What exactly is a job?
A person could work a lifetime without ever explicitly considering such a question. But its importance should not be underestimated, for actions are guided and shaped (as well as constrained and limited) by below-the-line understandings of what one is actually doing day after day.
In the most basic formulation, a job could be described simply as work done to achieve organizational objectives. Such a definition would not be inaccurate. It would describe a great deal of what goes on in the workplace.
And yet careful consideration reveals that this definition is partial at best, for organizational objectives are never achieved unilaterally. People don’t work in isolation. Rather, they work in relationship with others toward shared goals.
The quality of relationships with other human beings, then, is a significant aspect of a person’s job. It is a real and tangible element of organizational performance that needs to be elevated and highlighted. And yet this condition of “in-relationship” is both overlooked and underappreciated at all levels.
In our consulting practice, we have talked to thousands of people about the work they do, and only a very few have ever suggested that working effectively in relationship with others is a significant part of their job.
The importance of being a “team player” is noted on countless job postings and paid lip service numerous talks and seminars. Yet human relationships are routinely subordinated to the “real” work of filling orders, managing inventory, ensuring compliance, and the like.
That so many of us overlook such a crucial facet of our jobs goes a long way in explaining the persistence of numerous workplace challenges and failures. It also suggests the need for leaders to raise interpersonal relationships as a visible priority and target of system-wide attention and focus.
This does not imply that leaders must become the behavior police. Nor does it suggest that positive attitudes can be created simply by ordering employees to adopt them.
Rather, it suggests that leaders must work to create a culture in which the way people value and treat one another is not only taken seriously, but raised to a point of principle.