The Blue Shaded Area
In an earlier blog, I touched on how interacting with resistant co-workers can bring your own productivity to less-than-ideal levels. Productivity was viewed as the result of day-to-day interactions. This blog is also about productivity but it focuses on long-range adaptations and emphasizes the importance of cultivating personal role breadth self-efficacy (the blue shaded area). The blue shaded area is to lazy asses as sunlight is to vampires; you will never meet a lazy ass in the blue shaded area because it will, literally, kill them.
First things first, though. We need to get the academic stuff out of the way so we can PRESS. Let’s look at productivity over the lifetime of an individual. When graphed, productivity of a highly engaged employee looks like a sine wave on an upward-sloping line provided a few caveats are incorporated. Caveats include (1) the employee remains in similar jobs and within similar industries, (2) neither the job nor the industry experiences significant changes, (3) the employee is actively engaged, (4) optimal positions are available and taken by the employee, and (5) the employee wants to reach his/her potential. In practical use, this environment is rather obsolete since our workforce is very transient and shifts in business are the norm vice the exception.
We also need to go over the three basic stages of learning so we understand when it is time to reach for the next opportunity; (1) Cognitive, (2) Associative, and (3) Autonomous. Let’s follow Sarah on her new job. When Sarah performs a task or job for the first time, she typically sucks compared to a seasoned employee. Sarah takes longer to perform the task and the end product will probably need to be reworked in order for it to conform to requirements (Cognitive Stage of Learning). If Sarah sticks with the same tasks and the task doesn’t change significantly, she will become very proficient (Associative Stage of Learning). Productivity will eventually plateau when she has truly leveraged all efficiencies and she will be considered the subject matter expert (Autonomous Stage of Learning). As a side note, Daniel Coyle explores learning progressions in “The Talent Code” as cognitive and physiological adaptations; emphasis is given to the importance of creating and maintaining myelin.
Let’s look at a highly scientific graph I drew based on fictitious data points. The red line represents the average employee who spends great energy initially learning a new task but fails to proactively learn additional tasks after hitting the Associative Stage. They will continue with average performance and their annual appraisals will show a slow, steady increase in productivity. However, their average productivity is well below the productivity potential of a highly engaged employee (aka, Rock Star employee).
Highly engaged employees tend to proactively seek out new challenges once he/she reaches the Associative Stage. These proactive behaviors facilitate growth during the Autonomous Stage (blue, shaded area). This area of learning and performance is the perfect time to explore and fully leverage role breadth self-efficacy.
Okay; this is the last bit of academic stuff for this blog. Sharon K. Parker defined role breadth self-efficacy in the Journal of Applied Psychology as an “employees’ perceived capability of carrying out a broader and more proactive set of work tasks that extend beyond prescribed technical requirements.” In order to leverage role breadth self-efficacy, you first need to:
- Fully understand what your current role entails. Don’t overlook the stuff your predecessor failed to do or the activities others have been doing for you since you took the position.
- Identify the activities that should be in someone else’s swim lane. Be careful if or when you divest the activity. It may be something you want to add to your arsenal later and you definitely don’t want people to think you are doing any work judo. However, keeping an activity that would more appropriately be someone else’s task will take up valuable time you could otherwise spend on immersing yourself in your current role.
- Get an idea of the ‘grey’ area. This is the area where your job and someone else’s job overlap. While I tend to run like a bull in a china shop when it comes to picking the best projects, I will note that we should always be considerate of our co-workers so they don’t feel threatened by our presence.
- Find a mentor who has been in a position similar to yours. He/She will be able to identify pitfalls and help navigate the waters.
These four steps help us explore the depth and breadth of our current role. Now, practice. Then practice. And, then practice some more. Fully engage yourself in whatever task you are learning. Reduce distractions as much as possible, mentally step through your new task, and then do your task. Correct any mistakes as soon as they are identified. Actually learn as much about the new task as possible.
Now that we know what our current role requires, we need to learn and perform activities “that extend beyond prescribed technical requirements.”
- Take a strategic look around your office, corporation, or career field. What is the next position or career move you want to make? Now, critically evaluate your own skill set and experience level. Do you have everything you need to compete for the next job?
- Obtain the skills you are missing by taking a class or reading a book. I recently realized how little I actually know about cost estimating. I have signed up for a short on-line course in costing. A friend of mine is taking project management classes in preparation of a job move that might not take place for another 5 years (he is totally planning WAY ahead of the average sheep).
- Obtain experience by offering to help on projects even if the help you will provide isn’t exactly aligned with your goal. I offered to edit contract proposals because I wanted more experience in cost estimating. Editing proposals didn’t give me direct experience but I was privy to cost estimating concerns and methodologies.
Now, execute, execute, execute. You will naturally draw attention to yourself if you are in the blue, shaded area. Perform your core activities as well as activities that “extend beyond” what you were hired for and make sure you are actively engaged as you practice your new skills and knowledge. When you finally make the move to the next job, you will inevitably drop below the trend line for “Rock Stars” but you simply repeat these steps again and again until you are satisfied with your productivity potential.