Why There Are Only Four Jobs in the Whole World
For more than three decades my company has been involved in creating over 2,500 different performance-based job descriptions that define the actual work a person needs to do to be considered successful.
Based on preparing these performance-based job descriptions for jobs like camp counselor at the YMCA, accountants and engineers, from staff to VPs, mid- and senior-level executives in industries ranging from automotive and aerospace to construction and consumer products, I can conclude that there are only four different jobs in the whole world.
Everything starts with an idea. This is the first of the four jobs – the Thinkers. Builders convert these ideas into reality. This the second job. Improvers make this reality better. This is the third job. Producers do the work over and over again, delivering quality goods and services to the company’s customers in a repeatable manner. This is the fourth job.
And then the process begins again with new ideas and new ways of doing business being developed as the old ones become stale.
As a company grows and reaches maturity, more of the work gets done by the Producers and Improvers. However, without a culture of consistent improvement, the Producers soon take over and implementation of change becomes slower and slower until it stops.
Long before this the Thinkers and Builders would have left for some new venture. Improvers soon follow to join their former co-workers and then hire new Producers to add some order to the newly created chaos. The old Producers who aren’t continually evolving, learning new skills and processes, are left behind to fend for themselves.
Every job has a mix of all four work types dependent on the actual work involved, the scope and scale of the role, and the company’s growth rate. To ensure balance and flexibility, all of these four work types should be taken into account when preparing any new performance-based job description.
Producers. These people execute or maintain a repeatable process. This can range from simple things like working on an inbound help desk and handling some transactional process like basic sales, to more complex activities such as auditing the performance of a big system, writing code, or producing the monthly financial reports. Producers typically require training or advanced skills to be in a position to execute the process.
To determine the appropriate Producer performance objectives, ask the hiring manager to define how any required skill is used on the job and how its success would be measured, e.g., “Contact 15 new customers per week and have five agree to an onsite demonstration.“ This is a lot better than saying: “The person must have 3-5 years of sales experience selling to sophisticated buyers of electro-mechanical control valves.”
In the finance function, the performance objective might be: “Complete the monthly close three days after the end of the month with 100% accuracy,” rather than “The person should have three years’ experience with monthly closing activities.”
Improvers. These people upgrade, change or make a repeatable process better. Managers are generally required to continually monitor and improve a process under their responsibility. Building, training and developing the team to implement a process is part of an Improver’s role.
Improvers can be individual contributors or managers of teams and projects. The key is the focus on improving an existing system, business or process. A performance objective for an Improver could be “conduct a comprehensive process review of the wafer fab process to determine what it would take to improve end-to-end yield by 10%.”
Builders. These people take an idea from scratch and convert it into something tangible. This could be creating a new business, designing a complex new product, closing a big deal, or developing a new process. Entrepreneurs, inventors, turn-around executives, deal-makers, and project managers are typical jobs that emphasize the Builder component.
Ask the hiring manager what big changes, new developments, big problems or major projects the person in the new job would need to address to determine the Builder component. An example might be: “Lead the implementation of the new SAP supply change system over every business unit, including international.” This is a lot better than saying “must have five years international logistics background and strong expertise with SAP."
Thinkers. These people are the visionaries, strategists, intellects, and creators of the world, and every big idea starts with them. Their work covers new products, new business ideas, and different ways of doing everyday things.
Ask hiring managers where the job requires thinking out-of-the-box or major problems to solve to develop the Thinker performance objectives. “Develop a totally new approach for reducing water usage by 50%,” is a lot better than saying “Must have 5-10 years of environmental engineering background, including 3-5 years of wastewater management with a knack for creative solutions."
Mix of strengths
Now for a little secret. Recognize that every person is comprised of a mix of each work type, with one or two dominant. Likewise for every job. Most positions require strengths in one or two of the work types.
As you select people for new roles, it's important to get this blending right. This starts by understanding the full requirements of the position, the strengths and weaknesses of others on the team, and the primary objective of the department, group or company.
In the rush to hire, it’s easy to lose sight of this bigger picture, emphasizing skills and experience over performance and fit. This is how Builders get hired instead of Improvers and Thinkers get hired when Producers are required. While there are only four work types, hiring the wrong one is often how the wrong work gets done.
None of these work types are better than the other. It all depends on the work that needs to be done. Unfortunately, most job descriptions rely too much on skills and experience to define the work and filter candidates, with little consideration to this mix.
For example, a plant manager might need to focus on ensuring the factory worked smoothly 24/7, which is a Producer role. In addition, the job might also require that the painting line be upgraded to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, which is an Improver role.
A manufacturing engineer in the same plant working for the plant manager, might need to develop a long range manufacturing plan using state-of-the-art robotics. This is the Thinker work type, especially if the person also has to figure out how to seamlessly introduce the new line without affecting current production levels. Implementing the new production line under these conditions is the Builder work type.
The process at work
The model works extremely well when you define the job first, and then break it down into the four work types. It’s less meaningful when you use it to broadly classify a person. In this case, it only implies interests and preferences, not competencies. For example just because someone is an Improver doesn’t mean they’re good at it; and even if they are good at it, it’s only so in their niche.
To figure out the components of the real job by the four work types, I ask the hiring manager to define areas that need to be upgraded or improved (Improver), the types of big problems that need to be solved (Thinker), if there are any big projects or changes that need to be implemented (Builder), and what aspects of the job require high-quality repeatable activities (Producer).
This list of objectives is then put in priority order. This is what I refer to as a performance-based job description. One or two of the work types are typically at the top of the list.
Assessing competency and motivation to do this work is the next step in the process. I use the Most Important Interview Question of All Time to figure this part out. The key to this is to have the candidate describe an accomplishment that best compares to what needs to be done on the job.
For example, for the manufacturing engineer spot above, I’d ask the candidate to describe an accomplishment related to putting together a long-range manufacturing plan. I describe this whole process in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. The idea is to obtain a comparable accomplishment for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description.
While the four work types are useful for defining the work required in any job, on a broader scale the concept can also be used to better understand how companies and people grow, develop and interact.
Interestingly, people grow by first becoming technically proficient at something – the Producer role – then evolve into one or more of the other work types. This is an inside-out progression.
Companies on the other hand, grow outside-in, starting with an idea, building it, improving it, and then producing it in a repeatable manner. Unfortunately as companies get bigger and bigger, change becomes more and more difficult. This is what Clayton Christensen calls the “Innovator’s Dilemma.”
This type of stagnation can be minimized by looking at every job as a mix of all four work types, balancing the needs of the company with the people currently on the team and the capability of the new hire.
In my opinion, using the work type model to achieve this balance is where it has the most value. This alone will open up the talent pool to a whole new group of Thinkers, Builders, Improvers and Producers, never before considered.
About the Author
Lou Adler is CEO of The Adler Group, a 35-year-old search and recruitment company in the US whose clients include Intel, McKinsey, Disney, ESPN and General Dynamics. He also wrote The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (2013) and Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007). This article consolidates two posts that originally appeared on LinkedIn’s Influencer blog, and has been re-edited for clarity and conciseness.
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