants) and one very meaningful (creating opportunities for emerging artists). Or the leader of an R&D unit might come to see her work as a way of advancing the science in her field rather than simply managing projects.

Our research with a range of organizations—from Fortune 500 companies to small nonprofits—indicates that employees (at all levels, in all kinds of occupations) who try job crafting often end up more engaged and satisfied with their work lives, achieve higher levels of performance in their organizations, and report greater personal resilience.

For their part, organizations have a lot to gain by enabling job crafting. Most job-redesign models put the onus on managers to help employees find satisfaction in their work; in reality, leaders rarely have sufficient time to devote to this process. Job crafting lets managers turn the reins over to employees, empowering them to become “job entrepreneurs.” And when pay resources are constrained or promotions impossible, job crafting may give companies a different way to motivate and retain their most talented employees. It can even help transform poor performers.

Diagramming Your Job

Back at the multinational foods company, Fatima is still frustrated. What would happen if she engaged in job crafting? She’s already been reflecting on her dissatisfaction, albeit in no systematic way. Job crafting would give her the means to diagram a more ideal—but still realistic—version of her job, one better aligned with her motives, strengths, and passions.

First, she looks at the present makeup of her job. In her “before diagram,” Fatima uses a series of squares to represent the tasks that her job comprises, with larger squares representing time-intensive tasks, and smaller squares tasks to which she devotes less time. (See the exhibit “Fatima’s Before Diagram.”)

Fatima’s Before Diagram

Once she has created her before diagram, this midlevel marketing manager immediately sees that she’s spending lots of time on tasks that don’t engage her passions—for instance, monitoring her team’s performance, answering questions, and directing market research—and much less on tasks that are meaningful to her.

She notices that she’s spending lots of time monitoring her team’s performance, answering questions, and directing market research. She’s spending a fair number of hours setting budgets, writing reports, and running meetings. And she’s spending very little time on critical tasks such as professional development and designing marketing strategies. These tasks are in the smallest squares. Looking at the full sweep of her job in this way gives Fatima a clear sense—truly at a glance—of exactly where she is devoting her time and energy.

Next, she concentrates on changes that would increase her engagement at work. This “after diagram” will serve as the visual plan for her future. (See the exhibit “Fatima’s After Diagram.”)

Fatima’s After Diagram

In Fatima’s after diagram, it’s easier to see how she can connect her tasks to her motives, strengths, and passions. For instance, one of her motives is to cultivate meaningful relationships and achieve personal growth. Her strengths include her one-on-one communication skills and technical savvy. And among her passions are teaching others and using and learning about new technology.

In this after diagram, the sizes of the blocks represent a better allocation of Fatima’s time, energy, and attention. The borders around groups of tasks suggest the common purpose they serve. By rearranging the shapes on the page, Fatima gains a greater appreciation for how the different elements of her job come together.

She begins by identifying her motives, strengths, and passions—three important considerations in determining which aspects of her job will keep her engaged and inspire higher performance. Each will be represented by a different color. Her main motives, for instance, are cultivating meaningful relationships and achieving personal growth. She plugs these into green ovals. Fatima takes stock of her core strengths: one-on-one communication and technical savvy. These appear in the blue ovals. And she highlights her passions: teaching others and using and learning new technology—entered in orange ovals.

Then, using her before diagram as a frame of reference, Fatima creates a new set of task blocks whose size represents a better allocation of her time, energy, and attention. To take advantage of how well “designing marketing strategies” suits her motives, strengths, and passions, she not only moves it from a small to a medium block but also add “use social media” to this newly expanded task. To incorporate even more social media into her job, she adds a small task block to represent “teaching colleagues to use social media.” And for those tasks that do not fit her as well, she makes a note to adapt them (for instance, using “professional development” to “improve public speaking skills”).

She draws rectangles around groups of tasks that she thinks serve a common purpose or role. For example, she identifies “building and using social media expertise” as one role. Framing her roles in this way is meaningful to her because it taps into her key strengths and passions. By rearranging the shapes, Fatima gains a greater appreciation for how the elements of her job come together.

A New Outlook

Fatima then moves to the final step of the exercise, in which she considers the challenges she will probably face in making her new job configuration a reality. She would like to use her technical savvy to help other marketing teams and departments take advantage of social media, but she is concerned about encroaching on their work or insulting them by offering her expertise. With her after diagram in hand, Fatima takes another look at the list of projects sitting in her in-box and begins to consider how to incorporate social media into them.


She identifies two possibilities: a new snack food aimed at teens and a cross-company initiative to improve communication between Marketing and Sales. Fatima thinks a campaign involving Facebook and Twitter could help build buzz around the snack food—and reveal to the organization the benefits and limitations of reaching out to a new demographic. And by launching a blog, Fatima and her colleagues in Marketing could track initiatives and communications from members of the Sales division.


Fatima recognizes, of course, that she’ll need support to establish the technological presence she envisions for these two projects. She must build or refocus her ties to others in the company in order to learn about the best ways to move forward. She recalls that Steve Porter is constantly fiddling with the latest gadgets in weekly interdepartmental meetings and that he is known for the clever ways he uses social media to keep salespeople in the loop. She decides to approach him for help. Within a month, Steve’s and her own employees’ support has unleashed a wave of interest in and knowledge about how to put technology closer to the heart of the division’s work. Her initiatives have become testing grounds for using social media to accomplish other important goals. Fatima has been recognized as the driver of these programs and finds that managers from other divisions are coming to her to learn more about how they might use her ideas in their own projects—all of which is encouraging her to be bolder in introducing new ideas and technology.


Rather than thinking of her work as a daily slog, she begins to see herself as an innovator at the intersection of marketing and technology. And she views herself as an entrepreneurial pioneer unafraid of experiments that could bridge those worlds. She also, to her pleasure, recognizes that rather than taking her away from her prescribed goals, her passion for deploying technology in pursuit of these objectives gives her a more fulfilling way to approach them.

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