Give People Big Jobs

Peter Drucker gets this right:

“The young knowledge worker whose job is too small to challenge and test his abilities either leaves or declines rapidly into premature middle-age soured, cynical, unproductive.

Executives everywhere complain that many young men with fire in their bellies turn so soon into burned-out sticks. They have only themselves to blame: they quenched the fire by making the young man’s job too small.”

In other words, you burn people out mainly by giving them too little, not mainly by giving them too much.

If you treat your employees simply as tools — that is, simply as interchangeable parts who are there to do what you tell them rather than to take initiative and ownership of their job — you are are not just being an ineffective manager. You are harming your employees (as all bad management ultimately does).

  • Joe Budde Jr. (@joebuddejr)

    This is precisely one of the two points of Business that Jeff Van Duzer makes in his book “Why business matters to God.”

    Van Duzer would agree with your thoughts here, although he would word it like something like this: “enable employees to express their identity creatively by performing meaningful work.”

    Whether that is a grocery bagger or someone who is given a bigger job, say, to lead the grocery baggers, the manager of both can still enable the employees to express their identity creatively by performing meaningful work. Van Duzer gave a great talk using the bagger example at Redeemer last year: He spoke to the impact of a single grocery bagger.

    As I write my comment here, I wonder if Druker’s comment presupposes that we are to think some jobs are too small to be done. Which I’m sure is something you’ve spoken against in the past, but still an interesting thing to wonder about.