by Doug Thorpe

What Is a Job?

Jan 30, 20153 mins
IT Leadership

Looking at the evolution of the word "job" gives us insight for how we could be looking at work.

While speaking to a group participating in career transition in 2009, I was struck by the lack of understanding of the original meaning of the word “job.” Everyone was talking about needing a job, changing jobs or leaving a job, but what was a job? I decided to do some research before my next speaking date.

Sources are vague, but most point to the 1550s for the phrase jobbe of worke translated “piece of work.” Indications are that work was paid on a piece rate. In other words, you give me three bushels of wheat and I will pay you “x.” At that time, there was no basis for hourly rate or day rates. Everything was based on product output, pieces or “jobbes,” hence our word “job.”

This got me thinking more about the topic. The industrial revolution, circa 1840, served to more formally move the work place into specific positions such as lathe operator, cotton gin operator, mechanic or tool handler. People were paid day rates for their performance. As management theory and practice evolved, the clock was used to segment the day and establish hourly rates for work, thus allowing wages to be paid hourly rather than for the day.

Now, tie all of this in with the notion that people perform better if there is a common or known purpose. Many leaders choose to motivate their teams by providing a clear vision or purpose for the organization. Breaking the collective corporate vision into individual understanding of one’s purpose can contribute to more sustainable performance, which is the key difference between managing process and leading people.

Think of this as a continuum for leadership. When we are placed in roles of responsibility, we have three potential stages of engagement with our people.

  1. Piece – We can accept the basics and focus on piece work to simply get the job done.
  2. Position – We can manage by position, bestowing authority on subordinates, delegating, and managing by position on the team.
  3. Purpose – We can center on the purpose, keeping all discussions keenly focused on achieving the purpose for which we have been tasked.

“Leading on purpose” carries many implied requirements.

  • We have to know our people.
  • We have to relate to the team.
  • We have to continually enforce the message of the vision or purpose to which we have committed our effort.

Doing this well elevates a manager toward true leadership. Where are you in your thoughts and beliefs about managing your teams?

  • Is every day centered more on merely checking things off the to-do list or project plan?
  • Have you invested the time to communicate a purpose to each member of your organization?
  • Have you made a commitment to enforce that purpose in the way you live each day, by connecting to the primary purpose your programs for monitoring, managing, evaluating and compensating people?