Do you remember the last time you did truly great work? I bet your output was made possible because you were fired up and inspired, and you threw your entire being into the project. I bet you thought about the project during non-work hours, in fact, I bet you had trouble sleeping because your mind was so buzzed thinking about possibilities regarding your project. It was work which was consuming, inspiring, and meaningful. There was a point to it.
It was work you believed in.
Now, how long ago was it when you felt this way? A lot of my friends in the corporate world haven’t felt this way for a long time. Oh, they might feel this way for the first few months of a new job, but when reality sets in, the humdrums return with a vengeance.
One reason is autonomy. Or lack thereof. I find that I can do far greater work in projects I know I have the autonomy to fully influence. In big corporations, such blanketed autonomy is rare. You have an idea for your project? Then you have to sell it to your boss first, then perhaps more bosses. The larger the idea, the more signatures you have to collect.The more radical and revolutionary your idea is, the more difficult it is to secure signatures. This is why in large corporations, to be effective you really have to be a politician. You have to collect the signatures to get things done.
Another reason is that majority of companies are built for efficiency. The owner equation is simple: I want my company to produce goods and services at the least cost. The fastest way that is achieved? Using the assembly line.
“Assembly line” jobs are more commonplace than you think. The “copy-paste” job I described in my very first post exists in large numbers, albeit perhaps not as blatant.
Take a look at your job description. Are you given enough freedom to pursue something that’s meaningful to you?
Come to think of it, the very fact that you have a job description points to the whole conundrum. The purpose of the job description is to limit your role – its to make sure boundaries are set. Interestingly, I hear so many people say “I hate working with this guy – he doesn’t do work beyond his job description.” Then why have the job descriptions in the first place? Isn’t it ironic then that the people who succeed and are promoted in firms are the very people who go beyond what is in the job description?
Traditional corporations are structured by silos, by departments. The bigger the firm, the more sub-departments are created, the more limited a job becomes. This is why the biggest firms have people who cut and paste all day. This is when people get commoditized.
A person can be given a manual, sent to a training course or two, and few months on the job, and…boom! You have been assimilated. When a person can replace another person by sticking closely to the job description, I’d call that an assembly line.
Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve worked with several companies who give autonomy to their employees and treat them as partners. I’ve met several individuals who truly love what they are doing, do great work, and inspire people around them. Are these common? You know the answer.
Instead, we find people in the assembly line. People who hate Mondays and treat Fridays like the greatest thing since sliced bread. People who work merely for their paychecks and look for their kicks elsewhere. People who just go through the motions and find themselves on Facebook the whole day, because they can do the required work in just 1-2 hours. This is a tragedy.