Job enrichment vs. job enlargement

Why is it that we often see great talent melt down when given more responsibility? In this blog our coach John M McKee explains a common mistake made by managers and organizations each day.

"Jack's done such a great job; I've decided to punish him."

While I don't really believe that there are many (although there are some) bosses who think this way, the fact is that many act as if they do.

Tell me if this doesn't ring true:

An individual (let's call him Jack) who cares about doing his/her job right, often goes beyond what's required and delivers great results. He gets noticed by the department head (we'll call him Harry) who comments about what a great job he did.  Because Jack really cares, he does stellar things again and again. Boss Harry notices, gives praise and compliments to his subordinate.  Circle continues.

And soon, because Harry recognizes that subordinate Jack gets things done, Jack is given more responsibility, perhaps even a new title or a pay increase.  Harry says things like, "Because you get things done, we're increasing your responsibility, Jack. We recognize that you're capable of more and are now giving you the chance to prove it..."

Both parties feel pretty good at this stage:

Boss Harry is happy because his area's performance is improving. Additionally, he may genuinely feel like he's given his subordinate a better opportunity to move forward in the organization; saying things like, "show me that are ready for more responsibility. I can see a great future around here for you."  The boss sees himself as a caring, enlightened manager:

1. He recognized that a member of his team was capable of more and gave him more responsibility which, in turn, could lead to an even bigger opportunity.

2. Unlike many other bosses, he knows how to get things done through others - and that's what managers are supposed to do, right?

Jack the subordinate is happy because he's getting recognized for his hard work. He's been given more responsibility, which shows the others that he's good at what he does.  The implication is that Jack is going places because he gets stuff done that others can't.  To show Harry that this wasn't a mistake:

1. He pushes harder.  He wants to prove to Harry that he can do this - and even more. He sees himself as a fast tracker.

2. While many of his peers steer clear of more responsibility, he understands that it's worth working a bit harder if it means more responsibility and or money in the future.

All's good, right?

Maybe - but maybe not.  Here's what I've observed:

There's a difference between job enrichment and job enlargement. The former has to do with helping someone learn new skills to facilitate even more success.  It usually involves providing more resources, more top down support, and training. The latter is more likely to be more about giving someone more work, often without any additional resources.

Although it may feel like it, simply giving someone more to do without giving him or her additional training, budget, mentoring etc., is not job enrichment.  Although it may provide quick results, it usually results in disappointment and frustration.  A return to previous levels of performance often occurs.

My advice? Before offering someone - or before you accept an offer for - additional responsibility: consider the resources required for the success of both the organization and the individual.  If those resources can't be freed up and provided, don't do it.  There are too many decisions made which provide short term "success" but ultimately cause good individuals and good organizations into a downward spiral.

Here's to your future!


Executive leadership coach