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08/05/2011

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Great, thought provoking article. But are you being unduly harsh on hyperspecialisation? Is it really Taylorism for the knowledge industry or does it in fact offer an opportunity for mastery that fits perfectly into Pink's model?

Chris:

I think there is an opportunity for it to go either way - and the authors of the article themselves acknowledge both the promise and the peril of the trend. There is tremendous promise for better work (mastery, meaning, autonomy) at the convergence of these trends - but I think that we in HR must get ahead of the curve to ensure that this is the case in our organizations, rather than passively allowing the wave to overtake us. And allowing the engineers and finance people (no offense, engineers and finance people) to play the lead role (rather than us) in steering the resulting changes in work design within our organizations.

Agree ... or not?

Thanks for the comment!

BIG topic, Ann... too immense for quick blog treatment. All wheels go around, so some discoveries are not exactly news. Putting things together in unique innovative ways, however, can create fascinating challenges, and you identify quite a few here.

The underlying hyperlinked articles, particularly the HBR one, address some implications of Crowdsourcing, Distributed Participatory Design (think Wikipedia) and Human Flesh Search Engine approaches. Read Walter Jon Williams's "This Is Not a Game." Yes, there are disturbing prospects for the future of work.

HR certainly requires and deserves a seat at this table, but don't think HR should "own" work design. IT shouldn't control shareholder relations; Cost Accounting should not set corporate strategic direction. Personal opinion: People-departments should not determine what the output of the enterprise should be. How the product or service is made and delivered strikes to the heart of operations management and industrial engineering. HR and I/O Psych PhDs should focus on offering pros and cons on the options for the "how" proposals of those groups, in my opinion... just like a marketing dept might address a promotional campaign, designing the optimal method to promote the product or service which it doesn't get to directly control.

HR can't even keep managers from violating laws like FLSA and EEO and such, so how can we realistically "control" work design? Many of us can't even control job titles.

Limited repetitive work scope actually tends to be intrinsically demotivating, IMHO, so I see no long-term benefit to using knowledge workers like punch-press operators. Hyperspecialization, while superficially efficient, denies the gestalt, restricts perspective and limits each contributor to the role of a cog.

This topic requires much thought. There may be no universal "right" answer.

Solid points all, Jim. Yes, it is WAY too big for comprehensive treatment in one -or even several - blog posts. My purpose here was simply to kick the leaf pile and set some conversation in motion. As you note, a big topic with enormous implications and no right answer. Thanks!

I agree completely it's an HR concern due to the motivation concern but I think HR would have difficulty 'owning' it due to the fact that HR isn't very involved in the actual work employees perform. Therefore it's unlikely they know enough to design how the work should be done. I can see HR in more of a mediator role.

Laura:

I agree. In an ideal world, I would like to see HR as a SME and a steward here - as clearly they can't be the ultimate expert on content. My hope would be - and I recognize and concede all of Jim's points here - that they can help ensure a balance between the potentially competing objectives that will be at work here. Thanks for the thoughts!

Ann: I've read the full HBR article you link to and acknowledge my first posting was (deliberately) simplistic. I was considering the upside of the specialist freed from the burden of administration and not where those tasks ended up.

Also speaking personally and echoing Jim's closing comments I have always relished breadth in my role and have resisted the temptation to overspecialise.

But I agree entirely that HR need to get involved in this dialogue as I'm not sure anyone else will consider the wider implications.

Thanks for the additional thoughts, Chris!

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