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Work Without Jobs

Work Without Jobs

CEO’s award-winning research scientist John Boudreau deconstructs jobs in his latest book.

CEO's John Boudreau
John Boudreau

“Work is melting out of job descriptions,” says John Boudreau, professor emeritus of management and organization and a senior research scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) at the USC Marshall School of Business. “They’re liquid now and can be reinvented to better fit the needs of workers and organizations.”

While the pandemic really turned up the heat on reassessing work arrangements and responsibilities, accelerated automation, demands for organizational agility and efforts toward diversity have also liquified concepts such as “jobs” and “jobholders” and “degrees.”

So how do we rethink and reinvent work to optimize goals like performance, well-being, diversity, agility and innovation?  

That’s the question Boudreau, a recognized thought leader on the future of work and organization, explores in his latest book: Work Without Jobs: How to Reboot Your Organization’s Work Operating System with Ravin Jesuthasan (due out March 15 from MIT Press).

The Great Unbundling

Boudreau suggests that organizations need to deconstruct “jobs” into their component parts and reconstruct them to better use the capabilities of workers, and engage workers in ways beyond regular full-time employment, so that individuals and teams make better contributions and are more fulfilled.

The book flows from his work at CEO, which has earned an international reputation for pioneering research into organizational design and effectiveness that bridges theory and practice. Work Without Jobs also builds on a series of well-regarded books he has co-authored on human capital and leadership, including “Reinventing Jobs,” “Lead the Work” and “Investing in People.”

“Using the traditional job as the exclusive unit of analysis for work places limits on workers, leaders and organizations. To overcome those limits, you’ve got to look at the pieces,” Boudreau says. “We need to unbundle the work, but also more completely consider workers in terms of their full array of skills, abilities and qualifications.”

Boudreau shares an example from the book, showing how health care providers used these ideas to do more than cope during COVID.

"At Providence Health Systems, Greg Till, the EVP and chief people officer described how there are simply not enough nurses. Their solution was to deconstruct the nurse job, put all the separate tasks out there, and ask: ‘What are the tasks that only a nurse can do, such as intubating patients? But does record keeping? Does checking in on generally healthy patients? Taking temperatures? Providence realized that many tasks could be done by others, such as by receptionists, etcetera

“They also asked: ‘What other people have capabilities to do nursing tasks, but aren’t using those in their jobs?’ The answer was physicians serving as administrators. With relicensing, those people could be an administrator four days a week, and then spend a day a week on the hospital floor doing high-level patient care tasks.

“Welcome to your new work operating system.”

A Good Time to Experiment

Boudreau notes that not all jobs require this kind of reinvention, and that many organizations might not have needed it pre-COVID. Boudreau proposes that the pandemic should cause enlightened leaders to say, “Isn’t this the best time for us to experiment?”

“COVID has already thrown out the old book,” he says.

Work Without Jobs provides a new playbook with evidence-based research and real-world cases for organizations ready to face the future of work and thrive, while making their workers feel trusted, motivated and supported.

Another of Boudreau’s projects will measure the climate for work automation. Boudreau and Ben Schneider, CEO affiliate and emeritus professor, are building the first Work Automation Index, to enhance work automation effectiveness and equity.